Small investment for greater versatility t The 12m Horsch Sprinter drill used by Driver Farms has been equipped with Dutch coulters for direct-drilling and reduced soil disturbance. uThe full set of coulters is easily swapped in two hours.
Increasing problems resulting from a classic min-till crop establishment regime combined with a traditional wheat and oilseed rape rotation encouraged an East Anglian family farm to find alternatives. David Williams reports. Heavy Hanslope-series clay makes up most of the 1,200ha (3,000 acres) farmed by Driver Farms, based south of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. The land is a mix of owned, rented and contractfarmed, capable of good yields, but always a challenge according to farmer Adam Driver. Until recently, shallow cultivations immediately after harvest created a stale seedbed for weed control, and then tillage before drilling included occasional ploughing, but more often just a deeper pass with a min-till cultivator. A Horsch Sprinter 8m drill with standard Duet coulters established the crop. “Our min-till regime limited crop potential with soil structure damage, and ploughing was time and fuel costly and wasn’t giving us sufficient weed-control,” he explained. “Black-grass was increasing, to the extent that winter cropping was no longer viable on some fields and we knew we had to improve soil structure, tackle the weeds and save operating costs.” The first decision was altering the crop rotation. “We needed to push
back winter drilling as late as possible to give us time to tackle the weeds,” said Adam. “But our land is tricky because once the wet winter weather sets in, we can’t get on it again until spring and 60–65 per cent of our crops still need to be autumn and winterdrilled.” Crops include winter wheat, oilseed rape, winter and spring beans, and spring barley and cover crops have been added to improve soil condition and preserve nutrients. Large amounts of manure are also added which the Drivers see as a better and more reliable means of improving condition and fertility than just relying on cover crops. “We knew full cultivation costs were too high for the limited benefit,” said Adam. “Ploughing damaged the soil structure and didn’t control the black-grass. We saw direct-drilling as an opportunity to improve soil condition, save fuel use and give us extra time later in the season. “We had heard about Canadianmade Dutch Industries’ range of Universal Openers for Horsch drills and
read reports of their success on-line and in the farming press. Replacing standard units, they are available in a range of traditional wider working widths and narrower, for reduced disturbance and direct-drilling and are easily swapped. They offered a flexible solution, using the same drill for all crops and conditions.” Pan-Anglia key account manager Tony Rook has supplied the farm’s replacement wearing parts for many years and the dealer is the UK importer for Dutch openers. “We have always been well looked after by the company so learning from Tony that he could supply the coulters influenced our decision,” said Adam. The plough was sold in 2015 and a new, wider 12m Sprinter drill replaced the previous 8m version. The new drill was ordered from local dealer Ernest Doe Power without coulters, and a full set of 1-inch direct drilling and 5-inch traditional tips were ordered from Pan Anglia.
Quick and easy swapping Two bolts attach the Dutch coulter frames to the standard Horsch legs. An appeal of the Dutch openers is the ease of fitting and removal. All that is needed once the Dutch coulter holder is fitted is to remove a fixing pin, knock off the tip and push on the new one. “Swapping all 42 coulters takes just two hours,” explained Adam. “We had no intention of switching to directdrilling all our land in the first season. It’s a learning process, but the ease of swapping lets us pick and choose depending on conditions.” Another benefit of the new
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coulters is the ability to apply liquid fertiliser at drilling. “We use it for all the crops and it definitely makes a difference,” said Adam. “Because we are not mineralising as many nutrients with our reduced soil movement, the availability of the liquid fertiliser is an advantage. “We hope the catch crops will increase nutrient availability too. After harvest there are usually superb growing conditions, when the land is otherwise bare, and something growing which can retain the nutrients and improve soil structure should be a benefit. Although still new on the farm, we hope they will eventually improve soil moisture control, allowing us to push drilling back later still,” he explained. Direct-drilled crops last autumn included oilseed rape, beans and 100ha (250 acres) of winter wheat as a trial, the remaining land shallow cultivated to achieve stale seedbeds, then with turning headlands cultivated deeper, before drilling with the wider coulters. Most spring-drilled crops have been into cultivated seedbeds, but a small area of spring beans direct-drilled as a trial is looking less successful than those which were conventionally planted. “Results so far have been good, and advantages include better timeliness of cultivations and reduced fuel use,” explained Adam. “This year has been
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