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Drills & Direct Drilling

Power on the Land

Seed drill progress is the topic for this month’s Power on the Land, brought to you as always by Mike Williams.

Increased output for crop establishment has been a long-term trend in seed drill development, achieved partly by design improvements such as bigger hopper capacities and working widths, but also by drills that require reduced seedbed preparation. 

Last year’s addition to the Kuhn range was the Aurock triple-disc drill designed for use with either direct drilling or minimum tillage crop establishment. The working width is 6.0m, the power recommendation is 180hp and hopper capacity options are 3,500-litre for seed only, increasing to 5,000-litre for the split version for seed and fertiliser. Options also include single or dual metering, and the opening discs can be either 460mm diameter with a corrugated surface for use in prepared seedbeds, or the embossed 430mm discs recommended for dealing with large amounts of crop residue. The new Aurock pneumatic seed drill is Isobus compatible and the drill control during headland turns is operated by push-buttons. Drill choices from Kuhn also include the Premia mounted mechanical series in 2.5–4.0m widths, the Integra and Sitera combination drills up to 4.0m wide and Megant series mounted drills and Venta trailed drills to work with min till crop establishment.

The ability to work with a wide range of crop establishment methods is a feature of the Hybrid series from Claydon Drills. Available as the Hybrid T trailed version with working widths from 3.0–8.0m, and the mounted M series drills are 3.0–6.0m wide, they are designed to be used after plough-based conventional cultivations or with minimum tillage crop establishment methods, and they can also direct drill into stubble. Transport widths are either 2.9 or 3.0m and hopper capacities for the Claydon drills range from 1,750-litre for a 3.0m mounted drill to a maximum of 5,500-litre for the widest trailed version. Tractor power recommendations for the trailed drills are 50–65hp per m width, and the minimum for the M series mounted drills is 50hp per m. 

PowerDisc coulters designed to provide a consistent sowing depth feature on the options list for the Serto SC direct drill in the Horsch seed drills range. Horsch offers a choice of seed drills in the high output sector, and the no-till Serto SC is available in 10 or 12m widths and a specification that includes a 6,000-litre hopper with a 50/50 split for seed and fertiliser. The Horsch PowerDisc coulter with operating pressures up to 320kg can also be used on the Avatar SD single disc series designed for no-till drilling, with widths up to 12m. The top selling series’ from the Horsch range are the Pronto disc type drills and the Sprinter models equipped with tines, and both are available with up to 12m working width and can be equipped with the PowerDisc option.

The new trading name introduced for Lincolnshire-based Sly Agri is Horizon Agriculture, and their focus will be on equipment for conservation and regenerative agriculture, with the emphasis on the development of new seed drills and strip tillage machinery. The first Horizon product was introduced earlier this year when the company announced a new seed drill tested on the Sly family’s 300ha farm. It is designed to follow either no-till or minimum tillage crop establishment and the advanced features include the SeederForce sensing system that automatically adjusts the force on the press wheel to maintain a consistent seed placement depth, regardless of variations in the soil.

One of the special features on the Rapid series drills from Vaderstad is the coulter, designed to maintain an even pressure with effective contour following to achieve a consistent seed depth for uniform crop emergence. Each packer wheel controls the drilling depth of two coulters, each coulter has its own disc arm with maintenance-free rubber suspension, and the coulters have hardened steel tips and tungsten side plates for wear resistance. Rapid drills are available from 3.0 to 8.0m wide with a 90hp-plus tractor recommendation for the smallest model. The Spirit pneumatic drills feature Vaderstad’s TriForce coulter suspension system for seed placement accuracy. Spirit working widths start at 3.0m with a 2,800-litre hopper capacity and a 100hp tractor requirement, and the hopper capacity on 9.0m drill is 5,000 litres, requiring 170hp.     

Kockerling drills and cultivation equipment are distributed by Hampshire-based Samagri, and the range includes the Jockey drill, based on the Kockerling Allrounder cultivator. The cultivator has 32 spring tines arranged in four rows 16.6cm apart, and there is a generous 60cm of clearance under the frame. The Allrounder has a relatively low power requirement, but it makes the Jockey suitable for drilling into ploughed soil or for mulch seeding. The Jockey has a 6.0m working width reducing to 3.0m for transport, and the standard specification includes radar control to regulate the seeding rate.

Samagri is also the distributor for Virkar equipment, including the pneumatic direct drill. The drill is currently available in 4.5, 5.0 and 6.0m working widths, with wider versions in development. The specification includes 5,300-litre hopper capacity which can be seed only or with a 65/35 division for seed and fertiliser, and liquid fertiliser equipment is also available. Sowing rate is between 2 and 380kg/ha and the drill can be equipped for 19 or 25cm row spacing. The seeding mechanism includes a rotary cutting disc mounted on an arm with hydraulic pressure to produce a clean slot and a mini tilth ahead of each seeding tine, and the tine is followed by a v-shaped double press wheel to close the slot.

