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Straw incorporation

New plough offers advantages for large Norfolk farm

Combining the latest farming technology with one of the oldest cultivation techniques is helping a Norfolk farm ensure great soil condition and healthy, profitable crops. David Williams reports.


Ed Jones is the third generation of his family to farm at Church Farm, Little Witchingham, Norfolk. Trading as Harold Jones Farms Ltd the farm is all arable, and land is a mix of owned and contract-farmed with a rotation including winter wheat, winter barley, oilseed rape, sugar beet, vining peas, rye and spring barley. “Cropping depends on soil type and all our produce is intended for local markets. I like to think it all ends up within 35 miles of our base,” explains Ed.

Soils are predominantly sandy loam with some heavy clay but with the contract-farmed land adding diversity Ed says there is some of everything to contend with.

Crop establishment is mainly by deep tillage cultivator but ploughing is viewed as an essential part of the rotation, with approximately 700ha carried out annually. “We never considered moving away from ploughing,” he comments. “It’s an expensive operation so we remain flexible but plough regularly around some crops and at other times if conditions require.”

To maintain soil condition large quantities of FYM are incorporated. “This is usually before sugar beet when the manure is ploughed in and then left over winter,” adds Ed. “After sugar beet we deep cultivate if conditions allow, but if it’s wet we will plough again to restructure the soil and get it back in condition for the following spring barley crop. We plough ahead of winter barley too, if time and soil conditions allow, to prevent volunteers which could affect suitability for malting.”

Previously two ploughs were operated – a 7f semi-mounted and a 5f mounted but with several smaller fields included in the contract farmed area, the semi-mounted plough could be cumbersome with large headlands time consuming.

“With our latest and most powerful tractor capable of handling larger mounted implements, we decided to move to one bigger fully-mounted plough for the extra convenience,” continues Ed, “and although we looked at many options on paper, the model offering most benefit was the Lemken Juwel 8. It’s light, available with slatted mouldboards and we knew the reputation of Lemken ploughs is excellent and that we could rely on back-up from the manufacturer and the local dealer Ernest Doe.”

On-land ploughing allows larger tyres to be used than when operating in-furrow and is made easier by the new plough and the tractor’s autosteer system.

Latest technology

The Fendt 939 Vario is fitted with Michelin IF710/75R42 AxioBib tyres and equipped with VarioGrip allowing pressures to be reduced in the field or increased for road work at the touch of a button. To make the most of the tyres’ ability to carry the load and transfer grip to the ground at minimum pressure reducing compaction, an on-land plough was selected, but which could also be used with the tractor wheels running in-furrow to make the most of the additional traction available if needed. GPS guidance through the farm’s RTK network and auto-steer is fitted, making it easy to maintain the correct distance from the furrow edge.

A demonstration plough was trialled for a few days by main ploughman Ben Dunning. “I got on really well with it, and found everything easy to set-up,” he explains. “Penetration can be an issue at the end of a dry harvest on our soils and the demonstration plough came in August which gave it a fair test. There was no issue whatsoever getting it in the ground and it made an excellent job of burying any trash. I found it a good match for the tractor, and suggested to Ed that it would be ideal.”

Lemken UK sales manager Paul Creasy isn’t surprised by Ben’s comments. “Our ploughs have a superb reputation for performing well in all soil types and any time we hear penetration is an issue it’s usually because the user isn’t fitting genuine replacement points. We know the ploughs perform best running with Lemken metalwork.”

A Juwel 8 7f reversible plough was ordered, and delivered in November last year. “I remain impressed,” Ben says. “It’s our first with slatted mouldboards and it’s much easier to pull than our previous ploughs, but copes well with the heavier soils and buries manure easily. Traction hasn’t been an issue so I have run on top all winter, and the auto-steer has proved an advantage allowing me to make use of the full 3.2m working width at 18in furrows.”

“It’s proving successful,” confirms Ed. “Running on-land the finish is noticeably more even and means the tyre pressure can be reduced further than if the tyres were in the furrow.”

The skimmers come in for particular praise. “They are very effective and ensure complete burial of straw, weeds or manure operating at any depth. Pin adjustment means it takes just a few minutes to alter the full set,” says Ben. “Our previous ploughs had bolt and nut adjustment, so often for small areas we wouldn’t have bothered.”

Higher work rates

Typical ploughing depth is 12in for sugar beet, and 8–10in for cereals, and all so far has been at maximum 18in furrow width.

