Guaranteed late harvests, late drilling and late emergence as well as tricky soils mean…
Guaranteed late harvests, late drilling and late emergence as well as tricky soils mean Campden House Estate farm manager Ian Watts is under pressure every year to make the most of available windows for field work. In 2013 a new machinery policy was adopted on the farm and the choice of drill was critical to its success. David Williams visited the Gloucestershire farm to find out more. The land at Campden House Estate, Gloucestershire is mainly Cotswold brash, almost all between 500900ft above sea level, and mostly north-facing which means timeliness of field operations is essential. Campden House Estate is near Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire and its 600ha (1,500 acres) in the Gloucestershire Wolds is made up of 365ha (900 acres) of arable land as well as forestry and grass. Almost all the land is north-facing and between 500900ft above sea level, so harvest tends to be later than on many other farms in the region. The rolling land is Cotswold brash; a mix of clay and shale, with clay pockets in the bottoms and there is some medium clay too on the lower ground. In a dry year a hard crust forms and clods are an issue, while in a wet season the land becomes slippery and sticky. Stones are a constant challenge although they do protect the ground from compaction. This land has been farmed for many generations, says Ian, so it is just a case of getting on and farming it, making the most of opportunities to get on rather than worrying about the times we cant. Cropping is on a five-year rotation; spring barley, oilseed rape, wheat, beans and wheat. Group 3 wheats are grown for feed and biscuits and the barley is supplied for malting. Most of the bean crop is for feed but sometimes goes for human consumption. Wheat yields are 8.610.0t/ha (3.54.0t/acre), barley from 5.07.5t/ha (2.03.0t/acre), rape yields from 4.14.0t/ha (1.31.6t/acre) and beans from 2.53.7t/ha (1.01.5t/acre) often achieving 5.0t/ha (2.0t/acre) on heavier ground. The Weaving Sabre tine drill was chosen for its versatility and ability to cope with the challenging conditions. The estate has a family shoot and is in an HLS scheme, the spring barley drilled into over-wintered stubbles. Except for during the busiest periods such as harvest and occasionally during drilling, Ian carries out all the field work single-handed. A full-time forester is employed by the estate, and is available to assist on the farm when necessary, and a local part-time worker is also called in if needed. In early 2013 a reorganisation of the farms machinery fleet was undertaken, as Ian felt some machines were being under-used while the capacity of others was being stretched. We had two main tractors; one of 135hp and another 150hp but I could only operate one at a time so each worked only 500hrs per year, he says, and because we had a regular replacement policy the depreciation was considerable, making the two tractors quite a luxury. The forestry department has a 120hp tractor, complete with front loader, but when the forester was helping on the farm, operating one of the farm tractors, his was unused. The main problem, explains Ian, occurred during the drilling season; When I started on the estate 15 years ago we had a 4m tine drill, but replaced it later with a 5m power harrow combination drill capable of working in a wider variety of conditions, explains Ian. It was slow though and, with a front hopper making it time-consuming to fit and remove it was left on throughout the drilling season, tying up one tractor which was why two large tractors were needed. The two farm tractors were traded in, and replaced by a 200hp Massey Ferguson 7620 with a front linkage, and a smaller 100hp Claas Axos, suitable for lighter general work including maintenance of the HLS land. The Massey Ferguson, supplied by local main dealer JJ Farm Services, is run for long days during the autumn, Ian starting work on it early in the morning and a part-time operator taking over for the afternoon and evening, and in the 18 months since it arrived it has worked 1,000hrs. The simple tine and seed tube design provides a broad range of cultivation and drilling depths and Ian (pictured) says oilseed rape direct-drilled into stubbles last autumn has established well. The decision was made to replace the drill with something which could be easily fitted and removed, releasing the tractor for other tasks, and which could cope with the challenging conditions and wide range of crops grown on the estate. Weaving Machinery is quite local to us and we were familiar with the companys practical design and excellent build quality. Our previous combination drill was manufactured by the company, and we also operated several of its toppers and a stubble rake. I looked at the new Weaving Sabre tine drill, launched last autumn, and immediately liked the design, says Ian, The aggressive tines cut through the ground and push stones to the side, whereas many other drill coulters bounce in that situation. Under-body clearance is generous which is important for us as we are often under pressure to drill before trash has had time to settle. Overall it looked ideally suited to our situation so we ordered one and took delivery just after having started autumn drilling last year.
