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The same field at the end of February just before being drilled with spring oats. Note how clean and level it was, despite having had only a stubble management programme in the autumn.

between your fingers and have a lovely ‘fresh’ smell which indicates that plenty of air is present. In contrast, anaerobic soil will be lifeless, sticky, clump together and smell stale because it cannot breathe and therefore contains very little oxygen. If that is the case, you need to re-consider how you are farming. Part of this might be to change your system. When assessing soil condition prior to drilling I also carry out several penetrometer tests across the field to check that there are no soil pans. If there are you feel them immediately because the probe becomes much more difficult to push into the ground and the needle on the dial swings into the red zone. Pans are not caused solely by compaction from heavy machinery or working when conditions are unfavourable but can result from the sedimentation of soils that have been over-cultivated and ‘settled out’ over the winter. Because we drilled spring beans so early this year, we deliberately sowed them quite deep, 70mm to 80mm, so that they would take time to emerge, allowing early-germinating weeds to be taken out cheaply and effectively with one application of glyphosate before the crop came through.

Claydon Opti-Till system stimulates the rooting zone to create moist, aerated tilth which promotes strong healthy crop growth.

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Evidence of good soil structure could clearly be seen when drilling the crop, because the tyres on our 330hp John Deere 8345R ran clean in the frosthardened soil and left barely a mark on the surface, even when turning on the headlands with the 6m Claydon Hybrid mounted drill raised. Even in the tyre tracks the penetrometer reading remained well within acceptable limits. Last year, when the beans were at the ‘rosette’ stage we went over the field with a harrow to take out any emerging weeds, even though most were barely visible. This operation left the beans untouched, prevented weeds from developing, maintained a shallow tilth to retain moisture and helped the crop get off to a good start. It would also prevent the soil from capping in the event of heavy rain and baking hard when it dried out. Since we started direct seeding 16

Winter wheat drilled in October was in great shape at the end of February and just getting ready to grow away quickly with help from a dose of early nitrogen and the onset of warmer weather.

years ago, removing compaction is not something we have had to do because it has never been an issue. The soil has become so resilient that it has enormous carrying capacity and will easily support the weight of following operations. Our 5000-litre Knight selfpropelled sprayer weighs 18 tonnes, but it is used to apply nitrogen early in the season and that means crops get off to a flying start as soon as the weather turns warmer. The benefits of a resilient soil structure are evident throughout the farming year and, because it virtually eliminates machinery from sinking into the soil, the surface remains level, crops emerge unhindered, while field operations can be carried out faster, more accurately, more comfortably with less likelihood of damaging machinery. There is no downside and I will talk more about this

in the next issue.

Fine-tuning production is essential Whatever your views on Brexit, whether for or against, this prolonged process has demonstrated quite clearly that as farmers we must become even more efficient and self-sufficient. Farming is a very traditional industry and despite evidence to the contrary, many involved remain stuck in ‘The Cultivation Trap’, using traditional techniques and machinery which are time consuming, expensive, damage the soil, use large amounts of diesel and release large quantities of soil organic carbon. The key question we all must now ask is ‘how am I going to reduce my production costs to a base level which will enable me to compete in a global market, yet continue to operate a financially and agronomically viable farming business? With seed, ag-chems and fertilisers offering only limited scope for savings the focus must be on cutting establishment and machinery costs. There are many ways to do so, but critically it must be done without compromising yields and output, which means having a low-cost system which is reliable and repeatable. Some farmers will continue as they have regardless, others will use some form of min-till to establish crops, but

Even where the 5000-litre self-propelled sprayer had just driven the penetrometer remained in the midrange yellow zone.

move a lot of soil and incur excessive costs in the process, while others will simply cut seed into the ground using a zero-till drill, but the UK’s maritime climate means that presents a huge risk and is like playing Russian Roulette with the future of your farm. ISSUE 5 | APRIL 2019

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Direct Driller Issue 5  

Issue 5 Of Direct Driller magazine. The conservation agriculture magazine created by farmers for farmers. Subscribe for your free print copy...

Direct Driller Issue 5  

Issue 5 Of Direct Driller magazine. The conservation agriculture magazine created by farmers for farmers. Subscribe for your free print copy...