A commitment to new technologies and a relentless scrutiny of data are helping drive the growth of a Norfolk farm contracting firm.

AJ Alexander and Son is a family-run farming and contracting business based at Bush Green Farm at Pulham Market near Diss.

Since the family sold its pig herd in 1996, it has steadily grown its arable area and now farms across 3,582 acres, split between 12 landowners within a 10-mile radius.

And with rising equipment costs increasing the importance of scale, there is scope for yet more growth under the family's motto of: "Get bigger or get out".

The policy is to run the latest machinery to maximise reliability and take advantage of new technologies on GPS-guided tractors, harvesters, cultivators, seed drills and sprayers.

Data from soil probes, satellites and harvesters is monitored, mapped and analysed to maximise efficiencies, such as variable rate seeding and nutrient applications.

Robert Alexander, part of the fourth generation of the family firm, developed a passion for machinery during 15 years working for manufacturer John Deere, first as a national demonstrator for harvesting equipment then as service manager for the East MIdlands.

"I recognised there was value in the technology that was out there, but in order to justify the cost of it, you had to spread it over greater areas," he said.

"With the monumental leap we are seeing in machine costs I would not be afraid to take on 1,000 acres in the next couple of years.

"The cost of machinery is the big thing for people at the moment. We have got three different cereal drills out there - I would not be brave enough to say all these seed drills will do everything I want, but someone with 500 acres can only buy one of them.

"Another part of our growth is coming from people watching what we do over the hedge, and being impressed by what we do.

"Farming is a very people-focused business. A farmer is very much on a railroad rack and it sometimes takes a lot to get them to change direction. So, it needs a gentle approach.

"You cannot just turn up and say: You need me to do all your drilling because it is more cost effective. You need to be flexible, and there is a huge amount of time spent talking and getting people to understand what we are all trying to achieve."

Mr Alexander's brother Stuart is part of the family firm, but also works as a regional manager for SOYL, the precision farming division of Frontier Agriculture.

He said maintaining a modern machine fleet was crucial for both reliability, and winning new customers under another family adage of: "You won't get the work unless the machinery is in the yard."

But it also offers opportunities to find efficiencies through new technology, as he explained during a farm visit by Yield (Young, Innovative, Enterprising, Learning and Developing) – a rural business network for younger members of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association.

Given the soaring cost of nitrate fertilisers, he said nutrient efficiency has become a critical variable.

But, having mapped one field to identify where the nutrient deficiencies were, Mr Alexander said an experiment to "reverse the model" had brought some positive results.

"This is where we have gone against the grain a little bit - we decided that rather than feeding the bad bits, we would feed the good bits," he said. "We thought, why are we feeding the bad bits just to get them to catch up?

"There are some parts of the field that are less efficient at converting nitrogen into grain, so we are trying to understand why. If we want to reduce the nitrogen because of the cost, where are we putting it to get the best use out of it?

"In that field, I would say we have reduced nitrogen rates with no negative effect on yield. With prices as they are, I could afford a half-tonne yield loss based on the amount of nitrogen I have saved - but I am not seeing that loss."