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Black-grass focus with new cultivator developments

The annual Cousins open day held at its Emneth, Cambridgeshire factory provided a useful opportunity for customers and dealers to find out about the latest products

The annual Cousins open day held at its Emneth, Cambridgeshire factory provided a useful opportunity for customers and dealers to find out about the latest products from the company, as well as on-going research regarding improved cultivation techniques resulting from the company’s work with crop production specialist HL Hutchinson. Farmers Guide machinery editor David Williams was at the event.
In 2011 Cousins introduced its rape drill conversion kit for the V-Form subsoiler. Available fitted from the factory on new machines, or for retro-fitting to existing V-Forms, the main feature was new Micro-wing points which create less soil disturbance than the conventional subsoiling points, and require less power to pull, combined with narrow press rollers at the rear which consolidate only the land behind each seed tine. Because less soil is disturbed there are fewer black-grass seeds brought to the surface and the weed problem is effectively reduced.
During 2011 Cousins began working with crop production specialist, Hutchinsons, carrying out trials of cultivation and seeding equipment with a view to developing equipment and techniques to combat the growing black-grass problem. Following the success of the V-Form conversion for oilseed rape drilling, trials demonstrating effective establishment resulting in good yields, a purpose-designed rape seeder based around the micro-wings and zonal rear roller has been developed.”The V-Form proved effective, but was designed for deep loosening on stubbles, and the v-shaped frame design was used to help the flow of soil and trash through the legs,” commented Hutchinson technical manager Dick Neale. “Seeding oilseed rape disturbs far less soil so there isn’t the same requirement for soil flow, which means a more compact design can be used.
“The new Cousins Micro-wing rape seeder has a shorter frame, making it easier to lift in mounted form and wider folding trailed versions are far less complicated to manufacture than the folding V-Form. Because it is built specially for the task, the whole design is more compact. The new purpose-designed rape seeder, with its Micro-wing points and zonal rear roller. A precision micro-granule applicator and slug pellet distributor are fitted, and apply product only to the tilled areas.We have further refined the rear press rollers, to optimise their performance and they are now as much a part of the effective design as the Micro-wing points. We are usually operating on bare stubble, and as soon as we open up the surface we increase the potential to lose moisture. Opening up a smaller area reduces this problem, and the zonal roller consolidates only the area disturbed keeping the moisture in where it is needed, while also accurately controlling the seeding depth,” he pointed out.
“Black-grass has been the main driver in the design of the seeder,” explained Dick. “It is an increasing problem and we are running out of chemical options to control it. Previously we were able to cultivate as we liked, and we knew there would be a chemical to tackle it, but options are reducing. How we manage the black-grass seed, particularly on the heavier farms, is critical, but with fewer farms ploughing, and manufacturers designing cultivators to work deeper, the problem has just become worse. Black-grass just loves what we have been doing to the land.
“Two of the main chemicals used now in rape; Kerb (propyzamide) and Crawler (carbetamide) both work near the surface, but by moving the land deep down, the black-grass can establish and then grow through the layer protected by the chemical. There is an issue too, that with deep cultivations chemicals can wash down and enter drainage systems more easily.
“Rape establishment historically has been quite hit and miss, and we wanted a reliable solution. By placing the seed accurately with the new seeder, there is more potential to achieve a good crop,” he added. The zonal rear roller is a key component in the success of the new seeder, according to Dick Neale.
In 2011, 30 hectares of rape were established with the test seeder, but with the new product entering the market in time for the 2012 drilling season, many thousands of acres of crop were established this year using the machine. “This autumn we had one farmer who drilled his rape using his direct drill, and the crop failed due to slugs,” said Dick. “Having sown some crop with a Micro-wing on demonstration, he asked for it back to re-sow the failed areas and this worked very successfully with an early October re-sowing date. He is keen to buy a new wider machine for next autumn.”
As well as helping reduce fuel costs, the strip-tilling technique also reduces the amount of pesticides required. Only 1.5m of a 6.0m working width is cultivated so applying 1.75kg/ha of slug pellets within the working zone is equivalent to the 7.00kg/ha maximum dose, which Dick explained saves approximately 15 per hectare in the cost of the slug pellets.
The test seeder in use by Hutchinson has 600mm tine spacing which Dick comments has worked well, but there is the option to specify 400-600mm spacing when ordering the machine, as well as to specify alternative working widths of four or five metres.
Most of the trials work carried out by Hutchinson has been at its Brampton site near Huntingdon, an area known for being particularly affected by black-grass. “It will take five or six years before we can prove beyond doubt that this cultivation and drilling technique is totally successful at tackling black-grass while establishing the rape reliably, but we are very pleased with results so far,” said Dick.New surface cultivator
Also being shown for the first time, and having been developed as a result of the work with Hutchinson, was a new working surface cultivator. This was designed ‘from scratch’ to cultivate only the top two inches of soil. “It works only in the top friable soil, so cultivates just the seedbed zone,” explained Dick. “The maximum depth is four inches but the intention is to thoroughly mix just the very top layer of soil, so it would rarely be used that deep.” The surface cultivator which has been developed from scratch with Hutchinsons, with the objective of reducing the black-grass problem.
The cultivator has a row of straight front discs, to cut through trash, ahead of two rows of specially-developed tines. Tine spacing across the rows is 300mm, which means overall spacing across the working width is 150mm. Each tine has a 75mm wide point, and approximately 60 per cent of the ground is moved.
Behind the bank of tines is a ridged roller, the ridges running in line with each of the tines, which has been developed during the season, particularly as a result of trials work on more difficult soils. It can be water-ballasted too, the ballast providing more even depth control, and consolidation especially when working at the higher speeds for which the cultivator was designed.At the rear is a ridged press, also capable of being ballasted, to further consolidate the surface, preserve moisture and encourage weed seed germination. The two roller assemblies are linked, and used to regulate the operating depth, but there is the option to lift the tines out of work completely and the implement to operate as a roller, using one or both roller assemblies.For the future, there is the potential to equip the cultivator with even more accurate GPS depth control, using soil maps, which will help maintain more even depth over varying soil types within the field.
With an eye to increased versatility the company is also considering offering a wider 8m model, which Dick suggested would fit in well with controlled-traffic farming operations, on an 8m system.
Trials during coming seasons will involve the use of the surface cultivator for all seedbed preparation ahead of conventional or strip-till drilling, with rape established using the new rape drill. For those including root crops and maize in their rotations, this year there will also be trials of the rape seeder, for the establishment of winter beans, maize, and even sugar beet.
“Black-grass doesn’t germinate from below 50mm,” explained Dick, “and, by just moving the top 50mm, we will be able to deal with the weeds near to the surface and prevent seeds being raised up to seedbed level during cultivations. The system saves money too; smaller tractors can be used, the wearing metal costs are much reduced and there is less weight of machinery involved in carrying out the cultivations, so reduced compaction.” Dick Neale with the cultivator, the 75mm points designed to work to just 50mm.
Cousins’ managing director Laura Cousins said the response to the work being done by the companies has generated considerable interest from farmers and dealers. “The response to the work we are doing, and the new products, is very positive which is reassuring as we see the black-grass issue as a very important factor for the future of cultivations.” Contour HZ roll
Cousins used the day to launch its new Contour HZ roll. It joins the Sidewinder and the Contour rolls in the company’s range, but has the advantage that unlike the company’s other rolls, it can be fitted with hydraulically-adjustable levelling boards, in response to demand from customers. The new Contour HZ roll, with the convenience of horizontal folding and the option to have hydraulically-adjustable levelling boards. The new roll folds horizontally, and is available with up to seven sections. At present the maximum width is 12m but the plan is to offer a 16m model. Ductile iron rings are used now on all Cousins’ rolls, and the company claims that using seven sections, the strength is increased over five section units because shorter axles are used, reducing stress on bearings and shafts.The roll has been out on test during the past autumn and is said to have impressed users. Most demand is expected to be from users looking to upgrade from existing 6m rolls.
“Previously we have offered a one year warranty on the rings and axles,” commented Laura, “but with the new model we are so pleased with the design and build quality that we are offering a three year warranty. Visitors to the open days were clearly pleased with the new specification, and during the event we took three orders for the new rolls, as well as many enquiries from potential customers.”   Attending the open day with two of his staff was Charlie Wootton of Wootton Brothers Farms, based near Downham Market in Norfolk. The farm is all arable growing cereals, including wheat, in addition to oilseed rape and sugar beet. The farm has several items of Cousins equipment in its cultivation fleet, including two V-Forms, levelling harrows and a pan-buster, and a set of rolls.
The farm used to include vining peas in its cropping, and its oilseed rape was established by a contractor using a Cousins V-Form-based system. “It was very successful,” explained Charlie, “but when we replaced the vining peas with an increased amount of rape, we bought our second V-Form, complete with a rape seeder unit to drill our own crop. All the Cousins products are very good. It’s locally manufactured and we get on with it very well.”
Charlie commented that all the Cousins products are purchased through local dealer BW Mack, who also supplies Claas tractors to the farm. “We have a very good relationship with the dealer and its depot is ideally located for us between our two farms. We receive very good service, and that is important to us.”
Pictured are machinery operators Jason Carr (left) with Andrew Wilson at the open day. “The Cousins equipment is built well and reliable,” commented Jason. “If we do have any problems or need parts the company is just a few miles up the road.”


