17 July 1998

Tramlines on

track for profits…

By Simon Wragg

USING tramlines to improve the accuracy of fertiliser and spray applications is one Cheshire producers answer to improving profits from grass.

Stephen Roston, who runs 140 Holstein Friesians averaging 7800kg/cow at the 142ha (350 acres) Common Farm, Winsford, is introducing tramlines into leys starting in autumn. This will improve the accuracy of fertiliser and spray applications, cut input costs and improve profits from grass; important with lower milk prices.

Tramlines are essential for managing the agronomy of wholecrop cereals and maize grown as forage for the dairy herd, so why shouldnt the same apply for grass, asks Mr Roston.

With much of the 69ha (170 acres) of grass on undulating banks, driving in straight, parallel lines without tramlines to follow is often impossible at 12m working widths, but worse still at 24m, he says.

"Overlaps and unspread areas can be up to 2m wide – about 5%-10% of a field can be over or under treated. At the very least covering some areas twice and driving slowly to improve accuracy is costing £3/acre in tractor costs before inputs," he says.

With grass leys receiving at least one herbicide and up to seven fertiliser applications each season to allow four cuts of leafy grass to be taken, the scope to cut inputs is considerable, he explains.

However, tramlines are difficult to manage in grass. Either tillers or weeds grow into them making them hard to see, suggests Mr Roston.

The solution is to drill a second grass variety or clover into the tramline to provide a distinguishable green line to follow after a cut of grass is taken.

"Clover is the least likely option. Wed need to use clover-safe sprays which are twice the cost of other herbicides. Also, fertiliser applications would have to be lower to avoid killing the clover," he says.

Cocksfoot and ryegrass varieties are the likeliest options as they get away quickly after cutting and would be easily distinguishable, says Mr Roston.

Local contractor John Hood has tried the idea on plots at Reaseheath College, Nantwich, for the local grassland society. Local producers have shown interest in the idea. "Its odd that in a county known for grass so few farmers have adopted the idea already," says Mr Hood.

However, drilling second varieties or clover into leys is fraught with complications, he says. "Its impractical to seed the tramlines when drilling or when applying a broad-leaved weed herbicide after emergence as it would kill the clover."

Instead, tramlines will be left unseeded until after the first application of herbicide and fertiliser had been completed, says Mr Hood. The wheelings can then be drilled using a trickle seeder mounted behind the fertiliser spreader or tractor and possibly scratching the seed in with tines.

"Drilling costs should remain the same at £15.50/ac using another local contractor equipped for a single-pass operation suited to the clay, peat and sandy soils of the farm," says Mr Roston.

Assuming theres a 5% overlap, the potential exists to cut the input costs completely on an area equivalent to 3.4ha (8.5ac) at Common Farm, he explains: "When milk prices are static or falling, any saving thats not costing much to achieve has got to be had."

The quality of conserved forage should also improve with consistent applications, believes Mr Roston. This will cut the risk of pockets of poor quality grass in the clamp which may suppress appetites.

Title: Tramlines

* Optimum input use

* Increase work rate

* Consistent grass quality

TRAMLINES

&#8226 Optimum input use.

&#8226 Increase work rate.

&#8226 Consistent grass quality.