6 November 1998

Combine header use offers rape sowers savings

A novel approach to oilseed

rape sowing has slashed

costs and saved weeks of

cultivations for a band of

pioneering growers this

autumn. Andrew Swallow reports on results to date

SOWING oilseed rape from the combine header made massive time and cost savings for a group of pioneering growers this autumn.

Despite severe slug pressure crops have established well and costs have been cut by up to £75/ha (£30/acre).

"The crop looks very good, if anything it is too thick," says Craig Pocklington, of Station Farm, Horton, Northants. He used the pneumatic Autocast seed spreader to sow 174ha (430 acres) of oilseed rape after wheat, plus stubble turnips.

The rape was all planted by the end of August, saving two weeks of cultivations and cost. "And it is allowing us to double crop stubble turnips and spring beans on heavy ground, which would have been impossible before."

The time saved has allowed Oxon grower Nick August to drop winter barley from the rotation, and is the main for Sussex farmer John Upton.

He claims cultivation savings of £75/ha (£30/acre). A single roll after combining has replaced sub-soiling, two discings and establishment with a power harrow/drill combination.

A land wheel on the Autocast meters seed so it is evenly distributed on the ground immediately behind the combine header. Chaff and straw spreads over the top to form a moisture retentive mulch over the seed.

Mixing slug pellets in with the seed is essential. "The system does create more of a slug haven," admits Peter Eaden, sales and marketing director of Autocast. "But we have proved this year that with the right action crops can be maintained. The key is growers must check crops regularly, almost daily."

To prevent separation in the hopper during combining, slug pellets should be the same density as rape seed and mixed in thoroughly. Hertfordshire grower Carl Juhl did this with a cement mixer and believes the £3700 Autocast paid for itself on just a third of his 120ha (300 acres) of rape.

"We may have to redrill 4ha (10 acres) because of slugs, but that is all."

If slug activity persists after sowing, pelleting on top of the mulch is still effective, maintains Mr Eaden. Morley Research Centres Ben Freer agrees. "Slugs have a habit of coming to the surface."

Rolling is recommended following the first rain after sowing. Mr Pocklington advocates rolling twice. "We rolled straight after the combine to compact the straw mulch, and then again after the first rain, ideally across the tramlines."

Undisturbed soil means cheaper weed control. Most growers report no need for broadleaved weed control. Mr Pocklington is using that saving to strengthen his resistant blackgrass strategy. "We save £15/acre by not using Butisan, which allows us to use Kerb later on, getting away from fops and dims as part of our anti-resistance strategy."

The system has also overcome a cranesbill infestation which had ruled rape out of the rotation on some of Mr Pocklingtons land.

"Little has come up and the rape will block that. But where we sub-soiled some tramlines by mistake it has all chitted."

North of the border in Berwickshire Doug Niven had identical yields from crops established conventionally and with the Autocast. He planted 200 ha (500 acres) with the system this year.

"We would not have got the crops in conventionally, but with Autocast we were planting 10 days sooner, as we combined in the first half of September." He regrets not mixing slug pellets with seed.

The power requirement is less than an electric side-knife and one unit can be fitted on any header up to 8m (24ft). Larger headers require two units. Warning lights in the combine cab alert the driver to low seed level or no seed flow.

This season has tested the system to its limits, believes Mr Eaden. In a drier year, the moisture conservation of the system would be more of a benefit, he concludes. &#42

&#8226 Seed sown behind combine header – 8ha per hopper full.

&#8226 Substantial time and cost savings.

&#8226 Slug pellets with seed essential.

&#8226 61 users on 8000ha this year.

&#8226 Cost £3700 a unit.

Most of the Apex established by Autocast after spring barley is looking good on John Uptons Hazlebrook Farm, Cuckfield, Sussex. However, hard dry headlands and slugs have cut establishment in places (left).