SoilEssentials Ltd

Hilton of Fern, By Brechin,

Angus, DD9 6SB

t: +44 (0)1356 650459

Customer Interview in Farmer's Guide

 Douglas talks about his contracting business and that by replacing memory sticks with mobile data transfer has saved him and his compnay hundreds of hours, and thousands of miles travelling each year.

Read more from the Farmer's Guide feature:

Remote control

Replacing memory sticks with mobile data transfer technology has saved a Scottish contractor hundreds of hours, and thousands of miles travelling each year. David Williams reports.

Crop Services (Scotland) Ltd provides a full agronomy and crop management service to growers across southern Scotland. Set up in 1989 by the Stephen family following a management buyout from Crop Chemicals Ltd, its founder Grant Stephen had been involved with agrochemicals and applications since 1962, when he operated a cab-less Massey Ferguson 35 tractor with a 32ft rear-mounted sprayer and saddle-tanks. Now the ­fleet of modern spreading and spraying machinery is at the cutting edge of precision farming-based application control, to ensure optimum results. “Of course precision farming was practised hundreds of years ago, by the farmers who put in hedges and fences to divide areas of different soil types,” said director Douglas Stephen. “Walking behind their ploughs they knew every inch of the soil. Then we received grants to rip out hedges and farm larger fields, but then wonder why yields vary when we make blanket decisions regarding crop health.”

The company looks after farmers from the River Tay in Scotland down to the Tyne, and from Fife in East Scotland to Dumfries in the west, from its headquarters at Kelso, Roxburghshire and a depot at Pitscottie, Fife.

Specialist service

The company’s core business is providing agronomy advice, and selling and applying agrochemicals and it employs 11 full-time sprayer operators, 7 agronomists, 4 engineers, 20 office and administrative staff and 8 part-time employees.

“No one manufacturer supplies everything needed, so we run a variety of makes,” explained Douglas. “The Agribuggies are small and light, especially compared with our larger self-propelled sprayers but, because they are so light footed, they can operate weeks earlier in the spring and longer into the autumn, and sooner after rain. They are fast on the road and easily moved around so work similar hours per season to the bigger machines.” Sprayers and spreaders travel up to 100 miles from bases, and the topography and range of crops means versatility is important. As widths have increased, weight savings have been achieved by fitting alloy booms on the sprayers. This can be as much as 1.5t for 28m booms, compared to steel, and Douglas said that the large area of potato work carried out means even weight distribution between axles is especially important for the soil, and accuracy.

Trimble sales engineer James Szabo agreed lighter booms are a benefit. “When large, rear-mounted booms swing they can cause the whole sprayer to yaw, and affect auto-steer systems as these can’t anticipate the movement and can only react to correct the track. Lighter booms a‑ ect the vehicle less, making it easier to maintain a precise path.”

The first precision farming equipment used by Douglas was a Trimble 150 light bar, for grassland applications, which replaced unpopular blob markers and, later, Trimble Farm Works iPAQs were used to record locations for soil sampling.

Precision placement

Fields were split using grid lines and the first variable rate applications were achieved using Farm Works software to adjust lime application through a Raven controller. “We knew what we wanted to achieve but were largely self-taught explained Douglas. “We obtained specialist advice regarding the hardware and product control and it proved successful. I still see the spade as the most important tool, and the cheapest, and our ethos is that rather than providing customers with a blanket treatment better returns are achieved by putting the product where it is needed. More than 80 per cent of the time a variable rate application achieves better results than a blanket treatment across the field.”

Douglas explained that soil acidity is a common problem but easily and cheaply identified and corrected. “This was the primary issue to sort out and results were available quickly after testing.

Lime spreading became a major part of our business, and variable rate applications helped achieve equilibrium across ­fields making crop management easier.”

More recently, tests for P&K have become cheaper and easier to obtain and the company is often asked to check available nutrient levels too. “Optimising soil conditions for growth maximises plant health and helps them ­fight off disease better than if they are stressed,” he said.

An issue until recently was that having assessed soil conditions, results had to be sent away so application schedules could be designed and costed for consideration by the customer and then, when agreed, an application map had to be created for use by the spread controller.

“We needed to bring soil analysis results and GPS data together for interpretation and this was where we hit a brick wall,” said Douglas. “We had a good relationship with SoilEssentials and relied on the company to put together our application maps, based on results obtained, the target pH agreed with the farmer, and the neutralising value of the material to be spread. But, any alteration to the spreading plan required another set of maps from SoilEssentials and, even then, we could arrive at the farm to find some of the lime had been used elsewhere reducing the amount available, and another set of maps was needed at the last minute. Each new set meant delivering another memory stick to the machine’s controller but, when data connectivity started appearing on mobile phones, my dream was to have a web-based field mapping system for access from anywhere.

