Sean Charlton of George Charlton & Son
The farm’s 7530 tractor is equipped with AutoTrac and mobile RTK
With some 283ha (700ac) of arable, top fruit, stone and soft fruit, just south of Maidstone in Kent, the farming enterprise of George Charlton & Son has seen a significant benefit in adopting satellite technology to enhance their planting regime.
Headed up by Sean Charlton, this fourth generation business has an impressive controlled atmosphere storage facility which holds over 4000 tonnes of apples. Apple varieties consisting mainly of Gala, Rubens and Bramley are supplied to the major supermarket chains from an on-site packhouse.
Previous planting strategies used a traditional three-strong gang technique to measure up and lay out plantings, using a tape measure, Theodolite and manual sighting to arrange headlands and position the main posts on a 10m spacing. However, undulating ground is often a problem when trying to maintain an absolutely straight planting, and other issues have also come into play.
“Because of the usual wet weather conditions through the winter and the inherent losses that occur due to waterlogging, we decided on a policy of planting our stock in a ridge that sits proud of the prevailing ground level,” says Sean Charlton. “We use a bedformer to create the ridge which, when settled, is around 250mm high. This enables drainage from the rootstock and minimises annual tree losses.”
Trying to ridge after the posts have been sited is impossible, while ridging beforehand can lead to less than accurate row control through manual tractor steering. But John Deere satellite technology has changed all that, to make it a much simpler and less labour intensive process.
“We looked at a GreenStar AutoTrac precision farming system for our John Deere 7530 tractor,” says Sean. “This enables GPS control through an M-RTK (mobile real time kinematic) facility which is based at our local dealer Burden Bros Agri’s facilities in Stockbury, Kent.
“The signal from Stockbury feeds the StarFire satellite receiver on the 7530 to enable the system to, among other things, auto-steer the tractor in a perfectly straight line. Accuracy is said to be within plus or minus two centimetres, is highly reliable and absolutely repeatable.
“We decide on the field layout and then, using a bedformer to create the ridge, we can choose and key into the system the width between the rows, which for our apples is 3.5 metres. Once that’s done, the tractor almost drives itself in perfectly straight lines, regardless of ground contours and exactly to the required row spacing along the entire length of the orchard. It can also enable crop line coordination, so tree rows are identically matching between different orchards on the farm.”
By employing satellite technology in this way, not only does Sean Charlton achieve close to absolute accuracy across the orchard, he also considerably reduces labour input. This season he has planted 25ha of apples and 12ha of raspberries. The farming enterprise will easily recoup its costs with a typical write-off period over five years, but the real benefit is reduced labour, faster completion and total accuracy. Each and every one of these benefits has a cost reduction potential.
“The precision farming system we now use is even more valuable when planting soft fruits such as strawberries and raspberries under tunnels,” says Sean. “You have very little margin for error under plastic and yet I have often seen crop rows that diverge or widen, which must make it difficult to minimise crop and fruit damage, yet maintain accurate applications using sprayers or other machinery.”
By maintaining absolute accuracy in the orchard or under tunnels using John Deere’s AMS GreenStar precision farming technology, fruit growers such as George Charlton & Son can enhance their crop management efficiency, making it easier to maximise potential yields.