14 September 2001

Plough system best for soil on hill land

In our third visit to see

how establishment is being

tackled on farmers weeklys

barometer farms around the

UK Andrew Blake reports

from West Sussex

UNDER constant pressure to hold a minimum tillage demonstration at Houghton Farm, near Arundel, Tim Lock is sticking with his plough-based system, albeit with a new furrow press.

"I am certainly not against min-till," he says. "Its just that we cant afford the equipment needed to cope on our steep land. Some of it requires an awful lot of pulling. Min-till also puts more pressure on the sprayer to deal with stale seed-beds."

With only three full-time staff and about 1200ha (3000 acres) of mostly autumn-sown crops to drill, including share-farmed land and contract work, all extra operations are examined carefully.

Regular ploughing helps ease the farms grassweed problems, he adds.

So for the time being a six-furrow Dowdeswell Deltafurra reversible plough with 16infurrows remains the main cultivation tool.

Drilling, with any green-bridge volunteers first sprayed off, is left to two Vicon combination drills (3m & 4m) with a third 3m one from a neighbour as back-up. Each can be fitted with a power harrow or Farm Force Drill Mate sequence of levelling board, spring tines and coil roller. "It gives us the flexibility to deal with our very wide range of soils.

"This year we have bought a trailed plough press. We always use one on the front of the drilling tractor, but often have to go through with another cultivator pass first."

Although the new tool has slowed ploughing rates by 5-10%, this should be more than offset by labour saving at sowing, Mr Lock calculates.

He had hoped to use the drills in min-till mode especially after peas and beans. "But even where we used pre-harvest desiccation recent wet weather means there is just too much weed, especially knotgrass. Wed never get through." &#42

HOUGHTONFARM

&#8226 Min-till route too expensive.

&#8226 New plough press to cut a pass.

&#8226 Over-yeared seed for set-aside.

&#8226 Spray ousts BYDV seed treatment.

Set-aside is first in line

SET-ASIDE on 34ha (85 acres) of off-lying heavy Weald clay, never sown last season because of rain, is first on the drilling schedule using over-yeared Aardvark seed.

The variety does well as a second wheat, and Mr Lock suspects it has some take-all resistance which should counter any disease carry-over from less than perfect volunteer control.

"We have had it germination tested – mouse droppings dont grow very well. But we couldnt re-clean it through the mobile or our own cleaner because it was already dressed with Sibutol Secur."

As a result, sowing rate is being raised slightly to 150kg/ha. "We have been cutting back. We normally start at 130-140 depending on thousand grain weight."

As usual, most seed is bought in from local merchant Bartholomews. But last seasons Option impressed enough at 8.6t/ha (3.5t/acre) after grass for him to farm-save for this autumn.

Consort, which failed to redeem itself after disappointing in 2000, has been dropped, leaving Charger as the only other variety on the home farm.

"We are cutting down on the oats. They yielded OK but the price is poor, so Ill probably have more pulses as they are more marketable."

Although sowing, which began on Sep 7, is about a week earlier than last year, Mr Lock has reverted to single-purpose seed dressings.

Secur (imidacloprid) was used for BYDV protection last year, but earlier sowing makes autumn spraying almost inevitable, at which point a cheap pyrethroid aphicide can be added, he says.