13 March 1999

BONUSES BETWEEN THE LINES

Larger equipment may be the catalyst for the recent resurgence of interest in beet tramlining. Lucy Stephenson asks one of the early converts about the benefits.

JOHN STONES, farm manager on 1214ha (3,000 acres) for G R Ward in Lovedon, Lincolnshire, tried tramlines on 10 acres of his sugar beet in 1992 and was so pleased with the system that the following year he tramlined all 283ha (700 acres).

Tramlines are idiot-proof, says Mr Stones. Unlike working with rows which requires a lot of skill: "If the regular person wasnt driving you needed to be sure his replacement could do it when we had no tramlines."

They are also time saving: "The chaps dont have to get out the tractor and count every row." Greater accuracy in spray application also helps to prevent overlap and satisfy food safety requirements, he adds.

Mr Stones now uses 24m self-propelled sprayer on wide tyres to avoid creating ruts early in the season. This means wheel widths dont have to be changed and the same vehicle can be used for all crops, saving more time.

Says Philip Ecclestone of British Sugar: "Critically with the sugar beet crop, it relies on a cocktail of crop protection products and fertilisers that have to be applied quickly when needed. You may have to make seven or eight passes in a season, and the beauty of this system is that there is no damage to the crop."

Tramlines are particularly useful in damage avoidance on headlands and on undulating land. Says Mr Stones: "Weve got some steep banks and it didnt matter how careful you were, you still slipped down and lost some beet. You also turn at the same end of the field each time with tramlines."

Mr Stones experience bears out SBREF research by Mr Ecclestone which shows that tramlines can be used in sugar beet with no loss of yield or quality. "I still see yields of 24-25t/acre," says Mr Stones.

There can be an edge effect where beet alongside tramlines grows larger and are more prone to break, resulting in greater losses at harvest. Because of a larger root system, the beet has more impurities and less sugar, says Mr Ecclestone.

An edge effect is more likely in a dry summer, and so far he hasnt seen any effect by adjusting the seed rate to an extra 20% on edge rows. "What well do this time is try seed compensation rates between 10% and 30% more. We may find that with 30% extra we get a carrot effect – small beets that drop through the harvester."

Mr Stones doesnt use seed compensation at the edges. "The soil type here is not quite as deep so we have no problems with big beets at tramline edges. Further south on more fertile land this could be a problem."

Mr Stones uses a 24-row Monozentra drill, put together by his father from two 12-row drills, and fitted with two solenoid clutches. It weighs 3t when loaded and is still going strong after 14 years. The weight of the drill is an advantage on Mr Stones sandy clay loam brash soil. "Theres a lot of stone in this ground but you get an even depth of sowing," he says.

The seed saving on 12m tramlines is 8%, and on 24m tramlines is 4%. Gaucho seed costs around £138/ha (£55/acre), so Mr Stone saves over £3,000 in seed costs.

Upgrading an existing drill to put in tramlines with solenoid clutches, or having the kit fitted to a new drill neednt break the bank at about £690. A more sophisticated option is the Kleine synchro drive system. Its available in 12 or 18 row, rigid frame or hydraulic parallel folding and costs from under £19,000 to over £33,000.

Its high speed wheel system allows drilling at up to 5mph with no reduction in seed spacing accuracy. Individual drill units can be shut off to avoid double drilling at the field margins.

Seed rates can be adjusted on the move, and cell wheel rotation and speed of output are fully monitored so the need to stop and check the drill is avoided.

Germany pioneered tramlining in sugar beet but its been slow to catch on here. Evidence that tramlining in sugar beet has been on the increase over the past three years comes from Philip Garford of Garford Farm Machinery, sole UK importers of Kleine equipment. "Well over 50% of our sales are with customers who want to do tramlining in sugar beet," he says.

Mr Stones also contract tramlines 81ha (200 acres) of beet on three other farms, and drills another 769ha (1,900 acres) without tramlines.

He always asks whether his clients would like tramlines in their beet. Theres been a lot of interest, he says, but some farmers are unwilling to try anything new.

Says Mr Ecclestone: "One concern they do have with it is quite right; a six-row harvester will be processing soil in the blind row. In a very wet season this could create problems in harvesting, and put more dirt in the clamp."

He stresses that before kitting out an existing drill or splashing out on a new machine, farmers must be sure that the tramline widths will be compatible with their sprayers and spreaders. "Its a full system – you need to sit down and work it out," he says.

Weighing up beet tramlining

Pros

&#8226 Spray marking accurate fertiliser and pesticide application

&#8226 Wider tyres to reduce ruts and compaction

&#8226 Larger sprayers and spreaders for faster applications

&#8226 Reduction of root damage

&#8226 Saving on seed costs

Cons

&#8226 Possible edge effect

&#8226 Harvesting soil in blind rows

&#8226 Must plan and integrate the system may need to review machinery requirements