In-house solutions

SoilEssentials built its own web-based precision agriculture management tool, which was rebranded speci­fically for Crop Services as MAPhSMART precision farming system, which has now been used by Crop Services for three years, and become an essential tool. Field boundaries are marked, soil analysis data input and application maps can be created by the company, targeted to the customer’s requirement and the product being applied. “This put us in control for the ­first time in 15 years,” said Douglas, “but still required the use of data transfer by USB.

Rural availability was dreadful in our operating area though, necessitating trips to local with­ hotspots by users to receive data.”

“Trimble Office Sync service has had the ability to send ­ les wirelessly to tractor consoles for ­five years,” explained James, “but recent updates to our screens have made it possible to develop and use third-party apps, designed to meet bespoke requirements. SoilEssentials has developed a dedicated app, allowing farmers and agronomists to create application maps in the MAPhSMART portal and send them directly to the Trimble console on the Crop Services spreader or sprayer.”

Douglas was quick to take advantage of the upgrades and worked with SoilEssentials as the new software was developed. He said the upgrades have made a big difference; “Operating Gatekeeper and Farm Works to transfer data is labour intensive, but MAPhSMART requires just one function and allows maps to be sent efficiently, direct to the spread controller.”

Crop Services is the ­first Trimble customer to operate the system and James explained that it was SoilEssentials’ in-house team of developers which made it a pioneer of the new technology.

“This integration between the web-based map software, the data and the spreader hardware means we can select the machine which will carry out the work on our system and seamlessly send instructions to it from our own portal in seconds,” said Douglas. “We have always been a service-based company and this allows us to be even prouder of the service we provide. We used to rely on third party involvement while working with our customers but now we sit at their kitchen table, talk through the soil nutrition, creating plans and costings from start to ­finish in one visit and, if any adjustments or compromises are needed, these are agreed there and then. We create the map and send it straight to the spreader.”

Natural partners

Douglas said his company has invested heavily in precision farming equipment over the years, but that SoilEssentials and Trimble were a natural choice of partner. “Trimble has been interested in what we do, listened to our opinions and took notice of our requirements while no other precision farming equipment company has bothered. We have always looked forward in terms of future developments and were delighted when Trimble’s North Europe sales manager, who is based in France, asked to visit to ­find out about us and how we use the technology. SoilEssentials’ team has been excellent too, and our relationship has resulted in the development of a system which allows direct communication with our machines and is ideal for our needs.”

Developments in progress

For the future Douglas said he would like to see increased integration with farm recording software. Information such as weather information at each site where machines are working would also be valuable for task planning as currently each display can provide weather information, but only for the owner’s registered address. Independent section control to individual nozzles is also something he would like, using the CenterPoint RTX correction service. He commented that Trimble’s X-Fill technology, which allows machines to work with accurately for up to 20 minutes after losing the correction signal, has proved invaluable as his machines often work in hilly areas where temporary loss of signal is common. James explained that even better performance is available through x-Fill premium, which maintains full RTK accuracy inde­finitely after a signal is lost, provided the display is not switched off.

Fleet management

The ability to ‘see’ on the map every machine working through Trimble’s Connected Farm is a useful management aid, but Douglas said that, at ­first, operators were suspicious that their performance was being monitored. “Now they are used to it, they see it as an advantage because ­field maps sent direct to the machines save them sitting in gateways for 90 minutes waiting for someone to arrive with a memory stick. The annual subscription cost is equivalent to just two trips between our Kelso and Fife depots delivering USB sticks, and that excludes the cost of the sprayer or spreader out of action while it waits for the upload.”

Cutting edge predictions

SoilEssentials is also at the cutting edge of new technology with its involvement in the KORE crop research project. A new version of EssentialsMap, which integrates with Trimble’s Connected Farm, uses ‘layers’ of information to help plan crop applications and forecast yields. Field maps are overlaid with soil sampling and conductivity data, previous yield maps, satellite images from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel satellites and high resolution images from drones, as well as green area index statistics gathered during ­field tasks. By working backward from achieved yield information at harvest, progress during future growing seasons can be compared and informed judgements can be made regarding crop treatments and care. “We want to use all the information available to build a bigger, better picture of the ­fields and gain better understanding of limitations to crop development.

High-resolution images taken using drones 24 hours before an intended application can be used to make decisions based on crop populations and development in different areas of the ­field. There is potential to save desiccant costs by taking images immediately before spraying and creating maps for variable application – the opportunities for improved accuracy and efficiency are endless,” he said.

