6 September 2002

Minimalist strategy based on plough and sub-soiler

The host farm for this years Normac cultivations demo is

Home Farm on Sennowe Park near Guist, Dereham, Norfolk,

courtesy of TR Cook. Geoff Ashcroft looked at the farms

cultivations policy with manager Adrian Howes

IN the three years that Adrian Howes has been in charge of the 1400ha (3460 acre) Home Farm on Sennowe Park, he has ditched the costly power harrow/drill technique for what he describes as much faster and cheaper options based around a plough, sub-soiler, cultivator and Simba Freeflow drill.

"The drill is three times faster than using a power harrow/drill outfit and it only cost £300 in wearing metal last year," he says.

"We try to get away with the bare minimum for cereal and rape establishment, and the system we now have is probably as good as we can get on our soil types.

"Input costs have to remain low, though having sandy clay loams that cap and slump quite badly, dictates that we cant be as minimalist as we would like," he says.

In such circumstances, a plough and a sub-soiler have become essential tools in the fight against compaction.

"If we didnt get under the surface and break open the ground every season, root growth would be non-existent and flooding would be an all too frequent sight, despite reasonable drainage across the farm," he says.

As a result, the whole farm is ploughed, with the only exception being land going into oilseed rape, which usually gets a thorough sub-soiling from five close-spaced legs working 25cm deep.

"I have three ways of establishment for rape," he says. "The first is sub-soil and drill, the second is plough/press then drill and the third is to blow seed into a standing crop of wheat."

Mr Howes says all three techniques have been put to use this season, to see which is the most beneficial to get rape off to a good start.

"If we hadnt had so much rain this harvest, I probably would not have blown seed into a standing crop of wheat, but theres enough moisture in the ground for it to be successful," he adds.

In addition to rape, cropping at Home Farm extends from spring and winter barley, winter wheat, winter beans, and sugar beet, through to vining peas. Mr Howes grows first wheats, with all wheat and barley sold locally to Crisps Maltings at nearby Ryburgh.

"Yields have been around 9t/ha for wheat and 6.3t for winter barley and 6t for spring barley," he says. "We can achieve better returns on rape at 3.5t/ha, so well plant less barley and more rape this autumn."

Mr Howes grew vining peas this year to try and spread his autumn workload with the intention of being more timely with the other crops grown. "The peas were drilled and harvested on contract by a growing group, which has eased our combine capacity."

It is a strategy which has proved all the more important this season. When farmers weekly paid Home Farm a visit, harvest had been underway for almost five weeks, but only 10 days combining had been carried out due to bad weather.

Two tractors form the backbone of Mr Howes cultivation policy – a 270hp John Deere 8410 which is used with a seven-furrow Lemken plough and 3m press, and a 200hp Case MX200 on wide tyres which handles a 4m Simba Freeflow drill, and a 4.6m Simba Culti-press when required. An average field size of 8ha (20 acres) creates its own limitations on kit size too.

"The MX replaced a 160hp Deere 7700 this year to get more drilling output," he says. "Id like wider kit but it becomes a hassle moving around the roads, so the switch to more tractor power should put our forward speed up. Were aiming to drill at least 30ha/day instead of 25ha."

Plough/press output is in the region of 15ha/day working at 20-22cm deep, but with ploughing virtually a non-stop task from mid-July, it means partly prepared ground has an opportunity to green up before a dose of glyphosate sterilises the seed-bed 24 hours ahead of the drill.

Another problem caused by the sandy ground is abrasion, which plays havoc with wearing metal. And there are plenty of flints, too, which is bad news for tyres.

"The plough costs £11/ha in wearing metal alone, and tyres for one tractor cost £3.70/ha," he says.

However, Mr Howes does intend to use the Normac event to research cultivation options for the future.

"I wont have far to go to see the latest cultivation and drilling techniques demonstrated on our own land," he says. &#42

Name Home Farm, Sennowe Park, Guist, Dereham, Norfolk.

Tractors and machinery John Deere 8410 and Case MX200 used as primary cultivations tractors, with a 135hp New Holland and three other 100hp tractors in support. JCB Loadall, New Holland TF78 combine, five-leg Flat-lift sub-soiler, 4.6m Simba Cultipress, 4m Simba Freeflow drill, seven-furrow Lemken reversible plough with 3m press, 8m Cambridge rolls.

Cropping 1400ha – 260ha (643 acres) winter wheat, 160ha (396 acres) sugar beet, 30ha (74 acres) oilseed rape, 80ha (198 acres) vining peas, 60ha (148 acres) winter beans, 160ha (396 acres) winter barley, 120ha (296 acres) spring barley, 120ha (296 acres) set-aside, 120ha (296 acres) of permanent grass with 90 suckler cows, with the remainder as woodland. In addition, 120ha (296 acres) are managed under the arable stewardship scheme using 6m margins and arable reversion.

Soil types Sand through to sandy clay loam, with heavy flint content.

Labour Adrian Howes plus four full-time staff.

Adrian Howes, farm manager of Home Farm on the Sennowe Park Estate where Normac 2002 will be hosted, has adopted a minimum cultivations policy that revolves around a plough and sub-soiler.

Drilling rape into barley stubble at Home Farm with the Freeflow drill. With a 200hp MX200 up front, Adrian Howes is hoping to achieve 30ha/day (75 acres) drilling output – 5ha/day (12 acres) more than when a 160hp John Deere 7700 tractor was used to pull the drill.