28 March 1997

On track for sugar beet benefits with tramlines

Tramlined sugar beet fields have paved the way to more timely and efficient weed control on one Suffolk farm. Robert Harris reports

BIGGER payloads and the ability to keep going even on wet soils are key gains from tramlining sugar beet, according to Ron Gabain, manager at Stetchworth Estate Farms, near Newmarket.

Mr Gabain grows 173ha (427 acres) of beet which is sprayed up to five times with herbicide to control problem weeds like black bindweed, which have a wide germination period.

Timeliness is, therefore, vital, and he has been using tramlines to speed spraying for the past four years. It now takes just over a day to treat the beet area, compared with three days before the change.

"Being able to use 20in wide flotation tyres makes a big difference. You can go when the soil is a little wetter, and being able to carry bigger loads means more spraying time," says Mr Gabain.

Wide lgp tyres

All beet spraying will be done this season with a Clayton tractor and a 3000-litre mounted Knight sprayer on wide, low ground pressure tyres, replacing a similar capacity trailed unit.

"Before that, we were using an 18m sprayer on a tractor fitted with narrow wheels trying to totter up 45cm rows. Inevitably, you knock out beet – it is difficult to keep straight. With tramlines, even using wide wheels, a good driver still leaves about 7in of uncompacted soil next to the beet."

"Without tramlines, with our tackle we would have to spray across the rows. That means you have to mark the field out, which takes time and leads to inaccuracies. You also tend to lose beet in the wheelings at harvest," he says.

Mr Gabain reckons he spent £500 to modify his 18-row Standen Raleigh 590 drill. "We used an old Bettinson direct drill tramline box, bought a couple of new clutches to switch the system on and off, and rigged up a bit of wiring."

Standard row width was 45cm. That was reduced to 44.5cm by sliding the drills along the bar, to produce tramlines exactly 24m apart every third bout. Each wheeling is nearly 90cm (3ft) wide. That may look alarming, but Mr Gabain believes if there is yield loss, it is minimal.

"Five years ago I saw tramlining at an experimental farm in Germany. They showed that they were not suffering any yield loss. Indeed in some cases, with the beet on either side of the tramline compensating, because it did not have competition in the middle, it actually showed a slight increase in yield."

Fears that tramlines would add to dirt tare were unfounded. "That is partly because of the wide tyres we use, and partly because our chalky soil is relatively light."

High speed spraying

Up to 37.5ha (93 acres) of beet can now be sprayed with one fill, says Mr Gabain. That gives three to four hours of spraying time and lets him take full advantage of early morning spraying.

The increased capacity paid dividends last year, when late frosts delayed applications and put many growers behind. Mr Gabain reckons he achieved good weed control on over three-quarters of his beet area, and average control on 16%. One field, 7% of the area, was poor due to a persistent knotgrass problem. Overall yields were 45t/ha (18.2t/acre) on early-lifted beet, rising to over 60t/ha (24.3t/ acre) later in the season.

The system also eases late sulphur and aphicide applications, when it is often hard to find old wheelings in the thick crop. It also causes less leaf damage, says Mr Gabain. &#42

Tramlining beet has brought benefits for Suffolk farm manager Ron Gabain (right) and his assistant David Blair, who designed the sytem (inset).


TRAMLINE PLUSES


&#8226 Wide wheelings – bigger tyres.

&#8226 Larger machinery possible.

&#8226 Can travel on softer ground.

&#8226 More timely applications.

&#8226 Less beet damage.

&#8226 Beet on tramline edge grow larger – little yield loss.