French contractor lets farmers grow with precision ag

French contractor Pierre Henri-Hamon is one of the speakers at About Future Farming. His company Hamon Agriculture is an early adopter of precision farming technology and initiated a network of fellow French contractors in 2014. The technology is used to help farmers produce crops more efficient.

50 employees, 4 locations, 50 tractors, 20 combine harvesters and 12 self-propelled forage harvesters, all but one branded John Deere. That is French precision ag contractor Hamon Agriculture. Why John Deere? Because the dealer that helps him grow sells John Deere.

Pierre-Henri Hamon (31) is the current manager of the 70-year-old contracting business ETA Hamon in Guer near Chateaubourg in Brittany, France. A young and ambitious entrepreneur that puts his stakes on precision farming technology.

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In 2014 Pierre-Henri Hamon initiated the Cléo network that focusses on valorising agricultural crop production with new technologies and innovation. The network currently consists of 20 French contractors and two agronomists. – Photo: ETA Hamon

From 13 to 50 employees

Pierre-Henri took over the management from his father Michel Hamon in 2013 after pursuing a career at John Deere. He quickly grew from 13 employees in 2013 to 50 in 2018, also by taking over three fellow contractors. Pierre-Henri says that the average French contractor has 4,5 employees.

Cléo network

In 2014 he initiated the so-called Cléo network that focusses on valorising agricultural crop production with new technologies and innovation. The network currently consists of 20 French contractors and two agronomists. 15 of these contractors are, alike ETA Hamon, located in the West of France. They regularly debate with suppliers like Bayer and Cargill and annually visit fellow large (precision ag) contractors in other European countries.

For over 50% of the fields we could not explain nor validate the drone prescription maps. That’s why we prefer an active Yara N-sensor

The two agronomists help the contractors in taking decisions on amongst others crop nutrition and crop protection, but also with creating prescription maps. It was them that concluded that vegetation indices (NDVI) gathered by drones in cereals and oilseed rape were too unreliable to base side dressing of nitrogen fertilisers on. “We did these tests in 2015 and 2016 and for over 50% of the fields we could not explain nor validate the drone prescription maps. That’s why we prefer an active Yara N-sensor for that since then.”

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Via a cooperation with British precision soil sampling and variable rate application pioneer Soyl, ETA Hamon started scanning fields for yield potential maps with the Dualem EM soil scanner.

Drive to grow(th)

Mr Hamon has an enormous drive to grow his company as he feels that is a successful strategy towards a (more) profitable contracting business. Almost all of his tractors, self-propelled harvesters and other machines are bought instead of rented or leased. “I only rent machines short term when they are required to grow the company,” he says. “And if I need additional capacity, I need it fast.”

John Deere

That is one of the reasons most of the ‘running gear’ at ETA Hamon is branded John Deere. “My John Deere dealer understands my growth ambitions and is willing and able to support me with machine capacity. Others don’t or do less. I called my dealer on Tuesday that I need an additional combine harvester and on Wednesday he phoned me back that he found one available next Monday.”

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In 2014 Pierre-Henri Hamon initiated the so-called Cléo network that focusses on valorising agricultural crop production with new technologies and innovation. Mr Hamon is one of the keynote speakers at About Future Farming. – Photo: René Koerhuis

When buying technology, Mr Hamon first sets out to look for it in his home province Brittany. With known manufacturers like Monosem and Sulky, but also less known manufacturers like Mauguin Citagri nearby, he certainly has some brands to choose from.

“I like the Brittany-made Mauguin Citagri slurry tanks and have seven of those.” If ‘local’ manufacturers can’t fulfil his requirements, he tries to source his equipment in France and thereafter in other countries.

I’ve seen farmers grow from 70 ha/farm on average in 2013 to 100 ha/farm now. I want to help them grow further and increase the quality of their yields.”

