7 September 2001

Plough still rules the roost

In the second of our

barometer series on crop

establishment, we visit

ploughing enthusiast Tim

Morris at Coneygar Farm in

Glos, where wheat drilling is

set to start next week.

Andrew Swallow reports

NEW tools for crop establishment are being bought on farmers weeklys western barometer farm at Quenington, Glos. But Tim Morris is no follower of fashion, bucking the trend towards min-till and early drilling.

Comparing such approaches on similar Cotswolds farms with his plough-based system shows the only significant saving is time (see table). That comes at considerable capital cost and reduces flexibility.

"The discs are extremely expensive and you need a very large tractor to pull them. In most cases people also need to do something else before drilling."

Dry conditions are needed for discs to work, he adds. "Having discs on their own would be too risky because they dont work in a wet season. You have to plough. Some people run the two systems side by side, but you need a huge area to justify that."

Mr Morris crops about 400ha (1000 acres), with nearly a quarter in wheat after set-aside, mostly on contract-farmed land. That allows plenty of time to plough and land is wetter than where a crop has been grown.

But the moisture has caused problems with pressing. "Half the time we had to drop the press off because it was bunging up."

The press doesnt suit late ploughing ahead of spring cropping either, which is set to increase as Mr Morris replaces second wheat with spring barley. Neither does it suit ploughing down winter beans, which are being re-introduced to boost the first wheat area.

So the press and old four-furrow plough have been sold and replaced with a six-furrow Kverneland. "I suppose we are bucking the trend."

At the same time, a 100hp eight-year-old Ford 7840 with 6500 hours on the clock has been traded in against a nearly new 130hp Ford TM150. "It has 310 hours on the clock and lost £10,000 in the process. The book value is £42,000, but we got this one for £32,000 including dual wheels."

Now, seed-beds for first wheat and oilseed rape will be ploughed without pressing and cultivated twice with either a Flexi-Tine, Rexius or old set of cultivation discs prior to drilling with the seven-year-old 6m KRM pneumatic drill.

"It is a cheap and cheerful drill which requires a perfect seed-bed – no trash, fine and level. It is the reason we do two passes after ploughing. Depth control isnt great but thats why we like a loose seedbed so the tines penetrate."

Up to 40ha (100 acres) a day can be covered. "Im not into early drilling. My aim is to drill a large area at the right time."

Ploughing also fits in with Mr Morriss preference to control blackgrass on contract-farmed land and sterile brome on his own ground by cultivation rather than spraying.

But whatever the cultivation and crop establishment system used, whatever the farm, nothing must be allowed to compromise yield, he says.

"The difference in cost/acre of the different systems is negligible compared to the loss in yield if you do not do the job properly, or have to re-drill a field. At most the difference in cost is £20-30/acre and you can easily lose 0.5t/acre if you get establishment wrong." &#42

Establishment time/cost comparison

System Cost Time (£/ha) (mins/ha)

ConventionalPlough/press, 2x light cult, roll 50%, spray 25%, drill, roll 67 146

Combination drillPlough/press, spray 25%, ph-combination drill, roll. 64 141

Rapide drillPlough/press, light headland cult, roll/level, spray 50%, drill, roll 72 138

Discs2 x disc/press, light cult, spray 100%, drill, roll 82 91

Direct drillSpray, drill, subsoil 10%, roll 39 54

Based on 1998 study of Cotswold Arable Study Group members farms and systems by Tim Morris, then chairman. Costs include typical depreciation, labour and fuel.

CONEYGARCULTIVATION

&#8226 Plough-based system suits.

&#8226 Extra two furrows for more acres.

&#8226 Time of drilling key.

&#8226 Plough press dropped.