The company’s recent investment in two drones will allow further services to be offered, including plant counts for which there is demand particularly for higher value crops such as potatoes, and allowing yields to be accurately predicted. Douglas explained that this service is under development and not yet commercially available, although there has been considerable interest from potential users.

Maximising availability

Telematics through the Trimble hardware is another area of potential interest as the company’s hard-working sprayers and spreaders often work more than 1,000hrs/year, and remote monitoring would allow better planning of preventative maintenance reducing costly repairs and downtime.

Fuel level information for each machine would allow timely, planned deliveries to working sites, and knowledge of total fuel used for operations would provide better comparisons between machines. “We tend to update two sprayers or spreaders each year and there are always options such as mechanical or hydrostatic transmission to consider. If we had accurate data regarding operating costs, we could be more con­fident about what best suits our situation,” he said.

Con­fidence in system

One thing Douglas is certain about is his choice of application control system and provider. “When we do replace machines our system of choice is Trimble, and it will remain so as long as the products continue to evolve. The catalyst for us to move to Trimble originally was its Connected Farm service and, since then, the seamless integration of extra functions such as those from SoilEssentials,” he said.


The Courier Business Awards are approaching and the shortlist of finalists have been published today.

It's easy to forget when harvest is beginning in earnest about ordering your soil sampling.

The James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen, is currently undertaking a study of 'farmer adaptation and global engagement' in Angus and Skye/Lochalsh.

To kick off the Summer Show season we're giving you the opportunity to enter our competition to 'Win the Gin!' We want to showcase precision agriculture at its best, so looking for images that best illustrates farming operations through the seasons with your Trimble Agriculture kit.

A consortium of partners both academic and industry are developing a unique test to measure soil quality, linking the nematode populations and communities with nutrient, texture, structure and other key soil attributes. This test will identify long-term soil health problems across fields, problems which could be improved to give greater crop yields.

Edinburgh is hosting the 11th ECPA (European Conference on Precision Agriculture) this summer, 20 years since it was first held in the UK. This promises to be the world's premier precision agriculture event in 2017.

Celebrations were in order with another prestigious accolade at the Scottish Rural Awards last Thursday evening.

Our Managing Director Jim Wilson is currently in New Zealand covering both islands over the course of his 3-week visit.

Book your free place at the Valuing your Soils: Benefits of Precision Agriculture is a workshop being held at director Robert Ramsay's farm - West Mains of Kinblethmont - on 23 February.

Read our current edition of EssentialsNews here.

This week saw the first of three training sessions for our customers - 'Getting more from your Trimble screens'. The technical team headed to Dingwall today to kickstart their programme using the Dingwall & Highland Mart as their base.

SoilEssentials scoop Rural Impact Business of the Year at The Courier Business Awards

It was announced today that SoilEssentials have made the shortlist, one of three Angus companies, in the Rural Business Category of The Courier Business Awards 2016.

SoilEssentials Ltd, the leading, award-winning, Scottish precision agriculture specialists based at Hilton of Fern, near Brechin in Angus ran a competition at The Royal Highland Show this year for one lucky participant to win a precision agriculture guidance and steering system, courtesy of global agriculture specialists, Trimble.

Our customer - Douglas Stephen, Crop Services (Scotland) Ltd - features in the newly released July edition of Farmer's Guide this week. An interesting read on pages 36-40.

Make stand 232 a must-see for anyone interested in precision agriculture. As well as a range of Trimble products and the complementary range of SoilEssentials' own portfolio, the company are launching the next phase of their popular EssentialsMap product. This development project which is co-funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), supported by Deimos Space UK and integrates drone solutions by G2Way. EssentialsMap is a customised precision ag portal for agronomists and farmers, giving access to precision ag data to manage your business and customers more effectively.

Once again we will be at Cereals supporting Trimble on their stand as well as hosting our own stand to launch a preview of the development happening with our product - EssentialsMap.

More information just added! See the latest in precision ag technology, hear about new developments and speak to our staff to find out how SoilEssentials can support your farming operations.

SoilEssentials Ltd, the leading, award-winning, Scottish precision ag specialists based at Hilton of Fern, near Brechin in Angus have chosen Cereals and The Highland Show to launch the new version of their product EssentialsMap.

Make a date in your diary for the next LEAF Technical Day on Thursday 9 June at the James Hutton Institute's Balruddery Farm, Invergowrie, DD2 5LJ. Free entry, food and refreshments will be served.

