5 January 2001

Min-till shows promise in south west despite rain

By Andrew Blake

DO not damn minimal tillage drilling on the basis of the worst autumn for 300 years, says Profarmas southern commercial manager Charles Coslett after seeing last weeks results from a south-western demonstration on a former farmers weekly barometer farm.

"Some farmers may be regretting having switched to minimal tillage this autumn," says Mr Coslett. "But there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that even if they had stayed with conventional machines they would still have been stuck, it has been so wet."

Minimum tillage drills are generally heavier and need more pulling, but used before the downpours they have produced good crop establishment, he says.

The unreplicated trials, instigated by Profarma agronomist Arthur Hulls on Richard Paynes Manor Farm in Heathfield, Somerset, were set up to see whether establishment costs could be trimmed without compromising crop performance. All will be taken through to yield.

Conditions in the south west, with its generally mild climate, can be very different to other parts of the country, says Mr Payne. "As far as I know there have been very few tillage trials carried out down here, so we felt we needed to do something ourselves."

Five machines each sowed a 1ha (2.5-acre) plot directly into untouched spring bean stubble from which the straw had been removed. Mr Payne acknowledges that conditions on the silty clay loam on Sep 13 were near perfect. "Although 3in of rain shortly afterwards may have disguised some of the differences we might have seen, I am very happy with the results so far."

Target sowing rate for the Claire winter wheat dressed with Sibutol Secur (bitertanol + fuberidazole + imidacloprid) was 150 seeds/sq m. This contrasts with the 230 seeds/sq m drilled conventionally in a neighbouring field on Oct 4.

Mr Payne believes that apparently thin crops may be an important psychological barrier to min-till uptake. "That is why we wanted to have an open day so farmers could come and see what the results from 150 seeds look like now, rather than later in the season. It looks a bit sparse, but we can live with it."

Min-till drilling has given some pleasing establishment in the south west despite bad weather, say Richard Payne (left) and Arthur Hulls.