26 October 2001

Ploughed plots come top

With two years

establishment comparison

results under his belt Suffolk

farm manager James Moldon

is starting to draw some

conclusions.

Andrew Swallow reports

WHEAT established on ploughed plots beat min-till and direct-drill yields by over 0.5t/ha (0.2t/acre) this harvest, highlighting why a pragmatic approach to cultivation still pays, says the Suffolk farm manager who conducted the trials.

James Moldon is into his third year of establishment work in conjunction with Morley Research Centre on the heavy soils of Felix Thornley Cobbold Agricultural Trusts Stanaway Farm near Otley.

Similar plant counts last December across all establishment systems and drills suggested yield differences in the first wheat Napier would be small.

"The yields should have been pretty much identical, but there is over half a tonne difference between the min-till and the ploughing."

Mr Moldon is at pains to point out that the work is not replicated, and as such yield differences of 0.5t/ha should be treated with caution.

"The yields between conventional and minimal tillage are not varied enough to draw a conclusive argument that indicates one system out-performing the other.

"But the results do highlight that you must take account of soil conditions when deciding cultivations. If you have a problem with the soil you cannot ignore it," stresses Mr Moldon.

Results are similar to last years. However lower plant counts from direct-drilling compared with the other two systems have resulted in lower yields – an indication of how direct-drilling can suffer in very wet conditions, says Mr Moldon.

To try to alleviate shallow compaction caused by combining on wet soils in harvest 2000, and aerate slumped soil, non-plough plots had a pass with a sub-soiler operating at 20-25cm (8-10in) last autumn.

"That is far from an ideal practice in wet conditions but care is taken not to penetrate the subsoil. In the previous year where we didnt use the sub-soiler we lost 1-1.5t/ha," he notes.

Only a third of the sub-soiler pass cost is allocated in the margin calculation (see table) but despite that the yield advantage still sees ploughing come out on top this year.

Suggestions that such deep cultivations, be it ploughing or sub-soiling, are unnecessary because soils will restructure naturally are all very well in a dry year, but it has simply been too wet for a number of years now, says Mr Moldon.

"It has never dried out enough for fracturing through the soil profile, even on the Hanslope series soils." Pockets of the non-calcareous Beccles and Ragdale series soils on the trial field are even less likely to self-structure, he adds.

"You have to make a decision and get seed-beds ready on time."

Timeliness is the key advantage with the min-till or direct-drill approaches, especially where farms are trying to manage more land with the same resources, he adds. At Stanaway Farm cropping has increased from 220ha to 290ha.

"We have no more machinery but min-till all our oilseed rape and first wheat now, using the flat-lift if there is any compaction. Establishment is so much quicker – we only plough for second wheat."

ESTABLISHMENT LESSONS

Dig and look first.

Cultivate to combat problems.

Compromise inevitable if wet.

Plough = easier rooting?

RESULTS

Method Conventional Min-till Direct-drill

Cost (£/ha) 101 76 54

Plant count (dec) 242 246 230

Yield (t/ha) 10.8 10.2 9.9

Net margin (£/ha) 705 687 685

All Napier after OSR, sold as feed at £75/t. Conventional = plough & press, disc & press, drill, roll x 2. Min-till = Subsoil, disc & press, drill, roll. Direct-drill = Subsoil, drill, roll. Results average of five drills used on each establishment method. Subsoiling cost split over three years.

Slugs

No difference between systems was observed, slug friendly cobbly ploughed land being balanced by the favourable trash and green material re-growth generated by min-till or direct-drill, suggests Mr Moldon. "I think the secret is not to allow food source to grow too big, even if it means spraying off twice." At Morleys other establishment site at Bawburgh ploughing did have an edge, the lighter land producing a finer seed-bed. "And they dont grow oilseed rape," he adds.

DRILL YIELD RESULTS (t/ha)

Drill Conventional Min-till Direct-drill Mean

KRM 10.6 9.6 10.2 10.1

John Deere 10.6 10.9 10.6 10.7

Simba 10.6 10.2 10.1 10.3

Horsch 10.7 10.0 9.5 10.1

Vaderstad 11.3 10.2 8.9 10.1

OK, men, this is the plan…James Moldon (centre) shows the different drill operators where their plots are for this years wheat establishment work. Last years results saw ploughed land perform best.

ESTABLISHMENT LESSONS

&#8226 Dig and look first.

&#8226 Cultivate to combat problems.

&#8226 Compromise inevitable if wet.

&#8226 Plough = easier rooting?

Slug pressure equal

No difference between systems was observed, slug friendly cobbly ploughed land being balanced by the favourable trash and green material re-growth generated by min-till or direct-drill, suggests Mr Moldon. "I think the secret is not to allow food source to grow too big, even if it means spraying off twice." At Morleys other establishment site at Bawburgh ploughing did have an edge, the lighter land producing a finer seed-bed.

"And they dont grow oilseed rape," he adds.

Results


Method Conventional Min- Direct- till drill

Cost 101 76 54

(£/ha)

Plant count 242 246 230

(Dec – plants/sq m)

Yield 10.8 10.2 9.9

(t/ha)

Net margin 705 687 685

(£/ha)

All Napier after OSR, sold as feed at £75/t. Conventional = plough & press, disc & press, drill, roll x 2. Min-till = Subsoil, disc & press, drill, roll. Direct-drill = Subsoil, drill, roll. Results average of five drills used on each establishment method. Subsoiling cost split over three years.

Drill yield results (t/ha)


Drill Conventional Min- Direct Mean

till drill

KRM 10.6 9.6 10.2 10.1

J Deere 10.6 10.9 10.6 10.7

Simba 10.6 10.2 10.1 10.3

Horsch 10.7 10.0 9.5 10.1

Vaderstad 11.3 10.2 8.9 10.1