Arable News

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Keeping costs under control

Farmers gathered at drill manufacturer Claydons Suffolk HQ recently for the companys annual open day

Farmers gathered at drill manufacturer Claydons Suffolk HQ recently for the companys annual open day where soil management and black-grass control were on the agenda. Visitors also got the first glimpse of a new drill. Dominic Kilburn attended. Visitors to the event got a sneak preview of the companys latest drill; the 6m Hybrid T.
 With an increasing number of extreme weather occurrences being experienced across the country each season as well as current and forecasted low crop prices, things are going to get tougher for growers, predicted Claydon company founder and managing director, Jeff Claydon. Speaking at the firms open day, staged at its Suffolk base near Newmarket, he said that growers should consider an establishment system that delivers good yields across variable seasons and one that offers farmers a reduced cost operation both the hallmarks of Claydons one-pass seeding system, he suggested. With harvest 2014 wheat prices at 130/t, compared with 150/t last year, things are getting tighter and this is against a backdrop of exceptionally variable weather experienced over the past few years. Weve had all extremes of weather recently and who knows what the remainder of 2014 will bring, he CLAY-added.

Jeff started off by highlighting trials work by plant breeder Saaten Union which had shown that, over the past eight years, Claydons one-pass seeding system had consistently delivered better yields compared with crops established by the plough. In 2007, when there was 900mm of rain during the growing season, our system delivered 8.3t/ha in trials compared with 7.5t/ha for the plough-based. Conversely, in the dry season of 2011, our system was 27 per cent better yielding (9.2t/ha compared with 7.3t/ha). It shows that in a wet season our one-pass operation can cope with no problems and yield better than the plough, and in a dry year it showed a massive difference in yield with our drill able to deliver seeds directly into moisture, he said. According to Saaten Union, the mean trials results from 20062013 demonstrated that the Claydon system out-yielded the plough-based establishment system by 10 per cent. In addition, the Claydon system cost about 50/ha to operate, compared with a plough-based system of 200/ha one of the key reasons behind the success in establishing the business, pointed out Jeff. The Claydon drill system is about keeping costs under control, he added. Farmers gathered at the Claydon open day in readiness for agronomy-based presentations.  The Claydon way Claydon drills use a patented seeding technique which allows farmers to establish a wide range of crops direct onto stubble, on min-tilled land or on fully cultivated soils. A simple, two-tine system starts off with a ground-breaking rigid tine (its depth set to the required rooting depth of the crop of between 100150mm) to create a deep drainage channel that gives the soil the room to breathe and lifts the tilth for the following A-share to plant the seeds. Claydon drills use a patented seeding technique which allows farmers to establish a wide range of crops direct onto stubble, on min-tilled land or on fully cultivated soils. The soil moves over the A-share as the seeds are planted in a band formation while boards (paddles) at the back of the drill skim the soil over the seed. Fields are becoming more level with consistent use of the Claydon drill; the front tines creating drainage channels, just cracking the soil to let the water in, and the second row of tines levelling. The drills are grading the field surface and its helping to keep the seed at an even depth, commented Jeff. Integral to the success of the Claydon system, he continued, is the use of a straw harrow immediately after the combine at harvest. We say that the first cultivation pass is at harvest itself with the combine and the spreading of the straw, and then the second pass is with a straw harrow. Its important to go diagonal to the direction of the combine and at about 25kph. This creates a micro-tilth on the soil surface and, when it rains, you get a good chit of black-grass, he pointed out. Other benefits of the straw harrow, said Jeff, were that it destroys slugs eggs in the stubble and, following oilseed rape harvest, it knocks cotyledons off established volunteers and reduces the amount of food available for slugs. We have seen that three passes over OSR stubble can dramatically reduce slug numbers, he added. Jeff explained that the Claydon system keeps weed seeds close to the surface the straw harrow only mixing to a depth of between 530mm depending on soil conditions where the seeds can germinate and be sprayed off once established. This compares with deep min-till systems that can mix black-grass seed throughout the soil profile and which can lead to black-grass germinating all year round. The plough is OK to use occasionally, but if it is used every year then it will continue to bring the previous years seeds up from a depth and on to the surface. Once drilling with the Claydon system has taken place, into what remains a relatively undisturbed and moist seedbed, Jeff emphasised that it was important to roll down the seedbed to assist with seed-to-soil contact and moisture retention, as well as improving the efficacy of any residual chemistry applied.   