20 March 1998

Great Plains drill delivers the goods on trashy ground

A CEREAL drill from the United States promises to help a Humberside grower cut costs to offset lower cereal prices.

When the straw burning ban was introduced, John Burton had to turn his back on direct drilling and low cost cultivations. But the introduction of an American Great Plains drill, capable of operating in straw trash, renewed his interest in direct drilling.

"Experience convinces me that direct drilling is an acceptable way of establishing winter cereals," says Mr Burton who farms the 194ha (480 acres) of heavy warp soil of Stone Creek Farm, Sunk Island, on the north bank of the Humber estuary. "But since the ban on straw burning we have not had machinery capable of direct drilling into chopped straw."

That meant a return to conventional cultivations of ploughing and two or three passes with a power harrow costing about £86/ha (£35/acre).

So when Mr Burton heard of the Great Plains drill, designed to work accurately in trashy conditions without blockages, he was keen to give it a try. A drill was borrowed from the importers, Wallis Great Plains Drill, Cambridge, to sow 25ha (63 acres) of winter wheat into the previous wheat crops stubble.

The 3.7m (12ft) drill, which converts easily from direct to conventional drilling, worked well in the trashy conditions without a single blockage stop. The crop was drilled during the last week in September at the farms normal seed rate of 220kg/ha (14st/acre). By avoiding the soil moisture loss associated with conventional cultivations, germination and crop establishment was rapid, says Mr Burton.

"I am pleased with the way the crop has overwintered. It has tillered nicely to give us an acceptable full crop. But yield will be the final judge. It will be interesting to see how the crop performs compared with wheat drilled into a traditionally prepared seed-bed."

Were it not for the high price tag, Mr Burton would buy one of the drills tomorrow. But its cost of £27,000 for a 3.7m (12ft) model has to be justified by the savings on offer. Although operating the drill was easy and stoppage free, it needs a lot of horse power; a minimum 120hp, he discovered.

Vining peas and beans, grown on contract for Birds Eye, are the major break crops. And quality feed wheat is the main cereal crop which is grown with a small area sown of malting barley. "Theres a good demand in this area for quality feed wheats. Being close to the Humber ports, we can usually sell into the export trade. But we have to look to the better bushel weight varieties."

Meanwhile, will Mr Burton be using the drill again next season? "With cereal prices on the floor, the potential savings in cultivation costs cannot be ignored. But the real test will be if good establishment can lead to good yield," says Mr Burton.

John Burton shows wheat that was direct-drilled into stubble and chopped straw to produce excellent germination and a full crop.


&#8226 Save £86/ha (£35/acre) by avoiding ploughing and three power harrow passes.

&#8226 Avoid soil moisture loss.

&#8226 Rapid germination and crop establishment.