Nowadays precision farming is far from being a futuristic approach to agriculture, becoming a popular investment for many farmers looking to tighten margins, increase accuracy and minimise wastage – and this is exactly the case for experienced arable farmer, Haig Hamilton.

The Scottish Farmer:

Haig Hamilton from West Fortune Farm in East Lothian  Ref:RH030820327  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

Based at West Fortune, in East Lothian, Haig farms in partnership with his mother and father, as well as his two brothers, managing a 360-ha arable enterprise which sees winter wheat, winter oilseed rape, winter barley, potatoes, mustard and grass being grown, whilst the remainder is left as field margins, fallow and trees.

The Scottish Farmer:

West Fortune in East Lothian home to the Hamilton family Ref:RH030820328  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

With an eight-man team of operators and casual labour on standby for seasonal work, the Hamiltons also do contract work on an additional 800ha and contract farm a further 180ha, together with renting in 180ha for growing potatoes.

“Potatoes make up a large proportion of our acreage and planting begins at the end of March, whilst harvesting starts at the end of July, with 75% of the crop going off the field straight to IPL at Inchture, Morrisons at Gadbrook and Greenvale at Chirnside,” Haig stated.

“August and September are our busiest months as we are lifting potatoes, combining and sowing winter cereals. On average we put between 900-1000 boxes of potatoes away a week. When we are so busy I can keep an eye on the progress of all operations via an app through John Deere My Operations,” he added.

“We market grain from the end of July onwards through to January and February, with the winter wheat and barley destined for feed markets, whilst the oilseed rape crop is sent down south.”

Whilst working with a variety of soil types – from a light sandy loam to clay loam – Haig and his team have had to ensure that the right method and machinery are used for each crop.

This desire for perfection led the Hamiltons to invest in their first method of precision farming 15 years ago and the advanced technology is proving to be a key component in the family’s business.

“Our first move into precision farming was the investment in the real time kinetics John Deere StarFire RTK system in 2005,” explained Haig.

The Scottish Farmer:

Part of the Starfire 6000 system the display in the machine that gives the operator information they need in an instant Ref:RH030820322  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

“I was approached by our local dealer, Thomas Sherriff and Co, who had asked if I was interested in trialling one of the products – it’s safe to say we have never looked back!

“The main aim with the StarFire RTK system was to ensure that all field operations were being carried out accurately, whilst also making it easier and less stressful on the operators,” Haig added.

StarFire is a navigational GPS system, developed by John Deere, whilst the RTK component comprises a small tripod-mounted GPS receiver that can carry out its own differential GPS in relation to a certain point in the field. The signal is then broadcasted via radio or cellular technology to equipment-mounted receivers and provides an accuracy of exactly 2cm, in any terrain.

In Haig’s case, the mobile RTK system is mounted onto the cab roof of machinery to ensure that the two antennas can access the best signal and reception possible.

The Scottish Farmer:

Part of the precision farming solution at West Fortune is using the John Deere Starfire 6000 system, which is mounted on the roof of the tractors and combine  Ref:RH030820326  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

Adding to West Fortune’s precision inventory, two years ago Haig invested in AutoTrac passive implement guidance for his 8RT tractor and long-tailed drill.

This reduces implement drift risk, regardless of the terrain being worked and in turn, allows the operator to concentrate on the task at hand.

“The results were instant when we trialled it on the drill, allowing maximum operational efficiency to be carried out without the worry of drifting – it definitely didn’t compare to our previous manual system,” Haig commented.

With success in the StarFire system and the results well and truly proven, Haig has since invested in nine more precision farming products giving him 10 StarFire 6000 receivers in total.

The StarFire 6000 receiver has three accuracy levels. SF1 that is +/- 15cm pass-to-pass and is free of charge, SF3 +/- 3cm pass-to-pass accuracy (with nine months in season repeatable signal) and RTK +/- 2.5cm pass-to-pass accuracy with 14 day fall back built in this allows you to keep RTK accuracy while in areas of poor signal.

“We now have five on SF1 and five on mobile RTK units on both tractors and implements, when an SF1 receiver is used on an implement and connected to the tractor it will share the tractors receivers RTK signal this reduces initial costs and brings so much more value to us.

"We now are able to steer all of our potato machinery and we have just this year fitted a John Deere steering system to our Grimme potato harvester.

"All our machines are connected using JDLink allowing full support from our local John Deere dealer, Thomas Sherriff and Co.

“We have full agronomic and fleet monitoring through the John Deere My Operation Centre App, which allows us to have all the farm’s information to hand instantly and we can make quick decision based on factual information and evidence of performance,” Haig added.

Looking back on how much the addition of precision farming techniques have vastly improved accuracy at West Fortune, Haig commented that previously the operator was sowing at 24m tramlines, with accuracy being out by as much as 6%. Now there is 36m tramlines which are within a few centimetres.

The Scottish Farmer:

John Deere 8400r and Sumo Quatro 5m Cultivator guided by the Starfire 6000 system. The stubble is being subsoiled and undersown with radish to provide green matter to be ploughed into the ground next year before the next crop is planted Ref:RH030820329

However, the StarFire products have increased the farm’s accuracy by roughly 5-6%, which has ultimately resulted in reduced fuel, fertiliser, spraying and labour costs.

“To see that increase in efficiency is fantastic and it ensures that we are performing to the best of our ability in terms of getting the most out of the land,” said Haig.

“We are utilising this system on all our crops but we are finding it to be very beneficial on the potatoes at planting and lifting, where we have the implements and the tractors steering together.”

In terms of advice, the Hamiltons rely on the knowledge and guidance of the experienced staff at Sherriff’s who supplied Haig with all his current precision farming technology.

The Scottish Farmer:

Rapeseed from the combine being dispensed in the trailer running along side the combine  Ref:RH030820323  Rob Haining / The Scottish Farmer...

With the responsibility of managing and working the large arable enterprise, Haig concluded: “We are much more efficient since installing the various precision methods here, at West Fortune.

"I am grateful to our dedicated staff who were on board with the venture and have ensured that we get the best out of the land, the machinery and the crop itself – there’s no doubt in my mind that the future of precision farming is a bright one.”