25 February 2000

SEED COSTS SLASHED

BY PRECISION SOWING

Wheat at about £60/t makes

efficient establishment

crucial. But while most

growers have looked to

minimum tillage or direct-

drilling, one Shropshire

grower has switched to

precision sowing.

Andrew Swallow reports

PRECISION drilling cereals has slashed a Shropshire growers seed costs and looks set to boost yields, but it is not for every grower, his agronomist warns.

Up to last August Andrew Crow drilled all the cereals at Cherrington Manor, near Newport, with a 3m Accord drill and Kuhn power harrow combination. Sugar beet was sown with a separate six-row machine.

Now a Herriau precision drill does both jobs, boosting work rates and bringing huge savings in cereal seed costs.

"Cereal seed rates have been cut by 75% on average," estimates Mr Crow.

Taking on 162ha (400 acres) of extra land prompted the decision to replace the 12-year-old Accord combination. The increased acreage also boosted sugar beet area to 120ha (300 acres) and an upgrade of the farms three year-old, six-row beet drill, was needed too.

"We were not covering the ground quick enough," he says.

A deal was done and the Herriau drill delivered to Cherrington on Aug 22. After trade-in deals on the sugar beet drill and cereal combination unit the bill came to £25,000.

"There is no way I would pay so much for a drill unless it would do every seed on the farm," he says. In addition to wheat and sugar beet, spring barley, peas and maize will be sown this spring.

"The only thing we cant plant with it is the potatoes," he jokes.

Mr Crow stresses that the versatility and precision sowing concept were his main reasons for going for the Herriau, but its arrival has fitted in well with a move to early drilling wheat.

Sept 1 saw the new rig in action for the first time at a seed rate of 60 seeds/sq m. On an average thousand grain weight that is about 28kg/ha (0.2cwt/acre).

"Last year we started drilling on Oct 6, so we were going about five weeks earlier than normal. It is quite a change to our principles; with the Accord we were using 350-400 seeds/sq m.

Home-saved seed has been used in the past, but the new drill could see a move back to buying-in, as volumes have been so dramatically reduced. Even for the last autumn sowings, in December, only 200 seeds/sq m were used.

Mr Crow admits to being a little nervous about that low rate, but the earlier drilled crops have established well. Each plant has an equal space to tiller and because plants are not bunched there is no competition for light.

"The theory is that if plants do not have to compete for light all their effort will go into growing roots," he says.

Seed rates are easily adjusted and a press wheel behind each coulter allows drilling-depth to be set precisely. Early drilled crops were sown at 5cm (2in) deep to prevent rooks taking seed and ensure seeds were placed in moist soil.

Fewer fill-ups and the 4m operating width saw the Herriau typically cover 10-12ha a day (25-30 acres) compared with about 6ha a day (15 acres) with the old set-up for wheat at Cherrington. Operating speed is about 5mph.

Mr Crow aims to raise wheat yields close to 10t/ha (4t/acre) with the new precision-planting and early-drilling regime on his sandy-loam soil. "We have averaged about 3t/acre in the past. We hope to push that up by half to 1t/acre." &#42

"Seed is sucked onto the holes in the belt

and the singulator makes sure theres

only one seed per hole," says new Herriau drill owner Andrew Crow. Inset: Claire winter wheat sown at 60 seeds/sq m in September had 11-12 tillers/plant and

plenty of space to grow in January.

Agronomist says it wont suit everyone

Mr Crows agronomist Andrew Wade, of Profarma, says the precision set-up will not be for every grower. "It requires very good seed-beds. Heavy land growers may not justify the extra cultivations required and slugs would be a worry with such low seed rates." But on lighter land where the extra fixed cost can be justified there are considerable agronomic advantages, he says. "It will produce a very even plant population, which, at the low seed-rates required for early-drilling, is very important. Tillering is more even and establishment enhanced." Plant health should be improved and spray applications timed more precisely because plants are so even. "With many earlier drilled crops pgr programmes are going to be a real headache, but with crops like Mr Crows early drilled wheat it will be no problem. It is very impressive, almost as if the seeds were sown on a 4in square, like graph paper. It will help me do my job from an agronomy point of view because everything is so even." Lower seed rates mean switching to new varieties or even hybrids will cost less, he adds.