3 July 1999

Pick of the bunch

This year the makers pulled out all the stops, presenting a bewildering array of new drills and cultivation kit. Here is Peter Hills selection from Cereals 99.

MOST of the newcomers confirm the trend towards drills capable of cultivating as well as drilling, and working wide and fast to soak up the acres. Both meet the needs of farm businesses wanting to handle more acres with less tackle to dilute power and labour costs.

The new introductions also build on a growing diversity of drill formats and abilities as manufacturers attempt to meet every possible requirement. For growers still to move from a conventional plough-till-and-drill approach to some form of reduced tillage regime, it presents a baffling choice.

Such a change in policy needs careful assessment and an understanding of all the implications involved – as well as being clear about the ultimate goal. The key thing to avoid is being tempted simply by the latest models and newest novelties.

For while genuinely innovative manufacturers can largely be relied on to test and develop their implements thoroughly before being released for general use, others are inclined to rush things out for the sake of keeping up with competitors or for the kudos of offering something different.

The risk is that buyers end up with machinery that, at best, falls short of expectations, at worst flounders when a less than typical season throws up especially challenging conditions.

So, as well as being careful to assess the different tillage and drilling systems that growers can use, it is as important to be satisfied that a companys new gizmo tiller, drill coulter or overall implement concept offers something genuinely advantageous over tried and tested designs, is likely to work satisfactorily in the conditions likely to be encountered on individual farms, and will withstand the rigours of a busy autumn season.

Trailed combinations

A new generation of seed drill/cultivator combinations is set to hit UK arable fields with the launch of trailed outfits designed to take the weight off hard-pressed tractors, while bringing added versatility through a choice of cultivator elements.

Although they differ in detail, the Lemken Solitaire, Amazone Airstar Xact and Xpress, and Rabe Turbodrill Combi-Speed share the same concept of a hefty trailed chassis supporting cultivator, seed hopper and coulters.

The Solitaire, launched last year with power harrow, will soon be available to take a tine cultivator as well; the Rabe outfit is a dedicated tine or ground-driven rotary harrow implement; and Amazones Xact is another dedicated power harrow drill that complements the Xpress tine cultivator variant. Simbas Horsch DS/D has a similar trailed format with interchangeable spring tine, knife rotor and power harrow cultivators.

Hitherto, combination working with power harrows has largely been confined to tractor-mounted outfits which, when working widths go beyond 4m, get decidedly over-weight, even for todays biggest arable tractors. Time is wasted trying to make headland turns with lightly-laden front tyres and the need for a lot of counter-balance weight goes against the concept of low ground pressure for seedbed work.

A trailed or semi-mounted outfit not only eliminates these shortcomings but allows a significant increase in seed hopper capacity which itself makes a difference to daily drilling capacity.

Amazones Airstar Xact carries a 4000-litre hopper, positioned lengthways on the frame to give the operator a half-decent view of the power harrow and drill coulter sections that follow. The heavy duty harrow is capable of working stubbles (and did so on its Cereals 99 debut) but the outfit is more likely to be worked on ploughed/pressed land or, on heavier ground, after some initial tine cultivation.

Coulters are either conventional Suffolk or disc, the latter capable of dealing with some surface trash.

Rabe has taken a different approach to its Turbodrill Combi-Speed in fitting heavy duty disc coulters capable of dealing with a large trash content, and fitting non-powered cultivator elements up front. That also gives it a speed advantage which, with the Turbotiller-like ground driven knife rotors fitted, is exactly what is needed to work effectively in untouched or lightly disced stubbles.

Factory-set spring pressure on each of the single dished and serrated discs is 80kg and coulters are carried in pairs on parallel linkage, with individual disc break back to allow for stones and other debris. No-pressure tyres provide depth control and seed firming.

A feature of the mechanical metering/pneumatic seed delivery system is that it can be charged while the drill remains stationary – so the long and wide implement can be backed into corners or resume work after avoiding a field obstruction without leaving ground unsown.

