Better grain prices, compacted soils and the availability of bigger horsepower tractors seem to be prompting a resurgence in mole-ploughing.
That’s the opinion of Ron Hankins from Scotland Wood Farm, Kelmarsh, Northamptonshire. As well as being farmers and mole-ploughing contractors, the family have also marketed the Maidwell Moler for 25 years.
Mr Hankins has noticed a sharp jump in interest in mole ploughing in the past 12 months, after several years in which sales and contract work alike were often pretty quiet. He puts it down in part to better grain prices, but also to some wetter summers recently, prompting worries among farmers that their soils weren’t as free-draining as they used to be.
It has been exacerbated by the move to min-till, too, he reckons. “Now that people have gone away from the plough, they’re worried that water isn’t getting down to the land drains. Mole ploughing is a job that should be done every 3-8 years – though five is the ideal – but it’s been neglected.”
The other factor is the massive jump in the horsepower available on many farms. In the past farmers often had to call in a contractor with a crawler to do the job, but increasing numbers now have the ability to run a multi-leg mole plough themselves.
That is reflected in the size of machines Ron Hankins sells. A few years ago it was just single-leg machines, which need 120-150hp to pull them. This year he has sold six singles, five twins (250hp power requirement) and one three-leg machine (450hp). The triple-leg has been sold to a farmer in Suffolk who will pull it with a big Challenger 875 tracked tractor.
He has also seen an uplift in demand for his contract moling service. Normally he does 80-120ha (200-300 acres) a year, but this autumn he has already been booked for 400ha (1000 acres). Most of this will involve pulling a 200mm (4in) expander through the soil at 560mm (22in) to allow water to percolate through to the land drains. A Case Quadtrac 450 will be performing pulling duties.
The £20,000 Tri-Mole, one of only a few triple-leg machines on the market, is a new model for this year. Overall width is 6m (20ft) and it folds hydraulically to 3m (10ft). The outer legs float independently and can drop by up to 75mm (3in) to maintain a uniform depth in undulating ground. Work rate at 6kph (4mph) is 30ha (75 acres) a day, compared with 20ha (50 acres) a day for the twin-leg and 10ha (25 acres) a day for the single-leg machine.