20 October 2001

Pressing matters

Take one press, cut it in half, add twin wheels to the drill tractor, and what do you get? A £5,000 increase in output. Peter Read reports

BRIAN HORSFIELD is both sole worker and farm manager on 288ha (712 acres) of winter cereals, rape and peas in Cambridgeshire. But he reckons he could farm another 60ha (15O acres) without any extra labour or machinery – just more spring cropping.

Sounds like superman? Maybe, but he puts it down to "the right tackle and rigorous time management", adding, "I love my work but I do like to go home. Monday to Friday I work a 10-hour day and on Saturday an eight-hour day." And the hands-on owner-occupier, businessman David Hicks, believes that Sundays are rest days – except for harvest-time.

When Mr Horsfield mentions his belief in always having the right tackle, he means it. "When I use a piece of machinery I automatically want to improve it – and keep improving it till its perfect."

The farms machinery was started from scratch when Mr Hicks took his land in-hand, from a management agreement, four years ago. "Since then we have adapted the machinery to suit our land and system," says Mr Horsfield.

Mr Horsfields creation of a two furrow press train, behind the Kverneland LD 85 five-furrow plough; together with a front-mounted drill press and double wheels on the drill tractor, have revolutionised the farms crop establishment. He calculates this change has increased the yield by 5%, giving an increased output on the winter crops of £5,000. "Before, we were getting bad germination due to wheelings in the crop. The wheelings were caused by a combination of not getting the land firm enough after ploughing and then too much weight on the front of the drill tractor."

A Flexi-coil 2.25m (90 inch) double press, with 45mm solid square coil, 500mm diameter, was brought second-hand for £800. Mr Horsfield split the press in two: one half has been adapted to be trailed, behind a Kverneland 2.25m (90in) double cast ring furrow press with 25 700mm 30í rings; the other half is now front-mounted on the drill tractor replacing the soil damaging tractor weights.

"I got the idea of trailing two furrow presses from a neighbouring farm. The total cost of parts, on top of the £800, was just £200. A ready made pick-up hitch for the home-made furrow press would have cost about £1,300. My self-made one just has a £25 Bradley double-lock ball hitch – used on horse trailers – and does the job perfectly. Other parts included the metal for two separate frames and a hydraulic pick-up for the drill tractor."

The two presses working in tandem have the effect of breaking the clods down and firming the top 10cm (4in). "Together with the drill tractors twin wheels, the two coil presses have solved the wheeling and germination problem – fulfilling my plant population aim of 150 to 170 seeds/sq m; and very importantly, without me having to do another pass."

Compaction is a risk when the soil is too damp. "So I tend not to use the furrow coil press for second wheat establishment, which normally goes in during the first week of October."

But, four 45kg weights are sometimes used on the furrow coil press after rape. "If the land is very dry you need the extra weight to break down the clods and to conserve the maximum amount of moisture. But the extra weight does slow down the forward speed."

Without the weights, forward speed ranges between 8 and 10km an hour. "I reckon on doing 1.2 to 1.4ha an hour and a minimum of 12ha a day. The maximum area Ive ploughed is 22ha in one day," says Mr Horsfield.

What other machinery changes are planned? "Im thinking of changing our drill. Its too heavy, which is not good for our 140hp Ford 8360, and has a rigid tool bar so you dont get individual coulter depth control. A precision drill might be an option – although it would lower my work rate. But the Lemkin semi-mounted Solitaire with individual coulters and a depth wheel interests me."

Adapting the farms Simba 4m maxi-mix is also on the cards. "I use it after cereals to create a stale seedbed, which is then sprayed off before ploughing. It is really too big a piece of tackle for the job, and I worry about compaction. Another problem is incomplete straw incorporation because there is not enough room for it to mix. I plan on removing four of the 13 tines, respacing the remaining nine tines and fitting wider points. With luck, the discs will then be able to act as levellers, increasing the pressure on the roller, so we wouldnt get the camber effect were getting at the moment."

The right machinery for the right job is all part of a grand plan. Currently, the farms first wheats yield 10t/ha – although 8.5t/ha this year because it went in so late. "Our realistic three-year yield target is 12.5t/ha," says Mr Horsfield.