From local Case IH main dealer Collings Brothers were sales executives Richard Lark and Rebecca Harris. Richard operates from the company’s Chatteris depot, looking after customers in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, and Rebecca is based at the dealer’s Abbotsley headquarters looking after customers in north Bedfordshire, as well as parts of Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire. The long-established dealer sells a lot of Cousins equipment. “The new shallow cultivator has been of particular interest today,” said Richard. “With oilseed rape establishment techniques so topical, the new seeder will be popular and we’ll be pleased to have the new products available within the range,” he commented.
“The Patriot cultivator and rolls are very good sellers for us,” added Rebecca. “This year we had a lot more interest in the V-Form, particularly with oilseed rape establishment in mind, so we expect the new rape seeder to be of interest to the farmers we look after. Cousins’ products have a very good reputation and users know they are well designed and usually over-engineered for the task. The company will do anything to help too, which makes it very easy to deal with. There aren’t many manufacturers today with which we can sit down with a customer and the design team and have the product adapted from the factory to suit their needs.”
Richard and Rebecca commented that the wet autumn was causing many problems for their customers, especially for those who had been trying to harvest sugar beet and potatoes, but despite the problems caused by the weather, the dealer had been busy dealing with customer enquiries for new machines. “Case IH has an excellent range now,” said Richard. “The latest Pumas are proving very popular, and new model Magnums which have been on order are due to arrive in time for the spring. We are very busy providing quotations as well as demonstrating the products,” he said.


At the open day were three generations of the Cousins family; Pictured (l-r) company founder Norman Cousins, managing director Laura and retired managing director John. “The open days are always popular and this year we had more than 150 farmers attend as well as a large number of dealers, from all over the UK,” commented Laura.

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