Increased demand for maize to fuel anaerobic digester plants in the area has resulted in a much greater workload for East Anglian contractor Olly Neil
Increased demand for maize to fuel anaerobic digester (AD) plants in the area has resulted in a much greater workload for East Anglian contractor Olly Neil. Selecting the right planter for establishing nearly 1,000ha (2,500 acres) of the crop this year was essential and David Williams went along to see the chosen machine in operation.
Above: So far this season, average work rates have been approximately 40ha (100 acres) per day and accuracy of planting has been 97-98 per cent.
Olly’s contracting business, OJ Neil Contracting, is based near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk and its activities include chalk and lime spreading, grass and maize silaging, muck spreading and spreader hire as well as agricultural and equestrian construction work. In recent years the number of AD plants in the region has increased dramatically and, responding to demand, Olly has added a specialist maize planting service to the range of activities he provides. Two high-output forage harvesters are in operation harvesting the crop and, for planting this spring, a specialist maize drill was purchased too.
Optimum crop establishment”When choosing the drill our priority was accuracy of planting,” explained Olly. “We wanted to ensure optimum crop establishment so as well as consistent seed spacing we needed a drill which would place seed at an even depth regardless of conditions. We are providing a service to growers on various soil types so the drill has to be versatile.”
Demonstrations of several drills were attended last year and the planted crops were visited again later to check on establishment. “We were very impressed by the Horsch Maestro,” explained Olly. “It appeared easy to set up and use, and everything was electric or hydraulic powered without drive chains or belts, both of which we were keen to avoid if possible.
The Horsch Maestro drill operated by OJ Neil Contracting will plant almost 1,000ha (2,500 acres) of maize this spring.
Accuracy is important, and the Maestro’s seeder units are all individually controlled using the tractor’s RTK system, and they start and shut-off automatically at the headlands, avoiding over-drilling or missed areas. Making the job easy for the operator was important too, as he would be spending long working days operating the machine. We hadn’t used any Horsch products in the past, but knew of the brand’s good reputation and, convinced it was the best tool for our situation, we ordered the drill from our local main dealer, Ben Burgess.”
Integral fertiliser hopperThe model selected was the Maestro 8.75CC which has eight planter units set at 75cm row spacing. Each seed hopper holds 70 litres of seed, enough for approximately 10ha (24 acres), and the fertiliser hopper holds 2,800 litres. The seeder units use a vacuum to hold seeds against the metering discs and singulation is adjustable to minimise doubles or misses, accuracy monitored and displayed constantly on the in-cab control box.
The 2,800-litre fertiliser hopper is an integral part of the drill which Olly Neil says is a big advantage compared to systems relying on separate front-mounted hoppers.
Having the large fertiliser hopper at the rear was seen as a big advantage over front-hopper systems considered. “The row made by fertiliser rushing along a tube right by the cab window can be very tiring during a long working day,” comments Olly, “so avoiding the need for that by having an integral hopper was seen as a significant benefit.”
By the time Farmers Guide visited 360ha (890 acres) had been planted and the main operator, Stephen Woods, said the drill was proving easy to use; “Horsch and the local dealer have been excellent in making sure the drill was set up correctly when we first started off, and in making sure I knew how to operate it and perform any adjustments needed,” he said. “It is linked in to the GreenStar guidance system on our John Deere 6210R and the Horsch Comfort terminal is clear and easy to set-up and use to monitor performance.”
Seed unit pressure is hydraulically adjusted with up to 300kg per unit available if needed, but Stephen finds a 200kg setting ideal for most situations. “If the ground is hard and dry I increase the pressure, and also in soft powdery conditions extra pressure has helped, providing additional grip for the rubber wheels,” he said. “I have been averaging 40ha (100 acres) per 14-hour day, with a drilling speed of 8-14kph depending on conditions. The most I have drilled has been 50ha (124 acres) but on smaller fields the average is closer to 30ha (74 acres) per day, but I am working single-handed and travelling back to the seed and fertiliser trailer each time to fill.”
The seeder units are electric-driven and individually controlled, and the simple design has been virtually trouble-free according to Stephen.
Reliability of seed placement is impressive and at an intended seed rate of 111,000 seeds/ha 97-98 per cent accuracy has been achieved. “I have had only one problem so far,” says Stephen, “and that was caused by a small piece of seed bag which had fallen in to the hopper with the seed, but the alarm immediately warned of the problem and the blockage was easily cleared.”
Easy calibrationCalibration is easily carried out explains Stephen; “The seed rate is entered on the Comfort screen and usually that is all that is needed. When we change varieties then the seed size and shape can alter so we check for accuracy by running any one metering unit and adjusting it so the singulation is perfect, and then we adjust all the other units to match. Calibrating the fertiliser is simple too, and the metering unit is run for a fixed time, the dispensed fertiliser weighed and the result entered into the screen, which allows the unit to self-adjust. It couldn’t be easier really.”
Stephen said almost every aspect of operation can be carried out from the cab using the Horsch Comfort screen.
One-button foldOJ Neil’s drill spends a lot of time on the road and Stephen said it tows well. “One button is used to fold and unfold from within the cab and transport width is under 3m so it is ideal for narrow lanes and gateways,” he said. “Another big advantage of the design is that it can be folded with all the metering units full, so we don’t waste time emptying them before moving from field to field.”
“We are very pleased with our choice,” pointed out Olly. “The support we were given early on was reassuring and Stephen knows that if he does get a problem he can call the dealer, or the specialists at Horsch at any time. It has all the features we need but is easy to use and accurate and it is well thought out; if there is a blockage then it can be sorted without emptying the hoppers or having to strip everything apart. We will be planting at least 970ha (2,400 acres) of maize this year with the Maestro and expect demand for our services to increase in future years so having the right drill was important for us. It wasn’t the cheapest option by any means, but you get what you pay for.”
The seeders perform well at speeds from 8-14kph, depending on conditions.