Ben says he averages 20ha/day on fields of reasonable size whereas previously 16ha was the norm. “Headland time savings are the biggest factor,” he explains, “but being able to use the RTK is also saving time. I usually take an A-B line against a straight edge, then work towards it from the other end of the field, completing the short work first. That makes the whole job tidier and when the furrow press is being used we can complete all the short work with it easily, whereas previously it was easier to leave it off for tricky areas. Using RTK also means I know exactly how many passes will be needed to complete the field and can predict my finishing time quite accurately. On some fields the shape dictates it’s easier to run to a curved A-B line where without RTK, working without a furrow wall to precisely guide the front wheel would be tricky. Working on-land has many advantages.”

“We use a furrow press on most of the land,” says Ed. “It makes little difference to fuel consumption – we average just 15-litres/ha of diesel; and it often saves a further cultivation pass which would be considerably more expensive. The only hassle is moving it between work areas.”

The only issue reported by Ed is that the rear discs blocked when large quantities of FYM were tackled. “We try to plough manure in within a few days of application to make the most of the available nutrients,” he says. “The rear discs blocked occasionally so we removed them, but they make little difference really, especially with the tractor wheels running out of the furrow. They leave a tidy rear furrow edge but one only sees it for a few minutes until the next pass.”

Range of specs

The Juwel 8 selected by the farm is the base mechanical (M) version, with manual furrow width adjustment from 12–18in in 2in increments. Upgrade options include hydraulic furrow width adjustment and full Isobus control.

TurnControl rotation is standard across the Juwel range maintaining generous clearance between the depth wheel and the ground during headland turns.

“In the UK most farms choose mechanical control,” explains Paul. “Upgrading to Isobus allows full control from compatible tractors and provides features such as set-up memory allowing operating settings to be set up and stored for different soil types or crops. For users frequently moving between work areas and soil types it means appropriate settings are made at the touch of a button.”

Long life

An option specified by Ed was Duramaxx bodies to maximise working life. “The clip-on points are superb as they save so much time,” comments Ben. “They are easier to remove and fit than our previous ploughs, with no need for spanners. Everything is easier to work on and where nuts and bolts are used, they can be accessed with an impact wrench.”

“The DuraMaxx steel lasts longer too,” comments Ed. “Some of our land is quite abrasive but sets typically last 130ha or more; much longer than our previous metalwork although we were running aftermarket wearing parts before which could have been a factor. We feel we get more working life from the slatted mouldboards too, as solid mouldboards are usually replaced while there is plenty of metal left at the top.”

Ploughing maize game cover in March. The long stalks were completely buried.

Slatted vs solid

Paul says the CS40 bodies are popular in the UK, especially when slatted mouldboards are specified. “On the heaviest ground solid mouldboards offer advantages, particularly during spring ploughing as they can provide full inversion and tuck black-grass away when slatted versions might struggle occasionally, but much of it is down to personal preference.”

Ed believes that on his soils the slatted mouldboards not only pull more easily and reduce weight, but also provide a better finish. “They invert fully and bury everything completely which is most important to us, but they also leave a less shiny surface finish allowing faster weathering and drying.”


Straw management – why make it hard work?

 

It is key to take a good look behind the combine to understand what’s needed to be done in terms of cultivations before thinking about moving the soil, says Remac UK’s Howard Reeves. Too many times the soil is moved, creating an unnecessary cost. Instead, it’s better to manage this stage well, he suggests.

“I find it amazing that farmers still think the best way to get a chit is by moving the soil. Covering and moving any weed seed that is on the surface into dry ground means it will not chit quickly.

“In most years there is a wonderful opportunity lost to get a very orderly stubble clean up, by delaying any unnecessary cultivation, until you have inspected the stubble to see if it has all been chopped well, and whether there are any green patches that need spot spraying out. It is good practice to keep all the residue as near as possible to the surface by simply applying a light roller or using a topper,” explains Howard.

“The warmth of the soil and the damp nights are ideal for creating the perfect chit,” he adds.

This is cheaper and more effective in the long run compared with incorporating, he comments.

“Soil structure is important, as good drainage encourages crop competition and at the same time discourages black-grass, it being a weed that thrives in marshy conditions.

Remac UK’s Soil Loosener.

“Cultivations which loosen and mix soil horizons together benefit black-grass as its seeds can be distributed through the profile, rather than remaining either near the surface, where chemical action is strongest, or buried at depths from where the seeds cannot emerge.

“This action, maintaining soil horizons while providing an effective fissuring action, makes the Soil Loosener a valuable aid to black-grass management,” concludes Howard.


New crushboard options for disc harrow range

 

A new front-mounted frame with crushboard is now being offered as an option on the Catros Special and Catros XL compact disc harrows from Amazone.

