A Norfolk farm has embraced hi-tech data analytics to improve its decision-making - unlocking digital insights which have already inspired a cropping change this spring.

Hall Farm at Necton, near Swaffham, is using the MyFarm Analytics system as part of its long-standing agronomy relationship with Frontier Agriculture.

Through an online portal, it instantly displays the farm's data, ranging from yields, crop marketing and accounts to soil analysis and nutrient mapping for precision farming.

Watton & Swaffham Times: Data analytics at Hall Farm, NectonData analytics at Hall Farm, Necton (Image: Sonya Duncan)

James Spratt and his father Edward, who run the family's 1,100-acre mixed farm, have only used the system for six months, but three years of the farm's historic data has been uploaded.

And it has already helped them to decide the most financially-viable and least risky crop after an exceptionally wet autumn compromised the usual rotation plans.

Several options, including spring wheat, maize and beans, were considered for fields which would usually have been planted with winter wheat.

At the click of a button, the system created budgets based on the farm's own historical data - and based on these insights, the decision was taken to plant spring barley.

James Spratt said it was an invaluable tool to maximise the farm's profitability.

"We’ve taken the emotion out of a lot of the decisions," he said. "Farmers are sticklers for tradition and being stuck in their ways, but here you can see exactly what you need to do in black and white.

"We can see our cost of production, and make sure we are spending the right amount of money on certain fields, and not over-spending on parts of the farm that are never going to produce the yield we are expecting it to.

"Time-saving is another massive thing. It is one thing we are all short of. I don’t want to be going home, getting out a folder and flicking through pages trying to find a figure."

The technological evolution also mirrors a generational change at the farm.

While 26-year-old James is taking on more responsibilities, arable manager Kevin Banham will be "stepping back from frontline action" following this summer’s harvest - after 49 years on the farm.

And Andrew Melton, Frontier's regional agronomy manager, who has advised the farm for more than 30 years, is also passing on knowledge to a younger agronomist, Kerris Poland.

Watton & Swaffham Times: Frontier agronomist Kerris Poland with farmer James Spratt and Henry Welham of Yagro at Hall Farm, NectonFrontier agronomist Kerris Poland with farmer James Spratt and Henry Welham of Yagro at Hall Farm, Necton (Image: Sonya Duncan)

"This is just the next step, and it has to keep evolving," said Mr Melton. "As Kerris develops her career as an agronomist, her relationship with James will be completely different.

"The fundamentals will stay the same, but they will be using different technology to what Edward and I would have been using over the last 30 years.

"That’s how it should be. It is not something to be frightened of. It is something to embrace.

"They are challenging what Edward and I have done, and that is important. Doing what we have always done is a recipe for disaster. Now we are using the farm's actual data, to make a more informed decision, with no emotion.

"It is an engine that has brought everything together in a manner that we can all use, to help us make everyday decisions, to be sustainable and profitable."

Edward Spratt added: "We have got to make use of this new technology. We have all the information there, but unless we can use the information it is pretty useless.

"The way farming is going over the next five to 10 years, it is going to be phenomenally tight. We have to spend our money very wisely and get a return."

Henry Welham of Yagro, the firm whose technology powers the system, said: "Growers have been told to collect data for a number of years, whether for auditing purposes, yield data, sales and contracts, invoices - but often that data sits siloed, and it is quite challenging and time-consuming to bring all of it together, to be able to make sense of it in a coherent way.

"The nice thing about this system is it analyses the farm’s own data, not just industry data. It is specific to what they are capable of achieving and the cost of inputs that have been typical on that crop here, and the figures are spat out in a matter of seconds, so they could consider the best route for the farm."

Watton & Swaffham Times: Farmer Edward Spratt with his son James and arable manager Kevin Banham at Hall Farm, NectonFarmer Edward Spratt with his son James and arable manager Kevin Banham at Hall Farm, Necton (Image: Sonya Duncan)