Trade-up your screen with Trimble and take advantage of great deals

We are looking for a PRECISION AGRICULTURE PROJECT MANAGER/AGRICULTURAL RESEARCHER - are you the person we are looking for?

Here is a link to our latest newsletter with a seasonal flavour.

Join us at LAMMA'16 on 20th and 21st January for our first Show of the New Year.

We have been informed of a satellite frequency change which will effect most of our Trimble customers. The change will affect all customers using the RTX RangePoint, CenterPoint and xFill services.

We have recently produced a new pocket guide to introduce SoilEssentials with some of our key products alongside a range of the most popular precision ag products from Trimble.

SoilEssentials are delighted to be hosting three Customer Training Days in early December located throughout Scotland. These will be held at the Doubletree Hilton, Dundee, Kelso Showground (BUAS Springwood Park) and SRUC Craibstone on the outskirts of Aberdeen.

Third year agriculture students from SRUC in Aberdeen descended on Sales Director Robert Ramsay's farm at West Mains of Kinblethmont this week.

Autumn will always be a special time of year for Jim Wilson who farms at Hilton of Fern, near Brechin. For it was while he was sitting on his combine harvester in the autumn of 1996 and looking out over the field, that he came up with the idea for a new business.

Today, the last day of September, SoilEssentials welcomed 18 Danish agricultural advisers, led by Mr Ivar Ravn, Director of the Department of Cereals at SEGES (merger of the former Knowledge Centre for Agriculture and the Danish Pig Research Centre), to Hilton of Fern.

Did you know you can have a Trimble steering solution consisting of the CFX-750 display, EZ-Pilot assisted steering system on the RangePoint RTX correction service for ?5500?

Cutting edge farming technology and research will be showcased in Edinburgh at the 11th European Conference on Precision Agriculture in July 2017. Scotland's Rural College, the British Society for Animal Science and SoilEssentials Ltd worked together to ensure the capital city was the chosen venue and will now collaborate on organising the event itself.

One thing we like to do here at SoilEssentials is talk Precision Ag - and that's exactly what we did with a tailored training day for SRUC/SAC Consulting at Robert's farm at West Mains of Kinblethmont.

SoilEssentials were delighted to receive a Silver Award from the The Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland at the recent Royal Highland Show

It was harvest time in the late 1990?s and Jim Wilson was on the combine harvester while realising the yield in that particular field was not consistent throughout. The field had had the same treatment overall, yet there were obvious differences.

Join over 25,000 farmers, agronomists and industry suppliers at Cereals 2015, the industry's leading technical event and discover the latest arable innovations, information and insight.

We are proud to be celebrating our 15th anniversary and look forward to welcoming friends, customers - existing and new, to our stand again.

For a limited time we are offering this popular guidance display at this special price which includes the upgraded AG15 antenna and suction cup. Enter the world of precision agriculture easily and affordably with this great system for basic guidance to make your farming operations easier in any season.

We are seeking an experienced, enthusiastic and versatile individual to join our technical department within the role of FIELD SERVICE TECHNICIAN.

The next event on our calendar is the PF2015 show at Newark Showground on Wednesday 4 March 2015.

We are delighted to announce the appointment of Manterra as a dealer of Trimble and SoilEssentials precision farming equipment in the Yorkshire area and are excited about the prospect which will see Manterra offering some real, local focus and high level solution expertise.

Book your sampling now, don't leave it too late and jeopardise your forthcoming yields.

Our own comfy stand

Join us at Cereals 2014

Last Minute FmX RTK Deals Available

Jim is speaking and exhibiting at this event today.

We will be supporting a farmers event in The Thistle Hotel in Inverness on Wednesday night.

Jim and Phil and maybe more will be manning the stand. This show could be quite exciting, we have some new things to show you.

Details of stand site at LAMMA 2013

Details of Jim's recent trip to a GPS Conference in China as part of a UK Trade Delegation

Society of the Chemical Industry Conference Bracknell

Book your soil sampling now - Know your land and save on unnecessary inputs!

As part of a British trade delegation Jim is currently visiting China.

Jim attends interview in London as part of Nuffield Bullock Award assessment.

Yorkshire Office Now Open.

There is still time to contact us if you are thinking about a Trimble autopilot system for this coming harvest.

Lamma Show

Precision farming specialist Soilessentials has launched EssentialsNet, a GPS correction service which will enable farmers to enjoy the benefits of increased fieldwork accuracy from RTK guidance without the need for their own base station.

Trimble have just launched the new CFX-750 colour touch screen - a great step forward for precision agriculture.

Soilessentials becomes Northern UK Trimble Dealer.

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