Apart from growing his contracting business, he aims at providing his customers as much added value and profitability as possible. “I’ve seen farmers grow from 70 ha/farm on average in 2013 to 100 ha/farm now. I want to help them grow further and increase the quality of their yields.”

It was for this reason ETA Hamon started out in an early stage with low-disturbance soil preparation and mulch and direct drilling as well as the use of precision farming technology. To name just a few:

  • 1998: mulch and direct drilling
  • 2002: yield mapping in cereals
  • 2011: NIR-system on forage harvesters
  • 2012: crop sensor
  • 2014: variable rate drilling
  • 2017: variable rate fungicide application

He also started a cooperation with British precision soil sampling and variable rate application pioneer Soyl for scanning fields for yield potential maps with the Dualem EM soil scanner.

John Deere HarvestLab NIR-sensor

As an example of offering added value to dairy farmers, he says. “We were one of the first contractors in our province to use the John Deere HarvestLab NIR-sensor (Near InfraRed spectroscopy) back in 2011. At that time it could determine just the dry matter content and not yet the product quality. Since 2015 it also determines the crude protein, starch and neutral and acidic detergent fibre (NDF and ADF).”

ETA Hamon uses the HarvestLab sensor to automatically adapt the cutting length of maize based on the dry matter content and cutting length desired by the customer. He charges an additional € 3 fee per hectare for this service.

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For mulch and direct seeding, a French combination is used. The Monosem front tank is combined with the Sly strip till seeder. ETA Hamon is mulch and direct drilling since 1998. – Photo: René Koerhuis

NIR in slurry application

ETA Hamon also uses NIR-technology on its two Schuitemaker loading wagons and on two of its Mauguin Citagri slurry tanks. The ones on the Schuitemaker wagons are Italian made Dinamica Generale to determine the dry matter, crude protein, ADF, NDF and ashes in grass silage (the young forage harvesters with HarvestLab sensors are only used for harvesting maize).

This qualitative analysis helps his customers refine their crop harvesting and feed mixes. “But this is not charged yet as the mapping option is not yet available and the way to access the data for the user is not at all user-friendly.”

Variable slurry application

Since 2016, ETA Hamon is using two of its John Deere NIR-sensors on the Mauguin Citagri slurry tanks. The sensor determines the slurry components nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, ammonium nitrate and the dry matter content in real-time. Variable slurry application is done by means of a prescription map for phosphorus and potassium based on soil sampling, or by means of specific dosage of nitrogen to be applied. Customers are charged with a fee of € 0.08 per unit of nitrogen applied.

We experienced on average a 3% yield increase if we do the side dressing with the N-sensor

ETA Hamon began using the Yara active N-sensor for side dressing nitrogen fertilisers in cereal crops in 2012. He currently uses the sensor to determine the amount of nitrogen fertiliser his Kverneland RO-EDW twin disc spreader with section control needs to apply.

“We experienced on average a 3% yield increase if we do the side dressing with the N-sensor. Besides, it helps applying the allowed maximum nitrogen dosage there were the crop needs most and the fertilisation pays off best. The section control of the spreader helps in applying the granules at exactly the right place.”

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When buying technology, Pierre-Henri first sets out to look for it in his home province Brittany like these Mauguin Citagri slurry tanks of which he runs seven. Two of these can be equipped with the HarvestLab NIR-sensor for qualitative slurry analysis. – Photo: René Koerhuis

‘Companion cropping’

For the second year in a row, Mr Hamon and some of his customers are doing trials with ‘companion cropping’. The trails include field beans as a cover crop in oilseed rape and peas and other legumes as cover crops in maize. It’s another effort of ETA Hamon to help customers becoming more profitable.

“With the legumes we want to increase and optimise the level of protein harvested. We have calculated that harvesting 1% additional protein, equals 300 gram soy beans per cow per day. This way, dairy farmers harvest increased yields from their fields, have to source less protein from elsewhere and thus produce more milk with reduced feeding cost.”

After harvesting the cultivated crops, the legumes act as cover crops during the winter period.

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