“We are using several agricultural apps but none of them is so advanced as OneSoil!” Interview with Latvian farmer Artis Lillais
On his farm, Artis Lillais grows wheat and rapeseed. As well, he manages neighbouring fields and he’s interested in new agricultural technologies. We talked with Artis how he keeps up with fieldwork and managerial responsibilities, how OneSoil helps with this and why it’s important to check thunderstorm maps in time.
About Artis’s experience of managing neighbouring fields and farms
— Artis, tell us about yourself and your farms. Where are they located and what do you grow there?
— I have been in agriculture since 1990 when I founded my first farm. Now I work on two farms. My estate is located in Tērvete — it’s near the Lithuanian border, in the region of Zemgale. Local farmers mostly grow grain and industrial crops here. It is considered the best land for wheat and rapeseed, and that’s what I grow. I include peas and beans in my crop rotation, but to a lesser extent, since they are not as economically profitable.
For the last seven years, I’ve been experimenting with minimal tillage and I want to fully switch to a no-till system. The area of my farm is currently 100 hectares. I try to increase it little by little, but it is difficult to find land to purchase, and the cost of leasing is quite high. I manage the second farm as a guest manager. It’s located near mine. Its area is about 40 hectares, and we grow wheat, rapeseed and some barley there.
— Where do you sell your crops?
— Traders who buy crops mostly ship them to the European Union or to the Middle East. But I think some products appear on the local market. We make a deal with a buyer, rent transport and take the crop to the elevator or directly to the port for export. This is the most profitable scheme.
— Did you study agronomy?
— I have a degree in agronomy, but with a specialization in engineering. In the Soviet times any education associated with agriculture included the study of agronomy. Not at the expert level, of course, but after graduation a person at least had some basic knowledge in agronomy.
My dad and my brother are also agronomists. My dad was a foreman on a collective farm during the Soviet times. After the collective farm collapsed, my father restored ownership of the land and created his own farm. Then my brother took the baton and continued what our father began. For the last seven years, we have been actively moving towards precision farming. We study different devices, new equipment…and that is how we got to know about OneSoil. It was my brother who showed me the OneSoil Scouting application, and together we started to scout the fields using it. I think that we aren’t the first OneSoil users in Latvia!
For the last seven years, we have been actively moving towards precision farming.
— I know that you have some ideas for your personal blog about precision farming. Is that right?
— Yes, I even have my own website. But since I also own an online store (Artis sells electronics and electronic components, — OneSoil), I rarely have time to write something. Now I am busy with our transition to no-till sowing: I’m taking photos using a drone, and later I’m going to sort them out to make a visual description of the process. I also take videos that I might upload on YouTube one day. In Latvia, there are almost no bloggers who write about the novelties of the agricultural sector.
In Lithuania there is a support service for farmers — Agroakademija — which is sponsored by the state. The support team makes videos for farmers to help them avoid mistakes when choosing seeds, working with sprayers, etc.
About the experience with OneSoil
— When did you learn about OneSoil?
— At the beginning of this year — March or April. It was already getting warmer, and we could observe the NDVI index because the fields were already green. We are using a few other platforms, but they are not as advanced as OneSoil, and cater to slightly different needs. We find all sorts of useful applications through agro-bloggers on YouTube.
— How often do you check the NDVI index?
— Constantly. I’m using several applications for that, including yours. Since I’ve got all my fields on OneSoil platform, it’s convenient to check the index there.
I applied ammonium fertilizers using your maps, and after that, 30% of the field with a lower NDVI rose to the general level.
— Did you use our app for calculating nitrogen fertilizers?
— Yes, I applied nitrogen differentially on wheat and rapeseed fields. In autumn I scanned the rapeseed with the Yara N-Sensor. Later in spring, I created a field map based on the sensor readings and differentially applied ammonium sulfate. After that, I created field maps on the OneSoil web platform and I apllied two more portions of UAN (urea-ammonium nitrate — OneSoil) fertilizer according to them. Rapeseed turned out to be quite homogeneous: 90% of the field had the same NDVI index.
For wheat, I only used your nitrogen map. There was a difference: on 60% of the field the NDVI index was 0.7, on 30% of the field it was 0.60–0.64. First I used ammonium sulfate, then I applied UAN fertilizer: in the tillering stage, booting stage and in the stage of the second node. I applied ammonium fertilizers using your maps, and after that, 30% of the field with a lower NDVI rose to the general level, which I am very happy with.
— Did you try our app for сalculating phosphorus and potassium fertilizers?
— I haven’t used this tool yet because I ordered soil testing from one German company. First, they examined my fields with a special scanner. After that, they created a map to select the soil samples which they analyzed for the content of nutrients. And by the results of the lab analysis, they built a soil map for my fields. I calculated rates for the differentiated application of phosphorus and potassium fertilizers using their soil map. I also created a map for phosphorus and potassium application on the OneSoil web platform to check if it matches my soil map. Just out of curiosity.
— Did you find that OneSoil map and your soil analysis maps match?
— I would say they match about 70%. The boundaries of OneSoil zones are slightly different, but this difference is not so evident. Maybe in the next season I’ll try to play around with your maps.
Over time, they will turn into a chronicle of plants conditions.
— What other features of the OneSoil web platform do you use?
— Notes. I like attaching photos to them. Over time, they will turn into a chronicle of plants conditions. This data won’t go missing and it will be really handy to have a digital notepad where you can track the state of the field over the years.
— How do you check the weather forecast?
— I check the weather forecast on AccuWeather and Meteolapa websites, but I check thunderstorm maps such as Lightning Map more often. Knowing in advance when a storm or gale is coming is important. Especially when it’s time to harvest rapeseed — strong winds can seriously damage the crops. This year the hailstones damaged some fields!
— Is there a feature that you lack in OneSoil?
— Mmm… Maybe a tool to calculate the required dose of ammonia fertilizers. From my point of view, to accurately determine how many nutrients plants need, you still need to walk through the fields with a hand scanner. And I would like you to split a field into more zones on the field: not three, but five, for example. After all, there can be dead zones on a field where a farmer cannot grow anything.
— What applications, besides OneSoil, do you use regularly?
— The eAgronom application made by an Estonian company. The layout is a little different, but you can also specify fields and calculate fertilizers there. It consists of several modules: the first helps to plan the work, the second allows you to monitor performance, and the third — to analyze the harvest.
The app is not suitable for small farms, because, firstly, the license is expensive, and secondly, small farms do not need all its functionality.
— How often do you use OneSoil?
— At least once a week. Because the photos are updated every 2–5 days, depending on the weather. I might even say that I helped promote your app: I told the owners of nearby farms about your application. Some of them were very interested. I think you have a lot of users in Latvia!