Strip-till drill reaps benefits for young farmer

Since deciding to switch establishment method, young Herefordshire farmer Ally Hunter-Blair has seen marked improvements in soil health and benefitted from a wider drilling window.

Ally was on the lookout for a new establishment system when he came across the Mzuri Pro-Til. One successful demo later, Weir End Farm took delivery of its first Mzuri drill last spring – part funded by the Rural Leader grant.

Areas of the farm were traditionally used to grow potatoes and Ally is keen to restore a more resilient soil structure to the previously heavily cultivated soils. In the first year since adopting the Mzuri strip tillage system, he has seen noticeable improvements to soil health, as well as a large increase in the farm’s formerly-depleted worm populations. He puts this down to the reduced tillage method of the strip-till drill, which only cultivates a narrow band of soil in which to place the seed, leaving the rest of the ground untilled and a thriving habitat for worms and mycorrhizal fungi.

The first autumn since adopting the new system was certainly challenging, Ally says. With land adjacent to the River Wye, burst banks and flooded fields became a regular occurrence, but he found the new system allowed him to get all his drilling finished. Under previous systems, the need to cultivate ahead of sowing would have meant only a fraction of the autumn drilling would have been completed, due to relying on very limited weather windows. The Pro-Til has effectively allowed the farm to widen its drilling window. By removing prior cultivations, it travels on structured stubble which naturally dries out quicker. Machinery travels better and it allows them to make the most of opportunities to drill in difficult seasons.

In addition to saving a machinery pass, the farm has seen significant savings in wearing metal. The sandy soils of the Herefordshire farm are known for giving wearing metal a tough time but Ally has been pleased with how the Pro-Til’s tungsten coulters have worn.

Going into his second year, he is confident that the new establishment method will continue to deliver and build on the benefits seen so far.

Bigger sizes in development for versatile drill

The Virkar Dynamic drill is currently available in 4.5, 5, 6 and 7m working widths, with bigger sizes in development for the future, says UK importer Samagri Ltd.

According to the company, this direct drill offers high precision and quality sowing, with the most advanced no tillage system on the market. With a modular design, it is possible to add a variety of extras to suit individual needs.

The seed hopper carries 5,300 litres with an option to split the tank 65 per cent seed, 35 per cent fertiliser, running through two metering systems. A third hopper can be specified. The Free Drive steering axle is designed to provide new freedom when sowing on a curved path, and the system frees up tension in the coulters arms so less stress is put on components.

Fully Isobus compatible, the machine can run through any tractor terminal and do variable rate drilling if required. It is very easy to pull, Samagri adds, because of its low disturbance, which means a 6m drill can be pulled by 180hp. A variety of coulters are available alongside the standard, for very small seeds and beans. LED work lights and tank lights, a toolbox calibration bag and scales come as standard with the machine.

Cultivation equipment for all budgets

Martin Pears Engineering Ltd offers a broad range of cultivation equipment and supplies to keep farmers and growers doing what they do best. The company says its well-trained advice team are always on hand to make sure customers find exactly what they need.

With a large range of new and used machinery available, plus nationwide delivery, MPE says it has a solution for almost any budget and any size farm or smallholding. The Cousins Swiftine Harrow (pictured) is the perfect example of a scalable machine, available in either 4, 5 or 6m working widths. It has been custom-built to withstand the demands of West Country farmland and, as a result, it is a strong, reliable one-pass cultivator, the company says.

MPE stocks a full range of Cousins, Teagle and Maschio cultivation equipment, including rolls, presses, packers, drills, cultivators and harrows. For those thinking of upgrading, MPE also welcomes part exchange.

The company says it is “so much more than engineering,” however, and its country store stocks everything customers may need for farms, smallholdings, leisure pursuits, pets, poultry and equine, as well as farm maintenance, servicing and parts for a diverse range of equipment.

Conversion coulters now available for additional drill

Minimal disruption is key to direct drilling, according to wearing part manufacturers J. J. Metcalfe & Son Ltd, whose range of low disturbance direct drill coulters now fit the Amazone Cayena drill.

“Roots and a healthy worm population will take care of aerating and draining the soil, and nutrients will come from the use of cover crops and crop rotation,” the company says. “This no-till approach also helps prevent black-grass establishment by leaving dormant seeds buried well below the surface, unable to germinate.”

