Watch: A Norfolk farming year filmed from the sky

Norfolk farmer Tim Barrell has filmed his whole year of arable operations from the air, using a dron

Norfolk farmer Tim Barrell has filmed his whole year of arable operations from the air, using a drone fitted with a camera. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: SIMON FINLAY

While aerial drones might be the ultimate Christmas toy for many, a Norfolk farmer has employed one for a practical purpose – to record his farming year from a bird's eye view.

As their popularity rises and the technology becomes more affordable, there will doubtless have been hundreds of drones eagerly unwrapped as Christmas gifts across East Anglia.

But while these 'big boys' toys' have an obvious appeal to technology geeks and gadget fans, one Norfolk farmer has completed a project to prove they also have a much more useful purpose.

Tim Barrell used a camera mounted on his unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to compile a YouTube video capturing his annual rotation of arable operations, from grass-cutting and clamping to harvesting of wheat and maize, seed drilling, cultivation and crop spraying.

The 36-year-old, who runs a mixed family farm at Shipdham, near Dereham, said this bird's eye view gave him a valuable tool for monitoring crops and livestock, and an innovative way of archiving Elm Farm's 2015 achievements for posterity.

And while he thinks the short film will be watched by other farmers, he also hopes it will inspire interest among the public, offering people a new perspective on the work which happens, often out of view, behind hedgerows and farm gates.

'I bought the drone more for fun to start with,' he said. 'It started off as a hobby, but then I saw more potential for using it on the farm.

Most Read

'The video is the start of an archive. Every farm is different, and every year is different, but you cannot always remember everything that happens over the year, so if you can create an archive of films it gives you a nice general view of the farm.

'It is a progressive thing. If I take the videos as I go along every year, I can use it in my crop planning and it gives you a bit of a history of the farm so that when your children take it over they can see what you have done.

'And the public can see what we do as well. They just drive along in their cars and look over the hedge and see a tractor in a field. But if you are in the air looking down, it gives you another perspective on how large the fields are, and what bits of equipment we are using.

'I always like to see what other people are doing and how they cultivate the land. There are so many different bits of machinery out there, and it is always nice to look at others to see how they do it. And it gives you an insight into what you could do better on your own farm.'

The farm, where Mr Barrell lives with his wife Sam, includes a dairy unit milking 230 cows, and 800 acres of arable land growing winter barley, winter wheat, oats, maize and grass.

The drone camera has helped gather useful information on both the arable and livestock enterprises.

'With the arable operations, you can determine where land drains go across fields, and you can see problem areas with waterlogging, or seeds not germinating, and generally where the tractors run you can see all the wheel marks in the crop,' he said.

'I can actually take the pictures and upload them to my Gatekeeper (a crop management software programme).

'I think it is the way forward, to be honest. Because everything is getting more technology, you need to be able to take that technology and put it into your software, which will be able to understand it all.'

'With the cows, we have got a field at Guist which is basically river meadows, and it is quite tricky to get to with a four-wheel drive, because it is quite marshy.

'We have our heifers down there and because it is 50 acres it is much easier to fly the drone over to check on them and find them if they get lost, rather than to look out for them by eye, because you have the hedges, reeds and bushes everywhere. If you have a bird's eye view you can see them straight away.'

The video captures a range of working machinery, some driven by the film-maker himself while simultaneously piloting his drone.

It spans the period from grass-mowing in May, through the combining of spring barley in the summer, followed by cultivation and seed drilling, and the maize harvest in October.

'I would say the video shows about half of what we do,' said Mr Barrell. 'There is also the ploughing and the muck-spreading and maize drilling, so I want to do a more complete record next year.'