Direct drills

Growers with land and cropping rotations suited to direct drilling have more options with the Cereals 99 introduction of US Krause box drills from Weaving Machinery and the Italian Gaspardo Directa from newly-formed Agri-Mag.

New to the UK, the Krause no-till drill has clocked up 15 years of experience in the US. The UK version is smaller, the 3m drill requiring 100-120hp pulling power. Row width is set at seven inches, which Krause says gives better establishment, stronger plants and less disease.

The drill creates strip tilth with fluted strip till discs. These are followed by strip openers which can place seed accurately even at one inch depth, Krause claims.

Gaspardos Directa is nearer to the Kuhn SD drill in concept, using a central seed hopper and pneumatic distribution to feed disc coulters that have adjustable pressure to suit conditions.

There are three sizes from 3m to 6m, with the mid-range 4m version weighing in at 4.5t to ensure stubble penetration. Seed-only hopper capacity is 1,250kg.

Mildly bemused to see so many newcomers heading down the direct/mulch drilling route is Moore Uni-drill – the company has been a keen protagonist of such concepts for years.

The plain disc coulter and adjustable depth/press wheel arrangement of the Uni-drill remains unchanged but Moore is toying with a front levelling tine bar. Apart from being useful when drilling into prepared land, this may clear straw and other surface trash from the path of the discs and thereby minimise the hairpin effect of straw being pushed into the seed slot.

The new attachment has hydraulic tine angle adjustment but is also free to ride up and release any excessive build-up of soil or trash.

Latest coulter offering from KRM is designed for mulch and conventional drilling, rather than sowing direct. Called Cultidisc, it comprises a flat serrated disc carried on a high pressure leaf spring reckoned to impose around 80kg a disc.

Because this mounting arrangement allows the disc to vibrate slightly, the theory is that something of a tilth is formed in the seed slot with less risk of smearing. The rising spring rate of the design ensures a rapid return to working depth if the disc is deflected by a stone or some other obstruction.

The Cultidisc coulters can be used with KRMs Rti and Optidrill combination seeders in place of Suffolk coulters. On the Optidrill, two rows of trailing levelling tines and a tyre packer prepare ground ahead of the coulters.

John Deeres 740A Mulch Drill now comes in a 6.6m size to fit the 20m tramline spacing that the company reckons is now used on about half the UKs arable acreage. The newcomer has a the same layout as existing 6m and 8m versions – a trailed chassis with hopper and Accord pneumatic seed distribution to double-disc coulters.

Cultivators

French cultivator makers showed contrasting new implements – a seedbed maker for precision sown crops from UK newcomer Religieux Freres and a heavy duty primary tillage tool from Franquet.

Armer Machinery is importing the former to complement its Monosem precision seeders. The Religieux implement runs on 500mm open cage rollers front and rear to maintain an even working for the spring tine sections that are positioned between them. But they also do some work themselves, being formed from cross bars formed into a Citroën logo-like chevron pattern.

Wheel track eradicators, a levelling bar behind the front roller, and a choice of finishing elements (sawtooth or crosskil rings), completes the machine which comes in 3m to 8m widths.

Franquets Synchropress, from Vogel & Noot, uses the companys familiar twin interlocking steel coils but these are larger and heavier than before to do more of a packing job on heavy soils.

Up front, the machine has two rows of rigid tines (which can be set at different angles) and rearward-anged levelling tines with hydraulic adjustment. That enables it to work down ploughed land or bust stubbles.

With more growers going for minimum tillage, discs are very much back in vogue, with newcomers from Kverneland and Kuhn out to challenge UK-built offerings from Dowdeswell, Parmiter and Simba.

Kvernelands D series comes in both tandem and offset formats with working widths up to 6.75m and discs of 660mm or 710mm diameter. The Kuhn Discover XM implements use an unusual scalloped dished disc design. Widths are 4.4m and 4.8m with a choice of 660mm and 710mm diameter discs.