9 July 1999

£75m is bill for Sussex coulters

SUFFOLK coulter springs are costing UK arable farmers more than £75m in unnecessary cultivations, growers were told at a Focus on Establishment seminar at Sprays & Sprayers.

"At least 3m of the UKs 3.7m combinable crop hectares are cultivated so that Suffolk coulter drills can work consistently, rather than for good seed establishment," said independent crop establishment specialist Steve Townsend.

"Moving far more soil than necessary adds at least £25/ha to the annual crop bill. That is £75m of costs that could be saved nationally by doing the job better."

Better in Mr Townsends book means dramatically reducing tillage by using cultivator drills with heavy duty coulters, which can sow at great speed and to a consistent depth into minimally cultivated ground.

That cuts the need for the slow, expensive and highly soil-damaging combination of ploughing and power harrowing.

"Working with farmers across the country I know that reduced tillage systems can give excellent crop establishment at 25-40% less cost than traditional plough-based regimes, regardless of soil type," he said.

"They will also improve the timeliness of operations, the conservation of soil moisture and the effectiveness of grass weed control."

He believes it is time far more growers concentrated on cultivating for their crops instead of producing over-worked seed-beds merely to prevent their lightly-sprung Suffolk coulters bouncing in work.

"Moving soil is expensive toil. Moving far less of it far less frequently will enable major savings to be made in one of the single largest crop costs without adding either to weather risk or the machinery bill. At a time when cost control is so critical, UK growers simply cannot afford to ignore this golden opportunity."