More than 100 growers attended the first ever open day by UK-based precision row crop machinery manufacturer Garford. David Williams was there.
Now known internationally as a manufacturer of precision mechanical weeders, Garford started trading in 1986, offering an innovative skew bar sugar beet topper which removed foliage, but left the beet root intact. Garford also manufactured specialist manually guided inter-row hoes but, in 1997, worked with Silsoe Research Institute successfully developing a hoe with precision guidance, which led to it becoming a pioneer of this technology.
Since then the company has specialised in this field, taking advantage of new innovations including camera guidance, sensors and robotics to enhance precision and performance. Now its Robocrop automation is seen as industry leading, and the manufacturer supplies machinery to growers across the UK and overseas.
Until recently guided hoes were used mainly for weed control in vegetable and salad crops, but also offered advantages for organic farms as a practical alternative to large field-scale manual hoeing.
Concern over labour availability has led to increased interest in the technology in recent years, but demand has also been stimulated for conventional arable crop weed control due to increasing herbicide resistance issues and a move to reducing chemical use and costs. Whereas chemical applications are pricey and timings are critical to ensure maximum efficacy, mechanical weeders can be used as often as needed during the season to maintain clean crops. Shallow cultivations require very little power so fuel use is low and tractor wear and tear is minimal. Crops planted by precision seeders or in wide rows by direct drills are ideal for machine hoeing so there is growing use of mechanical weeding in almost all crop types in the UK.
“It’s clear that growers are keen to reduce dependence on field-scale chemical applications and with the latest camera and steering technology allowing our hoes to work within rows as narrow as 6cm, and allowing hoeing to be carried out at higher speeds, mechanical weed control is a practical alternative, even on large arable farms,” explained Garford UK and Ireland sales manager Harry Coppin. “Our latest hoes are even available with section control, with individual hoe units lifted out of work when they meet cross rows on an angled headland. This means every square metre can be mechanically weeded in irregular shaped fields, without disturbing the crop.”
Chemical and mechanical
Chemical-free weed control is not the only application for the precise row following technology. Garford also offers hooded and band sprayer attachments, for direct application to growing crops, or for broad-action herbicides to be applied between crop rows. “Applying glyphosate to the wheelings while hoeing between plants within a bed system is particularly attractive allowing one-pass combined chemical and mechanical weed control,” pointed out technical manager Kevin King.
Several manufacturers of conventional cultivation machinery have recently added automatic guided hoes to their ranges, mainly due to increased demand from arable farms, but Garford believes its product range and service has unique advantages. “Because we manufacture every component ourselves we know what works and what doesn’t, and will listen to the customer’s needs and recommend a bespoke solution based on our many years’ experience,” added Harry. “We help the user set up the machine for first use and are always available to provide advice and support when needed. Most of the products are modular so if a fault occurs, then once we have identified the problem components are easily swapped.”
Increased demand nationally has encouraged Garford to set up a specialist dealer network providing sales and service and dealers appointed to date include Lincs and Norfolk-based Doubleday Group, Turners Agri serving Herefordshire, Worcs and Gloucs and Nigel Quinn AMS, looking after the range in Lancs, Shropshire and Cheshire.
Main John Deere dealer Doubleday Group serves a wide variety of sizes and types of farm in its operating area. “A partnership with Garford is a logical choice for us,” explained group sales manager Alex Child. “Our dealerships sit in the heart of vegetable country with many large, progressive vegetable producers situated within close proximity to our Holbeach and Swineshead depots. The growers of these high value crops are constantly looking for ways to contain costs and increase yield, and the technology on the Garford products allows them to do just that.
“With the chemical toolbox of the farmer shrinking we are seeing growers look for innovative solutions to control weed pressure in the crop, and the Garford InRow Weeder is a great example, with the ability to mechanically weed in the row to an accuracy of 8mm. We are also excited by the opportunities in the arable sector as we have many sugar beet growers and cereal producers looking for a mechanical weed control option for their operations.”
Garford’s first open day was judged very successful and a mix of existing and potential customers attended allowing knowledge and opinions on products to be shared. Dealers, agronomists and university representatives also attended.
“Enquiries were from growers of a wide range of conventional and organic crops including cereals, salads, vegetables and bio-products, including some farming more than 4,000ha, but all looking for alternatives to broad-scale chemical application,” pointed out Harry. “What we offer is a long-established method of weed control, brought up to date for the future.
“The venue was ideal and we are very grateful to the farm owner Michael Sly and his team for letting us use it and for supporting us so well,” he added.