Hands Free Farm completes first major operation

The Hands Free Farm (HFF) project at Harper Adams, a three-year project to autonomously grow three different crops across 35 ha has successfully drilled two fields of cover crops despite difficulties caused by the Coronavirus lockdown.

It had originally been planned to drill two winter crops and one spring one, but the wet weather at the end of last year meant this was not possible. It was then planned to drill a crop of winter wheat during a visit to Harper Adams by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne on 27 March. However, less than a week before this Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the lockdown of the UK on 23 March.

The team, which comprises members from Harper Adams University, Precision Decisions, Farmscan AG and Agri-EPI Centre continued to work from home until restrictions were lifted sufficiently to allow crops to be drilled.

Kit Franklin, senior agricultural engineering lecturer, said, “Although drilling a cover crop wasn’t the original plan, nor even plan B or C, it will be good for the soils. It should also help the fields be flatter and more forgiving next year. This drilling has still provided a useful learning process; we’ve seen that the system is better than ever before and that we’ll be able to analyse the drilling performance when the crop emerges. This will enable us to improve the mapping ahead of working on combinable crops next year.”

For the first time, the team also drilled the headlands. “The drill lifted a little too early on entry into the corners, so that’s somewhere we can improve,” commented Martin Abell, operations manager at Precision Decisions. “This happened because we decided to take a conservative approach to corners in the beginning to avoid potential problems caused by pulling the drill through tight angles.”

Photo source: Hands Free Farm

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