J. J. Metcalfe & Son’s range of coulters was designed to fit Seedhawk drills or to innovatively convert Horsch CO/Sprinter series, Simba freeflow and now the Amazone Cayena drills, into direct drills. The coulters have a narrow, replaceable tungsten carbide tipped blade which cuts through the soil, retaining the organic matter on the surface and posing minimal threat to the worm populace. Ensuring accurate seed placement, the blade cuts a slot to place the seed directly beneath the residues of the previous crop, whilst leaving virtually no surface disturbance.

The company says it provides an affordable step into direct drilling and maintaining soil health, which should, in turn, increase crop yield.

Range of drills provides versatile offering

Kockerling’s three drill ranges include the Jockey, Ultima and Vitu. The Jockey (pictured below) is a simple heavy-duty tine drill, with four rows of Hercules tines, 16.6cm row spacing, and 60cm under-frame clearance for working in large amounts of crop residues. This machine is ideal for working in min till and plough-based systems, as well as direct seeding on lighter soils, according to UK importer Samagri. It is available in 6, 9, and 10m versions and comes with front cross board as standard – wheel track eradicators are optional.

Ultima offers even sowing depth at high speeds, controlled hydraulically by a pre-press wheel that is located in front of each tine. This provides consistent seeding depth, even on the most uneven seed beds. Row spacing is 17.5cm with a 50mm band of seed. Each row is followed by an STS ring, which ensures good soil-to-seed contact. It is available in 3, 4, 6, 8 and 9m working widths.

Finally, Vitu is equipped with a two-row compact disc harrow and strong levelling board in front or behind the disc harrow. The two-row wheel packer ensures the machine can keep working even in marginal conditions, while the double disc coulters allow seed to be placed very precisely – even at high working speeds. It is available in 3, 4 and 6m, and 6m grain and fertiliser. Depth control can be either mechanical or hydraulic.

‘Perfect seed placement’ with new design

The Lemken drilling technology product range was redesigned with the recent launch of the Solitair 25 and Solitair 23 seed drills and the Azurit precision seed drill. The Solitair 9 pneumatic seed drill has now also been updated, with a new look too. Both handling and operating comfort have been improved, while the seed metering and placement system with the proven parallel double disc coulters and depth control wheels remain unchanged.

The redesigned Solitair 9 also features an updated hopper design and lid. The new fan, which has been fitted to the Solitair 25, is not only extra silent, but also consumes impressively little oil. The access step has also been improved
and the access grille can now be folded up to make the metering unit and calibration tray more easily accessible.

The newly updated Lemken Solitair 9 pneumatic seed drill in action.

The pre-emergence markers and harrows of the Solitair 25 can also be fitted to the Solitair 9. The single harrows are mounted to the rear seeding coulters to reliably cover two seed rows and the optional compact harrow is easy to lift and can adjust to a wide range of different conditions. The redesigned Solitair 9 seed drill will be available in limited quantities from summer 2020.

Openers “make good drill even better”

Sudbury-based parts company Pan Anglia says its Dutch Openers have proven popular with farmers, with one customer saying it makes their drill easier to use.

With a keen focus on the latest crop establishment techniques, direct farm parts specialist Pan Anglia says it is looking to build on its success as a supplier of Dutch Openers, which have so far been successful with Horsch CO and Sprinter drills.

Pan has been involved in supplying Dutch Openers for nearly 10 years and has a depth of knowledge and experience of the system. Sales and marketing director Paul Bray says: “The Dutch Opener has proven very successful in converting conventional tine drills into highly effective min-till systems with their unique low disturbance, low draught coulter system.

“We have found that the Dutch Opener system has proved extremely successful in converting Horsch CO and Sprinter drills and we are currently working on conversions for other makes.”

Farm manager James Stevenson, of Brian Rice farms in Northampton, has found the system makes their drill easier to use: “We’ve used Dutch Openers for the last two seasons, with the 1in on our Horsch Sprinter drill for direct drilling beans and the 5in coulters for drilling wheat,” he explains. “Our experience is that the Dutch coulters reduce draft and make the drill easier to use… quite simply they’ve made a good drill even better.”

Alongside its success with Dutch, Pan is working with farm equipment supplier Tillso to support its unique and patented Sabre Tine system. The company says this partnership draws together the extensive and knowledgeable Pan sales force, with the technical expertise and support at Tillso. Pan says this will ensure the very best direct support for the customer, along with superb parts back-up through its extensive warehousing and distribution facility.

Anticipating a demanding spring season ahead, Pan says it is geared up to meet customer demand, with well over £1million worth of drill parts in stock, covering all major brands, in addition to more than £500,000 in Tillso parts.

Farm manager James Stevenson, of Brian Rice farms in Northampton, has been using Dutch Openers on his Horsch Sprinter drill for the past two seasons.

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