TOSTERRUPS GARD Farm is what could be considered a typical southern Swedish arable farm. Manager Gert-Arne Andersson grows a mix of autumn-sown wheat, spring barley, oilseed rape, sugar beet and grass for seed.

Out of the 800ha (2000-acre) total, it this last enterprise that needs most careful management, says Mr Andersson.

“Our cold autumns mean that grass can take a long time to establish and it takes a harsh battering over winter.

“Because of this grass crops need to have been in the ground for 18 months before we can harvest the seed.” This presents a problem – putting aside land for two years for seed crops can make the farm”s balance sheet look decidedly unhealthy. To maximise output the land needs to be cropped every year.

The solution to this conundrum was found by drilling a cereal crop – typically wheat – at the same time as the grass. The wheat establishes more quickly than the grass and can be harvested the following summer.

By harvest the grass has tillered out to form a dense carpet under the crop canopy and is ready to survive another tough winter. Grass sown in the autumn of 2003 will be harvested in summer 2005.

Establishing the two crops alongside each other has its merits, but also has its price. Two drill passes are required which has an obvious effect on costs.

“We were looking at ways to reduce establishment costs of both crops and decided that a drill capable of sowing two types of seed was required,” says Mr Andersson.

“Vaderstad was offering the option of a piggy-back mounted air-seeder on its Rapid disc drill and that”s the system we decided would be best for us.”

Mounted over the tyre packer roller, the BioDrill hopper and metering unit distributes seed down coulter pipes to outlets running between alternate disc-coulters. With a simple but clever spreading system – a linchpin across each outlet – seed covers the full working width. The farm can now establish two crops in one pass at a rate of 5ha/hour (12acres/hour).

Aside from the obvious cost savings, the system has also allowed the farm to benefit from extra EU “catch-crop” subsidies. With a grass cover crop already established at harvest, the farm is entitled to a 100/ha (28/acre) payment as long as it is not ploughed up before Oct 1.

The idea is that the crop provides a form of nitrate retention over the wet autumn period before another cash crop is established.

“We can claim 130/ha (36/acre) if we wait until Jan 1, but very often that is impractical because the ground is 1m deep in snow by then,” says Mr Andersson.

“We spray off the grass with glyphosate at the beginning of October and then plough or disc it in, ready for spring drilling.”

Hay from the grass-seed crops is baled and burnt in the farm”s sophisticated straw-burning plant. The unit heats and provides hot water for five houses, a church and Tosterrups” massive manor house. As a rough guide, a 500kg bale has the same calorific value as about 170 litres of heating oil.