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Versatility key to drill selection The need to successfully establish a variety of crops, in any cultivation regime and regardless of weather conditions was the priority for one Suffolk farm when choosing a new drill. David Williams reports. The Jewers family, trading as D & T Farms Ltd, is based at Rattlesden, near Stowmarket and farms approximately 222ha (550 acres) which is owned, 181ha (450 acres) which is contractfarmed, plus a variable acreage on which occasional contracting operations are carried out each year. What made the decision to buy a drill even more critical was that almost all the land is tricky, heavy clay soils which are sticky when wet and form hard clods when dry and there are some steep slopes which means conditions can vary considerably within a field. Providing a regular contracting service for six local

farmers means some crops have to be drilled into traditional ploughed and cultivated soils, some into min-tilled land while the Jewers’ objective is to move progressively to a zero-tillage regime.

Suitable for task Many local farms rely on two or more drills, including a power-harrow drill for when conditions become extra tough, but Tom Jewers explained this wasn’t considered an option for his operation. “We don’t believe in having reserve machines sitting in sheds waiting to be needed,” he said. “If we invest in new equipment, we choose something suitable for the task and the drill is no exception.”

Tyre pressure priority

The Weaving drill coulters are inclined at 22 degrees, which means they are easily closed by a simple press wheel even on wet heavy soils. A single release pin arrangement allows the seed tube to be withdrawn and checked for blockages in seconds.

The farm’s mounted 3m drill was due for replacement last year and Tom was keen to purchase a wider model, capable of establishing a larger acreage, but which could be used behind the existing 180hp tractor. “Our headlands were taking a hammering from the tractor wheels because, to transport the drill on the road and pick it up on the headlands, meant running the rear tractor tyres at 28psi. While looking for something wider, we also wanted to move to a trailed machine as it would allow operation at lower tyre pressures and reduce compaction.” As with most farms in the eastern counties black-grass is an increasing problem. “It thrives on poorly drained land and although we use a mole plough to keep the drains running, we were aware that the compacted areas were also the areas with the worst of the black-grass. Reducing the ground pressure would help, and we believed

p A Weaving GD4800T Drill has increased workrates, reduced fuel use and opened up new options for crop establishment for a Suffolk farm. u Tom Jewers.

that moving to direct-drilling and eventually zero-tillage would also help, through naturally structured soils and reduced soil disturbance,” he said.

Reducing costs Cost of cultivations was also proving an issue. “We are not seeing higher prices for our crops although the input and operational costs keep increasing,” he said. “So the best solution seemed to us to be to reduce our costs as much as possible while optimising yields and quality, and if we can zerotill eventually that offers the greatest savings opportunity.” Although Tom has considered zero-tillage for many years, his concern has always been that on his heavy land, the seed slots aren’t easily closed to protect the seed. “If we open up a seed slot and try to reseal it with a traditional press wheel, then it often remains open creating ideal conditions for birds to eat the seed or for it to dry out and die. I spoke with a university friend about it a couple of years ago, and he had heard that Weaving was developing its GD Drill, using a different coulter system, which he believed would suit our situation. I contacted Weaving and the company was very helpful, but it was a year before the new product was available for us to try.” The GD Drill uses in-line discs, mounted at 22 degrees off vertical to lift a slice of soil which drops back onto the seed under gravity. Vertical press wheels follow, providing additional pressure to ensure a seal. Very high coulter pressures are available, making the drill capable of penetrating the heavy land in a dry season, and cutting through cover crop where the previous mounted drill would have

struggled. “Of the 440ha (1,000 acres), only 16ha (40 acres) are lighter sandy loam. It is great to farm, until we get to harvest and compare the yields to the heavy land,” observed Tom. “The GD Drill is very simple and designed for successful operation in the most difficult conditions without prior cultivations. This means we could be confident it would also work on ploughed and min-tilled land,” said Tom.

Successful demonstration A demonstration drill was brought out to the farm by local dealer Ernest Doe Power and used to plant beans during spring 2016. “The field had a black-grass problem and was planted with a cover crop,” explained Tom. “The cover crop had been sprayed off, and the beans were planted successfully. We had intended to spray a broad leaf weed herbicide, but due to the low disturbance GD coulters, the pre drilling glyphosate was the only herbicide required.” Tom said several drills were considered and apart from the back-up available through Ernest Doe Power for the Weaving drill, a significant factor which confirmed the decision was the manufacturer’s interest in his operation. “From our first enquiry everyone at Weaving was interested in what we were doing. Often a company’s sales staff will show an interest but at Weaving everyone was involved. When we received our drill and the service engineer came out to set it up for the first time, he asked if he could view the crops established previously by the demonstrator. He continued over...

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