Shear-bolt protected Machinery working our ground does have to be tough and, although the tines are all shear-bolt protected on the Sabre tine, we havent replaced any so far. There is a lot of metal in the Weaving Sabre drill, he adds. We are still on the original tungsten points after drilling 360ha (850 acres), and although some are chipped, there is plenty of working life in them yet. Ian says moving to the Sabre tine drill, which is quickly attached or removed, has meant almost all the field tasks can be easily carried out using the one main tractor. Most cultivations are min-till, stubbles worked with a Sumo Trio. Our land doesnt plough well, explains Ian. It tends to push rather than flow along the mouldboards, and the results after the Sumo are just as good and allow us to save time and fuel.
The plough is used occasionally though; this spring some of the bean land was ploughed following the wet winter. We planted mustard which had grown to more than two feet high which needed incorporating and ploughing the land helped dry it out. Some of our winter bean land was also ploughed first as it allowed us to pull up soil dry enough to drill, he explains. The Sumo Trio prepares most of the land for drilling and establishes much of the rape, with a mounted seeder unit. During the autumn the drill performed well on land prepared by the Trio but with clods a problem on hard dry land the decision was made to purchase a second-hand front cultivator press for the tractor, breaking up the clods and levelling ahead of the drill. This has proved successful leaving a better surface after the drill for pre-emergence sprays to work effectively, he says, and if conditions turn wet then we can easily remove the press and use the drill directly on ploughed or cultivated land. The Sabre tine is designed for direct drilling too, which provides a further option, explains Ian. I like the idea of direct drilling and we established some of the rape in the autumn direct into stubbles and that came up well. We also had some beans to establish in very difficult conditions where the new drill surprised us; we had used the Trio on the stubbles but then had a month of rain during which time the surface was packed down hard. When we did get an opportunity to drill we used the Sabre tine without any further cultivations before, and it cut in well. The design means there is no swapping of coulters for different crops or drilling regimes. The seed tubes are adjustable behind the tines and can be lifted, allowing the tines to penetrate deeper creating loose earth for the roots to develop. I wouldnt want to direct-drill in to very hard dry conditions on our land as it is a drill, not a subsoiler, but if conditions are suitable and time is tight then I would certainly consider using it to direct-drill again, says Ian. Higher work rates Work rate with the Sabre tine has averaged 45ha/hr (1012 acres/hr), compared with 22.5ha/hr (56 acres/hr) achieved with the previous 5m power harrow drill. The seed hopper has a capacity of one tonne and Ian explains that he usually travels back to the yard for filling. The Sabre tine is well-designed, folding easily for transport, so I tend to travel back to the yard rather than bringing seed to the field. Being single-handed most of the time, that is an easier option than walking back to the farm to collect the handler and trailer of seed, he adds. The drill copes well with the stony ground. The addition of a front cultivator press has resulted in fewer clods and a level finish, allowing pre-emergence sprays to be more effective. The wide range of seed sizes, from mustard to beans, is accommodated easily by the drills metering system, and Ian comments that all that is required is to turn the adjuster handle on the meter and then set the required rate on the screen in the cab. We drill stubble turnips at 2.5kg/ha and beans at 250kg/ha, as well as all the crops in-between without having to swap over any cogs or metering rollers, he says, and it has always proved accurate. Our objective in buying the Weaving drill was to make best use of available weather windows and I am very impressed with the Sabre tine, says Ian. Its design suits our soils and is better for our soil structure than the power harrow combination drill. We try to wait for good conditions as it is easy to do a lot of damage very quickly which takes years to put right, and if we dont cause damage in the first place then we dont have to spend time and money correcting it. The crops we have established are looking good, even those drilled in the autumn, much later than we would have liked and in less than ideal conditions. We bought a small 3m power harrow combination drill along with the Sabre tine when we replaced the 5m drill, but it has been used very little; just for a few game crops and on some of the HLS land. The Sabre tine has proved capable of handling everything we have asked of it on the arable land so far.