10 July 1998

How establishment costs can be cut & work rate boosted

By Andrew Swallow

AN alternative approach to crop establishment can bring labour savings and allow more land to be farmed, reducing crop production costs without jeopardising yields.

That is the claim Monsanto and Simba are making for their ECOtillage approach to crop establishment. Work on a heavy-land ADAS site seems to agree.

By reducing the man-days used for crop establishment ECOtillage can give opportunities to expand farm enterprises," says Colin Stride, technical services manager of Monsanto.

On-farm labour can also be reduced, with lower operator skill requirements allowing wage savings, adds Simba sales director, Guy Leversha.

At ADAS Drayton, Warks, one of 15 sites where the system is being evaluated, labour required for cereal establishment would be halved if applied to the whole farm.

Applying industry standard costings and timings, the usual plough/power-harrow programme on the 200ha (500 acre) Drayton unit requires 57 man-days. ECOtillage requires just 32, at a lower cost, calculates Mr Stride.

Yield seems to benefit too. "There is actually a small but consistent yield increase," observes Chris Britt, ADAS senior research consultant responsible for the ECOtillage plots at Drayton.

The concept is based on no-plough cultivation and glyphosate herbicide. Two passes of a disc and double-press combination produce a false seed-bed, which is sprayed off with Sting CT (glyphosate) at two litres/ha before drilling. Consolidation when discing is important to increase weed seed germination notes Mr Britt.

Timeliness is crucial. "As soon as the combine leaves the field, get on and cultivate. This utilises any moisture that is there, and maximises the window for rain and chitting to occur," says Mr Leversha. "Then growers can squash drilling dates closer to the optimum for each crop."

Drilling date can be compromised to increase weed control. "There are opportunities to take out multiple flushes of weeds, reducing the seed-bank. Need for weed control should be balanced against optimum sowing date," adds Mr Stride.

Cultivation to remove weeds is not advised. "It can transplant existing weeds and stimulate further germination," he warns.

The cost savings are greatest on heavy farms such as at Drayton, concedes Mr Stride. But even on medium or light farms they are often larger than expected and work-rate benefits are still substantial, he maintains.

To adopt the system overnight could require £40-50,000 in new machinery. But Mr Leversha suggests the system is adopted progressively, as machinery needs replacing.

A saving of 25-35% on establishment costs alone justifies the system, before making allowance for increased timeliness, he concludes.

ECOtillage v.s ADAS Drayton standard establishment.





Plough & Press


Disc & double press


Power harrow


Disc & double press


Pneumatic drill


Sting CT @ 2.0 litres/ha (inc. application)


Cambridge roll


Drilling with Freeflow drill






200ha labour requirement (man-days)



(Costs and man-days supplied by Monsanto, using J.Nix figures calculated for ECOtillage)


ECOtillage vs ADAS standard establishment

Conventional £/ha ECOtillage £/ha

establishment establishment

Plough & press 42.50 Disc & double press 24.50

Power harrow 35.70 Disc & double press 24.50

Pneumatic drill 35.70 Sting CT @ 2.0litres/ha 15.10

(inc. application)

Cambridge roll 9.50 Drill with Freeflow drill 23.50

TOTAL COSTS 123.40 87.60

Labour requirement 57 32

for 200ha (man-days)

(Costs and man-days supplied by Monsanto, using J.Nix figures calculated for ECOtillage)

Establishment costs could be cut by 30%and work-rates nearly doubled if ADASDrayton adopted ECOtillage for the whole farm, claims Monsantos Colin Stride (right). The demonstration trials on the site have shown small yield increases too, reports ADASconsultant Chris Britt.