Spring establishment In terms of spring drilling, Jeff stressed that if growers drilled at the right time, then crops will establish and yield well. In 12 years of product development with direct drilling weve learned a lot about drilling in the spring and the key aspect is soil temperature. On our own farm we use the three-crop rule to grow spring crops on fields worse affected by black-grass but there must be sufficient soil temperature and therefore we recommend delaying before drilling gets underway, he said. Ideally the soil temperature should be measured at 300 and 600mm depths and it should be a minimum of 80C before you start direct drilling. At that temperature more nutrients are available for uptake by the crop, added Jeff. Some spring wheats we drilled on the 28th March this season and some on the 14th April, and there is much less black-grass in the later drilled crops as they got away quicker and competed better with the black-grass. We have a wheat/rape/spring wheat rotation on our farm and use the spring wheat to get on top of black-grass. After the spring wheat we follow with oilseed rape which gives us a good opportunity to hit the black-grass again with Kerb.   Hoe down Staying with weed control, Jeff highlighted a novel approach to controlling black-grass in the spring which the company is giving serious consideration. With the help of an RTK network and a Claydon drill (with an empty seed hopper), inter-row hoeing, using the drills tines, has proved to be a useful method of removing black-grass plants located between the rows of wheat this season. The ideal time to attempt this was at growth stage 30 this spring, suggested Jeff, who reckoned that 6070 per cent of black-grass populations were removed from the field using this technique. With the technology we have available it makes this possible and its a lot cheaper than using a herbicide at that time of the season. Using the drill instead of herbicide is also an opportunity for organic growers, he said. Its an idea we might develop for the future and, while we may consider introducing a hoe, if our customers can already manage effectively with their drill then why not continue to do so?   Business expansion Claydon UK and Ireland sales manager, Charlie Easton said that the company had undergone rapid growth in the past few years, from producing a drill a week three years ago to six per week now. He pointed out that in 2009, the companys Hybrid SR and V drills had mostly been sold across the eastern side of the country with a small number being sold in the west. However, strong business growth in 2011 had resulted in increased sales in the south east and across the south of the country. In addition, the west took more drills while the Scottish market also began to develop. Scotland has seen some massive growth recently, he said. Last year at the Cereals event we launched a seed and fertiliser combination drill and it has proved very popular in that part of the country. Ireland has also seen considerable growth and we have sold nearly 50 drills there in the past two years, he added. Having attended its first Agritechnica event two years ago, Charlie said that the companys export market was expanding as quickly as it was in Scotland and Ireland and that there were now 550 Claydon drills and 260 straw harrows working overseas. He added that Claydon now had 20 agents outside the UK while Germany and France were proving to be the major continental markets. Scandinavia is developing well too where our system suits the tighter weather windows, while in countries including Spain and Portugal, where moisture retention is key, we have also had success. He went on to say that the companys product range continues to expand; the new Hybrid T drill the latest addition and officially launched at the Cereals event (see over page). Since 2011 it has been the 3.06.0m mounted Hybrid drills and 7.5m straw harrows that have produced the bulk of our sales; weve sold 270 of the 7.5m straw harrow and weve recently brought out a 3.0m model for smaller farms. Charlie added that Claydon introduced a 15m straw harrow last year to try out on the market. Other products in the companys portfolio include granular front hoppers for fertiliser placement systems as well as rolls; the latter critical for consolidation of the seedbed, he pointed out, and a 12m set was launched at Cereals last year with 6 and 8m versions also available.   Good soil structure Key to controlling black-grass is keeping weed seed close to the surface, delaying drilling, and creating and spraying off a stale seedbed at least twice prior to drilling, said Cambridgeshire wheat grower, Martin Whitlock who attended the event. Martin farms 160ha (400 acres) at Rookery Farm, Stow Longa, also the location of Agriis specialist black-grass management trials centre. Heavy land is a feature of the farm coupled with heavily infested and highly resistant black-grass. In addition, Martin has a bread-making wheat contract with Warburtons a factor that dictates variety choice. He has been operating a min-till regime on his farm for the past 12 years and is now on his second Claydon drill (a Hybrid 3m mounted) having switched to the brand 6 years ago.  When we originally switched to a min-till system, we noticed an amazing improvement in soil structure on our farm within two years, commented Martin. We have very heavy soil and soil structure is absolutely key. Direct drilling was the next step on from min-till and it also saved us a lot on fuel costs and time, he added. Martin explained that baling and carting straw had been one of the main factors for causing compaction and resultant poor structure on the farm, and so the decision was made to leave straw spread on the land at harvest. Adopting the Claydon system was a natural progression for us; we go over the stubbles with a straw rake, directly after the combine, to achieve a stale seedbed. Its such an important implement in the system and it even gets the black-grass to chit in a dry year. We also start to drill our wheat late, usually during the first week in October, as the later you can leave it the more time you get to let the black-grass chit and be sprayed off. Sometimes we achieve three chits in the autumn but I would say two was typical, he added. He also suggested that when it came to spraying off stale seedbeds, not all glyphosate products were the same. I dont believe they are all of the same quality and so I always use Roundup Max I like the formulation and it works. Martin continued: I cant say that in terms of overall black-grass populations that we are reducing numbers each year, but by keeping it near to the surface we have it where we want it so we can keep it under control. One year in 12 may see the plough used on a field badly affected by black-grass, but I only use it as my get out of jail card, said Martin.   