An order for a new Monosem precision drill last year by Elveden Farms, Suffolk has been followed by an order for a further three identical units. David Williams reports.
Elveden Farms Ltd is part of the 9,100ha Elveden Estate and includes 4,000ha of cropping on 10–100cm depth of topsoil which is mostly free-draining sand with flints over chalk. The rotation includes 1,650ha of cereals, producing more rye than any other UK farm, 75ha maize and a range of vegetables including 520ha potatoes, 220ha carrots and 150ha parsnips, as well as onions of which Elveden supplies 6 per cent of the UK demand from 800ha. Grass and conservation cropping accounts for the remaining 325ha.
Previously four drills from two manufacturers were operated, but four new Monosem MS D2 drills were chosen this time, partly for their ease of swapping between crops. “They are heavy duty with simple direct-driven metering and are proving very reliable,” explained farm manager Jack Smith. “We just set up and go.”
Pelleted or naked seed
The new drills will establish all the carrots and parsnips, and all but 250ha of onions grown from sets. Onions and parsnip seed is pelleted whereas carrot seed is drilled naked but with dressing.
Four, twin rows are established by dual metering units into each bed. Two of the drills have micro-granule applicators and, for drilling onions, a front tank supplies fertiliser which is applied beneath the seed rows through separate coulters.
Depth control is by a press wheel running ahead of the seed coulters and chains behind each seeding unit pull soil over the seed which is then firmed by a rear press wheel. “We had an issue that when we worked in the wet, our soils sometimes pulled forward to the coulter blocking the outlet, so all our drills now have a slight extension between the coulter and rear press wheel, which cured the problem,” added Jack.
Drilling rates have proved extremely accurate and the Monosem metering units use a vacuum to draw seeds to holes in rotating seeding discs. Elveden has two sets of discs; 40 hole versions used for onions and parsnips and 100 holes for carrots. Seed spacing is adjusted by varying the speed of the discs through the direct drive transmission. “There is a handy phone app from Monosem which I use to work out the settings,” explained user Richard Thorrold. “I just enter the plant population needed and the crop being drilled, and the app tells me which drive sprockets to use. It’s almost always spot-on and provides perfect spacing.”
Richard said depth control is reliable. “Having adjusted it for the conditions it can be left alone but I usually set the two centre drilling units for each bed very slightly deeper than the two outers as the soil is firmer there. The coulters are narrow and cut in well and while I have drilled in a wide range of conditions at different sites this year, the drill never struggles. Some of our onions have been drilled into flat ground rather than beds and this didn’t pose any problems.
“Although land is generally well prepared, wet weather earlier in the season also meant drilling into clods, but the crop established perfectly,” he added.
Richard said setting up takes just a few minutes, with no tools required, even if the metering discs have to be swapped. “For the user it’s very well thought out. There is even a vacuum hose which draws seed from the metering units into a container on the drill to make emptying quick and easy if maintenance is needed. Most drills have an emptying port at the base and the operator has to drop the seed into a container and then refill the hopper which risks contamination, but the Monosem system is quicker, easier and cleaner.”
The farm is ring-fenced with an excellent network of private roads making transport easy although the drills are usually moved between sites on a flatbed trailer.
Local Monosem dealer Ben Burgess supplied the new drills. “They are well made and reliable and the ease of set-up between different crops makes them ideal for Elveden’s use,” explained area sales representative Rupert Greest. “Our customers get on really well with the drills, with most sold for sugar beet in our trading area.”