7 April 2000

Cultivations revolution

In our latest article looking

at the way arable farms are

restructuring to cope with

lower prices, Edward Long

visits a Lincs unit which has

benefited from a major

business rethink

STREAMLINING cultivations and adding value-added spring-sown crops to a cereal and rape dominated system has helped a Lincs farm take on more land and improve returns, all with less management pressure.

The key to the "cake-and-eat-it" situation was the acquisition of a big tractor and on-farm construction of a new cultivator/drill.

Hugh Massingberd-Mundy of Harrington Hall Farms, Harrington near Spilsby, says: "Four years ago we grew all combinable winter crops on 1350 acres, but now we have about 50% spring crops, including roots, on 1600 acres and still contract farm another 650 acres."

To permit a wider range of crops growing operations had to be streamlined. "We used to use a 210hp John Deere to plough and cultivate with another tractor following with 6m drill and rolls. We could only do around 80-90 acres a day and were always trying to catch up. We absolutely dreaded a wet autumn.

"To maximise returns, we adopted a minimum cultivations approach for combinable crops and switched to 50% winter, 50% spring cropping to make time to do a good job and allow value-added crops to be exploited in the rotation."

In 1997 an adjoining 100ha (250 acre) block of land was taken on and an extra man employed. That allowed potatoes and sugar beet to be added to the cropping line-up.

On the exposed Wolds, the rotation is now a winter cereal crop followed by a spring cereal then a break, providing a more reliable return across the rotation.

Spring cropping should also help combat nutrient lock-up on the chalk soils. A pH of 8.4-8.5, with low organic matter, can mean phosphate, potash and magnesium may not be fully available. Sulphur-based fertiliser is used to ease back pH levels and now autumn catch crops of stubble turnips for sheep grazing should help boost organic matter.

The first move to reduce cultivation costs and raise farm returns came in July when a 275hp Caterpillar Challenger was purchased. The next job was to design and build a cultivator/drill rig to match (see panel).

Under the old regime, the farms six-furrow plough could cover 16-20ha (40-50 acres) a day. Last autumn, a 5m set of discs covered twice as much in a two pass approach. That released a tractor for contracting work.

At the same time, tractor driver Kevin Hyde ploughed half the 400ha (1000 acres) of land needed for winter crops and minimum cultivated the rest with two passes of the discs. The new rig easily coped with cultivating and drilling it all.

The first wheat went in during late August, the rest by mid-September. As there was less rape and more spring crops, management pressures were eased and better timeliness achieved.

The combining team moved from cereals straight to potato lifting without the normal delay caused by the autumn cultivations bottleneck. In previous seasons wheat drilling continued until mid-October.

"As well as doing everything on 1000 acres last autumn, Kevin has also done a similar amount this spring. Last autumn by cutting out one pass and the need for a second tractor, we were able to release one man and notch-up a saving of around £10,000."

First wheat is now drilled at a seed-rate of 100 seeds/sq m compared with 300-350 previously. For later sowings it has been cut from 350/400 to 200/250. Reducing the amount of seed used has brought a saving of around £25/ha (£10/acre).

"Streamlining our cultivations and switching to a policy of growing more value-added spring crops provides the twin advantage of worthwhile savings and a boost to overall farm income. We are now in a better position to cope with low commodity prices and are geared up to face the future with added confidence," Mr Massingberd-Mundy concludes. &#42

HARRINGTONHALL

&#8226 910ha (2050 acres) farmed.

&#8226 60% chalk, 30% clay, 10% sand.

&#8226 Ave yields to date: First Consort and Riband 10t/ha (4t/acre), second wheats 8.5t/ha (3.4t/acre).

&#8226 Switch to 50% added-value spring cropping.

&#8226 Better workload spread.

&#8226 Faster autumn establishment with 275hp Challenger, discs plus £7000 cultivator/drill farm conversion.

Cropping 1999/2000

ha (acres)

Winter wheat 360 (900)

Winter barley 12 (30)

Winter OSR 24 (60)

Spring barley 188 (470)

Spring wheat 16 (40)

Peas 64 (160)

Spring beans 56 (140)

Sugar beet 32 (80)

Potatoes 24 (60)

Some carrots

An on-farm drill conversion, new Challenger and switch to 50% spring cropping has boosted returns and eased management for Hugh Massingberd-Mundy (right) and drill man Kevin Hyde at Harrington Hall.

On-farm drill re-build

All the work was done on the farm using an existing 6m Rekord Maxi-Dan cultivator and 6m Accord drill. Hugh Massingberd-Mundy explains: "Initially we wanted to mount the Accord drill on the back of the cultivator, but because of weight and balance constraints this was not a practical option." So an old Accord DF2 power harrow combination drill with a separate hopper for tractor front mounting was bought. "Our tractor driver Kevin Hyde, who is a keen metal basher, re-sited the hopper on the back of the big Caterpillar. Then the tool bar had to be converted from two sections to three and attached to the back of the cultivator. Kevin also had to rig up a CCTV system with the camera mounted just in front of the drill with a monitor in the cab so he could see what was happening at the back of the rig." The total conversion cost was about £7000.