28 March 1997

Targeting your tillage precisely

TARGET your tillage to soil conditions, advised Richard Godwin.

Speaking at the conference Cultivating New Ideas, organised by Swedish machinery manufacturer Vaderstad at the ICI Centre, Peterborough, Prof Godwin said targeting tillage more precisely would ensure that operations are carried out with the minimum of energy, time and therefore cost.

"Too many miss out on cost savings by treating all their fields in the same way," said Prof Godwin, director of research at Silsoe College, Cranfield University. For example, why spend £50/ha (£20/acre) subsoiling the whole field when soil compaction problems are confined to the tramlines and headlands, he asked?

Minimising wheelings offers further scope for savings. "Compaction, caused by wheelings, does far more damage to soil structure and yields than many growers realise. So try to minimise wheelings by deciding whether or not that last cultivations pass is necessary," he said.

DEVELOPING the theme of cost-effective cultivations, John Bailey, ADASs senior mechanisation consultant, said some farmers could cut the cost of the time taken to cultivate by 25%.

Preparing a seed-bed using present systems costs between £110 and 125/ha (£45 and 51/acre) taking between 200 and 250min/ha (80 and 100min/acre). But using a power harrow drill or cultivator drill could cut those costs to £75-100/ha (£30-40/acre). And a cultivator drill could cut the time taken to prepare a seed-bed to 75-100min/ha (30-40min/acre).

"Saving 50min/ha over 300ha in the autumn could lead to savings of 250 hours or four weeks of work for a tractor and driver."

On light land aim for two passes, such as plough, press and drill, advised Mr Bailey. Medium land should require three passes, perhaps incorporating plough, double press and drill. Whereas on heavy soils aim for four passes including ploughing, discing, pressing and rolling, he said.

"The secret is to combine operations as far as possible to achieve more in each pass. In some cases the drill incorporates rolling tyres while in others it may be possible to pull the rolls behind the drill," suggested Mr Bailey.

GOOD seed-bed preparation is the single most important factor in maximising winter wheat yields, according to Jacob Kjearsgaard.

Head adviser of independent Danish advisory group TKL, Mr Kjearsgaard said: "Research shows that if conditions are suitable for seed-bed preparations for first wheats by Sept 1, drilling should begin. Drilling in the first three weeks of September will not in itself significantly influence the yield potential of winter wheat, but it will provide the flexibility to choose the best drilling conditions," he said.

It also decreases the risk of having to drill in October where yield potential and gross margin is reduced by about 10%.

When drilling early it is important to reduce seed rates, explained Mr Kjearsgaard. Rates should be cut to achieve a plant population of 150 to 200 plants/sq m and seed should be Baytan dressed in order to prevent disease infections in the autumn. But early drilled crops suffered less mildew in May and June, according to Danish trials.

Although Danish weather conditions can be harsher than those of East Anglia, Mr Kjearsgaard felt the research findings would be equally valid on this side of the North Sea.

THE results of nearly 30 years of research into minimal cultivations in France were explained by Matthieu Lorre of the French governments advisory service ITCF. Research comparing the effects of ploughing, shallow cultivation and direct drilling found no significant differences in crop yields. But the costs of weed control and stubble cultivations were much higher in minimal tillage systems, said Mr Lorre.

Commenting on a survey of 930 French farmers who used minimal tillage techniques, he said their main motivation was to save time. About 12% of farmers considered that minimum tillage helped them to reduce fuel consumption and only 1% thought it helped them to increase yields.

Judging by the survey, 30% of farmers established at least one crop, mainly cereals and oilseed rape without ploughing, said Mr Lorre.

GETTING the best from farm staff can make a major contribution to cutting costs and improving crop yields and quality, said Alistair Gibb.

One of Velcourts leading farm managers in Dorset, Mr Gibb who manages a staff of nine on a 841ha (2077-acre) estate, identified four main motivators for staff. Those are achievement, responsibility, training and recognition.

Setting work targets helps staff to develop a sense of achievement and job satisfaction, said Mr Gibb. Giving staff responsibility helps them to take pride in their work and become more efficient. "Its all about matching peoples skills, abilities and interests to specific jobs," he explained.

Training helps to improve work rates and accuracy as well as acting as a reference point for giving constructive criticism later in the year, he said. "If someone needs to improve the standard of their work, referring back to an earlier training course can be very useful."

But it is recognition that achieves the most impact in motivating staff, he suggested. "Giving praise is something we are not good at in Britain but it can give staff a tremendous lift," said Mr Gibb. Performance worthy of praise includes standards of work, taking the initiative, being innovative and achieving targets.

Motivation is about more than simply money. Its about helping them to work more efficiently by involving them in the business, he said.n

Matthieu Lorre: "Cost of weed control much higher in minimal tillage systems."

Alistair Gibb: "Staff motivation is more than simply about money."