With the introduction of the Knowledge Trail, the national cultivations event – Tillage-Live – offers a lot more than just a chance to see the latest arable equipment in action. Peter Hill reports.
New tractors, cultivators and seed drills. As Britain's biggest practical demonstration of soil-working equipment for crop establishment, there is no doubt about the main attraction of Tillage-Live 2012.
But growers and contractors also have a prime opportunity to get information and advice on soil, cultivation and crop protection technology – and collect CPD points for BASIS and NRoSO into the bargain.
Control your traffic
Looking after the soil is a key focus for the HGCA's soil workshop and CTF Europe, a consultancy that helps growers adopt controlled traffic techniques.
"The time and energy spent on tillage can be doubled as a result of the damage caused by random wheelings, while yield loss averaging 10% can result from poor nutrient uptake and either scarcity or excess of water," points out Tim Chamen of CTF Europe. "In wet seasons such as summer 2012, compaction caused at harvest is particularly difficult to manage in minimum tillage systems."
He plans to demonstrate the effects of random wheelings, not only during autumn tillage operations but subsequently in the seed-bed and over winter, in terms of waterlogging and additional run-off and erosion.
The monetary and environmental costs associated with soil compaction will be highlighted in terms of tillage inputs, yield loss, compromised timeliness of operations and water and nutrient management.
"Our primary message will be that with clever use of guidance technology, compaction can be confined to 30% or less of the field – and the grower knows where it is," says Mr Chamen. "This means 70% or more of the area then needs very little tillage, seed-beds are enhanced and yields rise gradually as soil structure improves in the absence of an annual cycle of damage and repair."
Get into the soil pit
Soil experts Ian Dickson of Land Management Services and Philip Wright of Wright Resolutions aim to reveal hidden soil structure issues beneath the surface of the Tillage-Live site.
"The soil pit aims to show what soil structure through the whole soil profile should look like and what farmers need to look for on their own land," explains Mr Dickson. "We'll examine the whole rooting depth, which is necessary because any limitation to water permeability in the subsoil will have a knock-on effect on the soil horizons above."
Locating the pit in an area where the natural drainage status is "imperfect" and soils show evidence of compaction will help raise issues such as the causes of compaction, ways of avoiding it in future (including traffic management and tyre choice and operation) and the need for effective drainage system.
Coping with wet soils
In wet seasons when soil structural damage is unavoidable, the emphasis switches from "prevention" to "cure".
"Cultivations can assist and enhance soil structure, but if carried out at inappropriate times, can make things worse," emphasises Mr Wright. "You then have the double-whammy of spending money on cultivations that have a negative impact on crop growth and profitability."
At Tillage-Live, he will highlight key issues to consider when cultivating to improve soil structure, such as identification of structure problems, choosing the right tool for the conditions, when to change wearing parts to keep implements effective and how to assess whether cultivations have alleviated the problem.
"It's helpful to understand how soil-engaging parts modify the soil structure and how soil moisture and plastic limits affect what they can achieve," says Mr Wright. "We'll be encouraging audience participation both during and after the presentations to make the sessions as interesting and relevant as possible."
Improvements in container rinsing technology will be highlighted by Bill Jeffrey of sprayer tank rinsing nozzle producer Rotacraft.
"Effective rinsing is a prerequisite to allow empty containers to be recycled or consigned as non-hazardous waste," he points out. "Rinsing immediately after emptying prevents drying-on of residues and using a pressure-rinsing system saves a lot of time because triple rinsing by hand is slow, especially when using a number of packs to create a tank mix."
A Vegcraft ProFill unit with chemical induction bowl and multiple rinsing jets will demonstrate the Hypro ProClean nozzles and the new Rotacraft C1 rinsing nozzle – all designed to speed up the process.
"I'll also highlight the need to manage caps and seals, which are a potential source of sprayer filling site contamination," Mr Jeffrey points out. "If the design allows, they can be cleaned in a wire cage or sieve as the chemical bowl is rinsed."
Setting up your slug pellet broadcaster
Tillage-Live visitors can also get expert guidance on how to calibrate and set up an applicator to achieve accurate distribution of slug pellets.
SCS Spraying & Spreading will show how variable the application from a poorly set-up broadcaster can be and how to set it up to achieve an even spread. The demonstration will reflect the SCS approach to MoT-style checking of broadcasters, analysis of the suitability of pellet formulations for spreading and tray testing, as well as the adjustments needed to improve a machine's spread pattern.
Keeping blackgrass out of Scotland
Event sponsor BASF is contributing several topics to the Tillage-Live Knowledge Trail, not least keeping blackgrass out of Scotland, says herbicide product manager Sarah Mountford-Smith.
"Our overall focus will be on effective and economical weed control, with special emphasis on the more problematic grass and broad-leaved weeds typical of Scotland and northern England," she adds.
"Agronomists in Scotland have identified annual meadow grass and sterile brome as the most challenging grassweeds and they are becoming more difficult to control."
Paul Miller of the NIAB-TAG consultancy's spray application research unit will report on work commissioned by BASF comparing the characteristics of Stomp Aqua with three other pendimethalin formulations.
"For one thing, the new formulation is better suited to non-ploughing cultivations where a lot of organic matter is present," says Mr Miller. "The differences in efficacy are very small but it's good to know that more of the active ingredient is available for controlling weeds in this situation."
There are also practical benefits for sprayer operators from the easier-pouring and less staining characteristics of the product.
"It doesn't stain sight glasses to the same extent and because it doesn't stick as much to the insides of containers, it takes substantially less time to rinse three or four packs to the required standards," says Mr Miller.
For more on this topic
See our Tillage-Live 2012 event page