Dolan Industries puts digital technology to work

Dolan Industries has chosen, from the bewildering range of digital systems on offer, a set of machines and software options that lead the way in showing what can now be done with the latest technology.

While machine makers might believe their digital product will sell directly to farmers, there is another view that suggests an increasing proportion of this technology will come to the farm via contractors.

Complexity requires specialization

No wonder this is a well-established trend, but what is new is that the farmer can become much more dependent on contractors to select and operate systems based on data on which the management of a farm can be based.

LR, John Dolan, Danny Dolan and Mathew Macken

One company exploring the possibilities is Dolan Industries of Ballyglass, Co. Mayo. In its portfolio of goods and services, it provides the sale and application of fertilizers.

While manufacturers will boast of the precision of their machines and many farmers will take great pains to install them, the spread of this expensive resource has always been a matter of chance.

Accurate field mapping

Seeking to correct this, John Dolan and his technical director, Mathew Macken, have developed a service that goes far beyond simply visiting a farm with a spreader and a truck full of big bags.

The starting point is the mapping of the fields to be processed.

There are many GPS systems on the market and many of them rely on Google Maps to provide a farm plan.

Starfire 3000 dolan industries
The Starfire 3000 receiver is mounted on the roof of the Gator for mapping.

Yet, although there is a general belief that such images are correct, they found that no account was taken of elevation or gradient, and so dissemination based on their use was never going to give the desired precision.

This led to the use of a John Deere Gator equipped with a JD Starfire 3000 receiver to map the fields with the precision they needed.

There are two purposes of mapping: The first is the most obvious study of the shape and area of ​​the field, this is called its outer boundaries.

The second objective is to locate and outline any features or areas in the field that may require a different or zero application rate. These areas include along waterways or other sensitive regions and are called internal borders.

Test the soil

These maps can then be supplemented with a soil analysis showing the nutrient status of the fields which will influence the amount of fertilizer needed.

Soil testing is an expensive hobby, but with the launch of the government’s soil sampling pilot program this year, it is expected that a large amount of data will become available that would not have been otherwise collected.

Dolan industries software
Collected data is consolidated into a prescription card on the desktop PC

Bringing these three sets of data together produces a well-defined map of the area to be treated, along with the variables it contains, which can then be used as the basis for calculating a prescription for that field.

Solve the software puzzle

There are two software packages that perform the task of collating information. The first is the John Deere Operations Center, an online application that collects and serves as a repository for all data generated by tractors.

The second is Agrian Prescription Creator which is known to work well with John Deere software although it is not part of John Deere itself.

This part of the operation is done in the office and will take into account any other factors the farmer may wish to consider, availability of fertilizer and price being two.

What should be noted here is that if a field requires different levels of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in different areas, then they can be applied in straight lines over a season to correct index levels.

Dolan industries spread with a Bredal

After creating the map, it can then be transferred to the spreading unit, which in this case is a John Deere 6130M coupled to a Bredal 7t trailed spreader.

The tractor is fitted with the more advanced Starfire 6000 receiver, while the spreader comes with its own suite of software which allows variable rate spreading and some degree of section control.

Bredal spreader john deere tractor
The spreader has a capacity of seven tonnes.

The tractor’s software takes care of the steering and operation while Bredal’s system adjusts the application rate as the unit progresses through the field. Communication takes place via ISOBUS.

The spreader is equipped with load cells and a self-calibrating system so it can adjust to material flow in real time.

Not All Fertilizers Are Created Equal

When spreading with the precision achievable, the variation in material characteristics becomes apparent very quickly. Even fertilizers from the same source differ significantly as the season progresses.

Spreader Dolan Industries Ltd
The spreader can cope with lime or fertilizer thanks to interchangeable discs

Ensuring the accuracy of the spreading of the two machines, with two different control systems relying on a single prescription map, which itself was created using two other separate pieces of software, seems complicated.

It sounds like a recipe for disaster if any part of it goes wrong, and indeed it hasn’t been easy to make it work together, hence John’s assertion that this type of technology will arriving on farms via specialized contractors.

However, he has special praise for the dealers involved, especially Trevor Richardson of Atkins Farm Machinery and Joe Butler of Templetuohy Farm Machinery, who both worked hard to make sure everything went smoothly.

Gain experience in the field

Currently this is a unique setup in Ireland and it has been a learning curve for all involved but the results so far have been impressive with plus or minus 1% spreading accuracy.

Bredal spreader John Deere
Load cells monitor application rate during work

In addition to the efficient use of the material, a complete application record is created which can be called up to show exactly what has been applied and where, if there is a farm inspection or if payments are dependent on the application. proper use.

Dolan Industries has realized in the flesh some of the claims of digital technology made by manufacturers. But it hasn’t been a simple task, so while we may be dazzled by all the hype in the showroom, getting it to work at ground level can often be a challenge.

Maria D. Ervin