Like many farmers, Mark Glover is faced with a problem for which there is no easy solution: how do you manage land that varies from being very light and workable, to heavy clay without the need for a shed full of different cultivators and drills?
Based in Hampshire at Blackbarn Farm, Grateley, near Andover, Mr Glover farms 345ha of loam over flinty chalk while, just a few miles down the road, he contract farms 160ha of heavy clay land and, nearby he is contracted to perform all the machinery work on a further 365ha, apart from ploughing and fertiliser spreading.
“It all makes for an interesting and what could be thought of as a challenging mix of soil types and work requirements,” he says.
In terms of cropping, Mr Glover grows winter wheat, winter barley, spring barley and oilseed rape. A belief that oilseed rape may now have ‘plateaued’ as a break crop has seen him reduce the area for this crop by 40ha this year, replacing it with spring oats.
“Some parts of the farm have been hit badly by flea beetle and I think we now need to look more carefully at the varieties we grow if rape is to have a future with us,” he says.
Managing black-grass has led to the use of a cover crop mix of fodder radish and rye in the land destined for spring barley. This is grazed down by a flock of sheep before being sprayed off and the land drilled.
Further measures to control black-grass include drilling winter wheat as late as possible to achieve as many as three spray-offs and ensuring the drilling depth does not disturb soil below seed level. Last autumn, the wheat on the lighter land wasn’t drilled until the end of October.
“I consider drilling to be the key job on the farm – get it wrong and you can waste a lot of time and money,” he says. “So it was essential we had a drill that could fulfil all our requirements; the ability to drill on ploughing, on tilled land and directly into stubbles, as we do for the oilseed rape and the spring barley.
“The drill also needed to be able to cope with high levels of crop residues and a wide range of soil types in a wide range of conditions.”
Creating a drill capable of all these requirements was a big ask and perhaps calling for the pinnacle of drill design, but Mr Glover believes the versatility of the Lemken Solitair 9 drill he purchased in 2013, makes it a strong contender for such an accolade, should there be one.
A semi-mounted, 6m pneumatic drill with folding wings, the Solitair has an electronically powered metering system delivering seed to 4 distribution heads which feed it out to the 40 disc coulters.
“The distribution heads are positioned just above the coulters and have feed pipes of equal length,” explains Mr Glover. “This means that when starting off, the coulters all receive seed at the same time across the full width of the drill.”
On arrival at the double disc coulters, seed is placed at a depth controlled by individual wheels, helping to ensure an accurate depth is maintained in changing soil conditions and at high operating speed.
The ability of the Solitair 9 to place seed accurately, using modern metering systems that offer variable rate control is perhaps to be expected but, according to Mr Glover, the drill’s greatest attribute is to be able to use the drill unit either as a solo machine when, say direct drilling or on cultivated land, or use it in conjunction with various cultivation methods.
“We have a set of discs we can attach to the front of the drill and, for heavier, deeper cultivation there is a rigid-tined, winged cultivator,” he says. “Both have the same simple two-pin attachment system and, usefully, both can also be used as cultivators in their own right.”
Now, with about 5,060ha under its belt, and still with the same disc coulters on board, how does Mr Glover rate the Solitair 9 drill’s performance?
“Overall, I would have to say the drill has worked well and reliably, and maintenance costs have been low, although we have had to fit new discs to the disc harrows this year, but that’s flinty land for you. The drill is available with operator-friendly electronic control systems which include variable seed rate control and headland management shut-off and tramline operation.
“All of which makes for high output drilling – we aim for 40ha/day – which is good, but it has to be the drill’s versatility I find most impressive.”