The option is available on harrows in working widths of 3.0, 3.5 and 4.0m, and makes the compact disc harrows ideally suited to seedbed preparation, says the manufacturer.

During stubble cultivation the crushboard offers further advantages such as pressing rape pods to stimulate volunteer seeds to germinate. The crushing of rape, sunflower and maize stubbles also encourages straw to rot.

The frame is mounted in front of the discs and so the crushboard can be adjusted irrespective of the working depth says Amazone.

The adjustment of the working depth – and also the aggressiveness of the crushboard – can be carried out either mechanically or hydraulically on-the-move. With the hydraulic adjustment option, the driver can match the setting to the relevant conditions from the tractor seat.

The front mounted frame can also be equipped with wheel mark eradicators, which can help to alleviate the tractor wheel tracks.


New compact disc harrow

 

A wide range of improvements have been made possible with new disc harrow model Rubin 10 launched by Lemken.

Most striking is the new disc arrangement on both implement sides, says the manufacturer. This not only ensures straight travel, without lateral pull, reducing fuel consumption, but also allows precise pass alignment, using GPS.

The new Rubin 10 from Lemken.

The discs are arranged to produce symmetrical forces on both implement sides. The three central discs on the Rubin 10 have been offset along the longitudinal axis to ensure that they are able to work collision-free across the full width at a line distance of 12.5cm.

The Rubin 10 features surface-hardened DuraMaxx discs with a diameter of 645mm as standard. These discs have a service life that is 30 per cent greater than that of conventional discs, says Lemken. The new legs are 30mm thick and therefore substantially more robust than in the predecessor range.

An impact harrow behind the first row of discs improves the crumbling effect and distributes soil and organic matter in the direction of travel, while the rear impact and levelling harrow distributes the soil to form an even, level surface.

All folding versions feature hydraulic depth adjustment as standard. The semi-mounted compact disc harrows are optionally available with depth control wheels.

The Rubin 10 with working widths of 2.5–7.0m will go into series production from 2019.


A cultivator for every need

 

Horsch’s cultivator range is available in disc, tine or disc and tine formats and in working widths from 3–12m, ideal for all tillage practices and CTF operations, says the company.

The versatile Joker disc cultivator is designed for shallow stubble cultivation, germination of volunteer crops and for shallow seedbed preparation. The Terrano family of tine cultivators is ideal for precise shallow stubble cultivation and deep cultivation. The new trailed Terrano GX joins the 3-point mounted Terrano FX models, while the 10 and 12m Terrano FM is suited to large farming operations. The Terrano MT combines 2 rows of cultivation discs and 2 tine rows to mix on the top and loosen at the bottom.

The Terrano GX has 4–6m models and features 3- or 4-bar versions with a tine spacing from 28.5–31.5cm. The Terrano GX is equipped with the third generation TerraGrip, with its spring located in the frame and a 550kg release force with large and maintenance-free pivot points that guarantee a long service life. The cultivator can be equipped with 4 cultivation point options from intensely mixing to merely loosening for a wide variety of conditions.

The Cruiser XL trailed cultivator mixes and distributes well, while its 700mm frame height ensures even large quantities of organic material are no problem. Available in 5–7m, 10 and 12m widths, it can be equipped with 4 different cultivation points making it ideal for stubble cultivation with optimum straw distribution after combining, seedbed preparation, as a fine cultivator for mechanical weed control or for loosening and venting the soils in spring.


Changing methods of straw incorporation

 

The traditional method of ploughing to incorporate straw has now been replaced on many farms by minimum cultivation and, increasingly, direct seeding.

Today’s disc harrows need to have the ability to cultivate both shallow and to a greater depth with speed and rapid adjustment for changing soil conditions. Fast residue breakdown is important especially following maize or cover crops where high levels of material require good mulching and mixing to provide an adequate seedbed for the following crop.

The Bullock Tillage range of BT and heavy duty BTC disc harrows is the complete tillage system for excellent straw incorporation, says the manufacturer. Concave discs with a cutting angle of 17deg intensively mix high quantities of organic material. Levelling harrows and on-the-move depth control via the packer re-consolidate the soil for the ideal seedbed.

Residue management in a direct seeding situation is very important to avoid nitrogen being locked up by the decaying material and providing the best environment for rapid weed seed germination, says Bullock.

The 7.5m Disc Mulch Harrow from Bullock Tillage will evenly re-distribute residue across fields, encourage rapid weed seed germination and help control slug populations.

Shortly, Bullock will be launching a new 6m disc harrow with front leading discs that hydraulically adjust for depth and angle providing the ultimate disc straw harrow for quick stubble cultivation.

The BTC 5M disc harrow from Bullock Tillage.

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