15 August 1997

TOTAL FAITH PUT IN PRECISION SOWING

IT takes a lot of faith – as well as cash – to make the technological leap from an MF30 end-wheel drill to the latest in precision sowing machinery.

But a Yorkshire farming family is confident it will pay dividends in the long-run.

East Yorks cereal grower Andrew Manfield has been looking forward to the results of this years harvest with more than usual eagerness, in particular yields from winter wheat and spring barley crops that have been precision drilled.

"I am not making any predictions about yields or output," he says. "But I am convinced precision sowing has the potential to produce more profitable crops."

Buying the near-£28,000, 3m (9ft 10in) Herriau Turbosem seeder as a replacement for a 19-year-old MF30 end-wheel drill was a significant step. The new machine promises big savings in seed costs, easier and cheaper disease control, and bigger yields.

Although he grows 20ha (50 acres) of vining peas, it is the prospect for improved margins from cereals that persuaded Mr Manfield and the other members of the family farming team to go precision.

"Modern conventional seed drills are clearly better than their predecessors and offer some potential for reduced seed rates," he accepts. "But from the evidence I have seen, and bearing in mind likely future developments in seed treatments and crop breeding, we decided precision sowing was the way to go."

Cropping on the 178ha (440-acre) family farm, at Sancton, near Market Weighton, on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds, is in a traditional mixed rotation with potatoes sugar beet and vining peas providing breaks for winter wheat and winter malting barley.

Since the new drill did not arrive until the first week of October, its potential for sowing cereals extra-early at ultra-low seed rates could not be exploited. Nonetheless, the Regina winter barley and Riband winter wheat sown in the second week of October went in with modest amounts of seed compared with regular practice.

"We used three different seed rates to see how far we can push rates and earliness," he explains.

The seed rates chosen for last Octobers sowings were 160, 240 and 320/sq m, roughly equivalent to 65, 100 and 130kg/ha for Riband.

"I have to say those crops were very impressive. By observation, I would say we got pretty close to 100% germination, the crop stayed low and tillered well," says Mr Manfield. "Every plant appeared to be at the same stage of development; the crops looked like a bowling green after emergence and on into early spring."

Even seed placement is achieved using a punched belt and vacuum metering mechanism. A combination of coulter design, individual rubber wheel depth control and a steel press wheel ensure good germination.n

Precision drilling cereals is paying off for Andrew Manfield (below right). Seed is sucked on to a perforated belt to achieve single, precision spacing (inset).

PRECISION DRILL

&#8226 Herriau Turbosem.

&#8226 £28,000 cost.

&#8226 Precise spacing.

&#8226 Better placement.

&#8226 Even emergence.

&#8226 25kg/ha sowing rate.