Black-grass trials Ploughing anywhere in the rotation can reduce black-grass populations, but ploughing too often will bring seeds back to the surface allowing increased numbers to germinate. Thats according to Sam Hogsbjerg from Agriis research and development team, who was summarising the past three years of black-grass trials work undertaken at the companys Stow Longa black-grass trials site in Cambridgeshire.  He said that ploughing alternate years was still too often, causing black-grass seed to be brought to the surface, whereas a five year gap between ploughing operations was a sufficient length of time to seriously reduce the surviving weed seed burden. Sam said that the trials had compared a sequence of establishment systems and their effect on black-grass control; from direct drilling to one- and two-pass minimum tillage systems, as well as the plough. Ploughing and delayed drilling (mid-October) in year 1 gave 98 per cent control compared with 32 per cent for direct drilling early (mid-September), both after eight years of shallow minimal tillage.  However ploughing again in year 2 brought buried seeds back up. Continually ploughing results in the black-grass seed being distributed throughout the whole of the ploughed soil profile, he pointed out. After three years of work the best results were obtained from ploughing well in year 1 and direct drilling in years 2 and 3. The result is due to the black-grass seed being buried with the ploughing and then not being returned to the surface by subsequent deeper cultivations. He also highlighted the fact that following poor control with selective herbicides, continuous direct drilling and min-till systems allowed black-grass numbers to increase in the trials. Where resistance is an issue cultivations and drilling dates can have a greater effect on black-grass control than the current pre- and post-emergence herbicides we have available and by choosing the right variety and using a higher seed rate, black-grass can be reduced still further. Sam also pointed out that trials comparing drill dates show that greater reductions in black-grass populations were achieved by delayed drilling (allowing more time for stale seedbeds), compared with early drilling, and that drilling in the spring resulted in the best control of all. On-going work at Stow Longa is also looking at the impact of cover crops on controlling black-grass; one example is a phacelia, Asian radish and white mustard mix.   Healthy soils Soil analytical company Sustainable Soil Managements (SSM) managing director, Ian Robertson explained to attendees that to improve soil condition, and in turn enhance crop performance, it was key that the soils chemistry was understood in order for the right nutritional or mineral recommendations to be made. He said that physical problems with the soil caused by poor drainage or compaction could mean that standard soil analysis is misleading. You can have soils with a low phosphate index for example and, at the same time, there could be a lot of phosphate present but its simply not accessible by the crop because compacted soils can prevent roots from penetrating the soil structure to access it. As well as a physical barrier, it can be a chemical issue too such as high levels of magnesium or calcium; the former resulting in the soils inability to move water sufficiently through the profile, he added. Ian explained that SSM offered a unique soil analysis service to growers, measuring nutrition and micronutrient levels in the soil that plants can readily access and, also, whats not readily attainable. Its about understanding the interaction between different things going on in the field; physical, chemical and biological, and putting practical and cultural solutions in place on farm.    New drill and dealers Featured in Farmers Guides June edition of the magazine (page 155) Claydon took the opportunity to show off its new 6m Hybrid T drill for the first time a trailed version of the companys existing linkage-mounted Hybrid seed/fertiliser machine. The drill was also displayed at this years Cereals event in mid-June. Oli Claydon suggested that the company was actively looking to roll out sales of its new drill (above) through a network of dealers. With an output of up to 10 acres per hour in 6m form, 12.5 acres per hour for the 8m version (to be launched at a later date), the Hybrid T uses the companys patented Direct Strip Till Seeding System, which incorporates Claydons twin-tine technology. Requiring 50 60hp per metre, the 6m version with 19 seeding tines requires tractors of 300350hp to pull it, while the 8m, 25-tine unit, needs 400450hp.  Speaking at the event, the companys Oil Claydon said that the drill was aimed at the eastern European market in addition to large farms here in the UK. The drill, which will cost approximately 100,000, comes with a 60:40 split seed and fertiliser hopper (5,500 litre capacity) and weighs in at 6.5t unladen, and 10.5t fully laden. To reduce the risk of compaction, the seed hopper is carried on four transport wheels and both the 6 and 8m models fold to 3m for transport. Oli suggested that the company was actively looking to roll out sales of its drills through a network of dealers a departure for the company which, until now, has sold direct to its farmer customers. A lot of dealers are interested in handling the drill for us and we are giving it consideration. Any dealer we select would be a stock-holder and would require specialist drill sales and service personnel based at their premises,added Oli.


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