11 August 1995

Preparation of rape seed-beds suffers in heat

In this months "Contractors Comment" Andrew Faulkner returns to Nottinghamshire, where our midlands contractor Colin Hinchley, is struggling to produce rape seed-beds in baked clay

IN AN "average" season a cereal grower praying for rain in mid-August would sound like a farmer in the first throes of madness. But then 1995 has been no average season.

Already the problem in many regions is not gathering the rest of this years crop but how to prepare seed-beds for the next. On heavy land, in particular, the past two months blisteringly hot weather has baked the soil to such an extent that producing a tilth is proving difficult.

"We could do with several inches of rain just to get the cultivation equipment into the ground," says Notts whole-farm contractor Colin Hinchley, who farms about 1620ha (4000 acres) of predominantly heavy boulder clay.

Fist-size cracks

"The land has dried out so much we have got cracks about 2ft deep and wide enough to get your fist in. You have to be careful where you drop a spanner."

Standard cultivations policy for the Hinchley operation, based at Hill Farm, Stanton-on-the-Wolds, is for an 11-leg McConnel Shakeaerator and 10-furrow Gregoire Besson plough to work close up behind the firms three Claas combines – two Mega 208s and a new 218, all fitted with 6m (20ft) wide headers. These primary cultivations are then followed by a pass with a 7m (23ft) wide Simba Toptilth tine/disc combination before leaving the ground to weather.

That is the policy for a "normal" year, not 1995. The main problem this year is that the plough and lighter tined equipment are having difficulty penetrating the soil. Mr Hinchley is still persevering with the Shakeaerator on ground destined for wheat and then following this with passes with a Simba disc/press combination. The aim is to break down the baked blocks brought up by the Shakeaerator to a manageable size, and hope for rain.

"The dilemma is that this heavy ground needs aerating to keep it in good heart should the weather turn wet. That is why I am prepared to risk bringing up these big blocks in the hope we get some rain to break them down before cereal drilling in mid-September.

"But I cant take that chance in next years rape fields, which we aim to plant by late August."

This ground is being worked by a 4.5m (15ft) wide Besson disc/winged tine combination pulled behind a 265hp Ford FW30 articulated tractor. Using consecutive passes the plan is to work the soil from the top down to avoid bringing up blocks.

Again this policy has not been without its problems. The clay has baked so hard that the Bessons tine mounting brackets have been shearing. An older model kept for spares is now nothing more than a skeleton. Besson plans to beef up the unit by replacing the shearbolt-protected tines with a hydraulic reset system.

Cultivations problems aside, the past three months of dry weather have meant rapid progress for the Hinchley spring/summer contracting workload.

Quiet period

Grass silaging with a Reco Mengele SH40N trailed harvester starts the Hinchley season. Although not a big income earner for the business, which specialises in whole-farm arable contracting, the 140ha (350 acres) of first- and second-cut keeps men and machines busy during an otherwise quiet period.

"The Reco is still going well and had an almost problem-free season this year. But it wont go on forever. When it does wear out we will have to review the viability of the silage operation," says Mr Hinchley.

"It is unlikely we will ever get into the highly competitive self-propelled job because those machines need to cut maize as well as grass to make them pay. Maize work would clash too heavily with our peak arable workload."

Other Hinchley equipment up for review includes the oldest of the firms two forward-control MB Trac self-propelled sprayers. The seven- and six-year-old machines spray an annual 12,000ha (30,000 acres), although that area was down about 15% this year because of the drier season and hence reduced disease pressure. Possible replacements for the MB Trac include the new Mercedes forward control conversion from South Cave Tractors and a custom-built 3000- to 4000-litre (660-880gal) Chafer unit.

Mr Hinchley is also concerned about the firms 26,000-unit baling operation. His two New Holland Ford D1000 balers, which make a 60cm x 90cm (2ft x 3ft) section bale, are now in their fourth season and overdue for a change.

"New Holland Fords decision to discontinue the D1000 has left me with a problem," Mr Hinchley explains.

"Farmers round here like the D1000s rectangular bale shape but there is now no new machine available which produces a similarly-sized rectangular profile. The Claas Quadrants bale shape is the obvious alternative but the 1200 models bale is too big for most of our customers, while the 1100s is too small. We will probably be forced into buying a medium square section baler, something like the Krone Big Pack."

Returning to Mr Hinchleys more immediate problems (lack of moisture and his difficulties with rape and cereal seed-bed preparation), should he get the rain he is hoping for, will he be happy? "Probably not. Then I will start worrying about whether it will stop."

&#8226 Work undertaken: Whole farm contracting about 1620ha (4000 acres), specialist spraying and medium square baling.

&#8226 Machinery fleet: 285hp Caterpillar Challenger 65B and 205hp Challenger 35 crawlers, five-wheeled tractors (100-265hp), three Claas combines, two forward-control MB Trac sprayers and a JCB 415 wheeled loader.

&#8226 Labour: Five full-time machine operators plus self-employed labour during peak season.

One of three Claas combines operated by Colin Hinchley (inset), making light work of a 3t/acre crop of Soissons winter wheat. Harvest progress has been rapid. Producing seed-beds for next years rape crop is proving more difficult, with cultivation equipment tested to the limit – and beyond.

Rock-hard Nottinghamshire clays take their toll…this split cultivator tine mounting plate says it all.