Frazer Jolly and his team have a wide range of crops to establish each year
Frazer Jolly and his team have a wide range of crops to establish each year on heavy land in south Suffolk, and having the right kit to complete drilling on time is critical. David Williams reports.
Farmers Guide visited the drill at work on wet, sticky clay. Beet had been lifted from the field five days previously and manager, Frazer Jolly, explained that ideally the field would have been ploughed immediately after lifting, with the drill following directly behind, but persistent rain had delayed further operations. The resulting conditions would have prevented almost any other drill from working, according to operator Mark King.
Previously an 8m disc drill, a 6m tine drill and an 8m power-harrow combination drill were used to establish the crops but, with the price of wheat dropping and the need to cut costs, Frazer needed to increase capacity to drill crops earlier but without compromising crop establishment. The increased pressure on the operation in recent years due to changes in cropping, pushing drilling later in to the autumn, encouraged the farm to invest in a second heavy duty but versatile power harrow combination drill for situations when conditions have become too wet for the disc drill.
Frazer is employed by Strutt & Parker Farms Ltd as assistant farm manager and looks after the Lavenham and Livermere Farms businesses, farming challenging heavy land around Lavenham, with lighter land farmed at Livermere, near Bury St Edmunds. Approximately 3,035ha (7,500 acres) are farmed, with crops including wheat, barley, oilseed rape, combinable rye, sugar beet and potatoes, as well as maize and rye grown for an AD plant.
The 8m disc drill in conjunction with the 6m tine drill was used for most of the autumn-drilled crops, providing a high rate of work and cheap establishment, but when conditions became more challenging then the 8m Kverneland power harrow drill combination took over. During 2014, with the farm’s tine drill due for replacement, and struggling in the heavy soils to maintain a suitable drilling depth, Frazer began investigating a replacement, and the ability to operate in a wide range of conditions was critical. “A friend had heard great things about the Alpego brand which had recently become available in the UK, and said it looked well designed and manufactured so I looked at it at a few shows, and then requested a demonstration. At that time, in late 2014, Alpego had no dealer local to us so the demonstrator came direct from the company, but it was impressive and we placed an order.”
The DK-400 4m folding power harrow drill combination and ASF front hopper was chosen for its suitability for use with the farm’s Massey Ferguson 7624 tractor, and was supplied through a local dealer. Options selected included hydraulic-lifting coulter discs allowing them to be raised for headland manoeuvring. The front hopper was supplied with an optional distribution head which extends its versatility to supply fertiliser for the maize drill, beet drill and during oilseed rape establishment. It arrived well before the autumn drilling season allowing plenty of time to make sure the front hopper and seed transfer system was ready for use.
“After the wet start to September this year, we had to put the new drill to work much earlier than we had anticipated and we have received excellent back-up from Alpego, ensuring everything was working as it should,” said Frazer. “When the weather turned dry again, we had to use the drill to establish wheat after rape on land which had been subsoiled using a Sumo Trio, and the drill coped extremely well, creating a good tllth, planting the seed at a constant depth and leaving a level finish so emergence across the fields was even and the crop grew well.”
The drill’s main operator, Mark King, commented that he was quickly impressed with the machine. “It is easy to calibrate and use, the control box took little getting used to and it is designed to be user-friendly,” he said. “It copes very well in all conditions and the 60kg coulter pressure we can achieve is significantly more than we could with the previous drill, and it performs much better on our stiff soils. There is a superb scraper system for the rear packer which keeps it clear even on our stickier land, and the only build-up we have had has been on the coulter discs a few times, but when they have been cleared once they tend to remain clear. There was just a small area of land after a maize crop which had some very wet patches, and we had to put off completing that field until it dried out, but nothing would have worked there. Mark said the only improvement he would like to see would be different coulter depth adjusters as those supplied can be fiddly to use. “It is a minor problem for us, as we tend to leave the depth setting alone most of the time as all our land is heavy, but a more positive locking function would be a help,” he explained. “The drill is very well made and I have had no reliability issues at all. The quality of construction is immediately obvious and I have been impressed with what it can handle without any problems.”
Mark said routine maintenance is easy and that changing the tines is easily and quickly carried out. The first set of standard tines lasted approximately 140ha (350 acres), much of the work having been on hard, dry soils, and a set of hardened tines was selected as replacements. These were still in use at the time of Farmers Guide’s visit, when the drill had just passed the 444ha (1,100 acre) mark.
Work rates have been impressive and, by late November, the new Alpego drill was establishing winter wheat variety Trinity after sugar beet, and working behind a 6f plough, while easily keeping up with the farm’s self-propelled beet harvester which averages 12ha (30 acres) per day, although rates achieved during the season have been up to 22ha (55 acres) per day in more favourable conditions.
“Previously, in late autumn and in preparation for the tine drill, we had two ploughs working on the maize stubbles, then a pass with a power harrow was needed before we drilled the land, but this Alpego drill simplifies and improves the operation,” observed Frazer.
Pictured with the new Alpego drill are Mark and Frazer. “Ideally we would have bought a larger 6m drill,” commented Mark, “but that would have meant updating the tractor, and we have found that the work rates achievable with this 4m machine have been impressive, even on our very challenging land.”