1 November 1996

Picking the right planter

By Peter Hill

MECHANICAL planting offers the prospect of cutting establishment costs for short rotation coppice. But calculations by the Forestry Commission suggest it is an operation for contractors rather than individual growers unless serious areas are involved.

In evaluating a selection of planters, the commissions technical development branch measured work rates from 0.25ha/hour (0.1 acres/hour) for the slowest to 0.89ha/hour (0.36 acres/hour) achieved by the four-row Salix Maskiner Step Planter.

Allowing £12/hour for a tractor and £6/hour each for tractor driver and planter operator, and applying the usual depreciation policies for the planters, this gave total operational costs of £22.87/hour to £33.07/hour. Annual "break-even" workloads, assuming 560-hour annual usage, range from 140ha (346 acres) for the Super Prefer planter from Plumtree Nursery Equipment to more than 498ha (1230 acres) for the fast but more costly four-row Salix.

Essential requirement of any planter is that it should accurately install cuttings vertically into a seed-bed of typical arable quality, with 20mm (0.75in) of the cutting protruding from the surface. This assumes conventional planting.

The Austoft planter breaks ranks by laying cuttings horizontally in a 100mm (4in) deep furrow. In Sweden, the technique is used to establish plant populations of 50,000-60,000/ha (20,000-24,000/ acre) in single rows 2m (6.5ft) apart. Lower planting cost is the big attraction, since the planter needs no operator. Cuttings are simply tipped into a large hopper from which a feed mechanism drops them into the furrow.

However, the Forestry Commission planter report suggests that further research is needed before this method can be considered for UK energy crops.

That being the case, UK growers must look to machines that plant conventionally and these all need manual assistance. The Salix Step planter and the Turton Engineering machine take whole rods which are fed into a cutting mechanism as part of the planting operation.

The Goodwin Catkin and Super Prefer versions plant previously prepared cuttings which are manually fed into the planting system.

&#8226 The Forestry Commission report is available from the Technical Development Branch, Ae Village, Dumfries DG1 1QB (01387-860264).n

The four-row Step planter from Salix Maskiner offers high outputs and makes its own cuttings from hand-fed rods of willow.

Simplicity – and the lack of an operator – is the main attraction of the Austoft planter. But, unconventionally, it lays cuttings horizontally instead of upright.

The Super Prefer machine plants hand-fed previously prepared cuttings.

Coppice planters

Austoft fully-auto two- and four-row planters placing cuttings horizontally in shallow furrow. Two-row £10,000.

Henriksson Salix (00 46 410 256).

Super Prefer manned semi-auto cuttings planter. Two-row £3000, four-row £5000.

Plumtree Nursery Equipment (0115 937 6076).

Catkin manned planter for cuttings. Two-row £3500.

Robert Goodwin (01376 573236).

Salix Step planter produces cuttings from rods. Four-row £25,000.

Salix Maskiner (00 46 225 11630).

Rod processor and planter with hydraulic planting arm.

Turton Engineering (01323 843819).