4 September 1998

Tramlines catch on fast for beet

By Mike Williams

ATTEMPTS to control wheelings in sugar beet achieved a brief spell of popularity in the 1960s, but now that the idea has been revived in the form of tramlines, it is attracting serious interest.

This is due to the fact that spray equipment now employed on big acreage farms is much bigger than it was 30 years ago and, as a result, less suitable for narrow wheels.

The idea is already popular in Germany, and it arrived here only after a group of growers visited German farms and became sold on the tramline system. Although this reduces the number of rows in the field, improved growth in the rows adjacent to the tramlines appears to compensate.

Ron Gabain was one of the farmers on the German visit. He manages the 1265ha (3125 acre) Stetchworth Estate Farms near Newmarket, Cambs, and will soon be harvesting his fifth crop of beet grown with tramlines.

The estate grows about 173ha (428 acres) of sugar beet drilled with an 18-row Stanhay Rallye 590. Drills adapted for tramlining were not available, and the Rallye 590 was modified in the farm workshop after discussion with Stanhay Webb engineers.

Automatic control for switching the tramline rows on and off is a reconditioned unit from an old Bettinson direct drill, and the work cost about £500 including two new drive clutches.

Row spacing at Stetchworth is 44.5cm with an 89cm tramline, and by putting in the tramlines on every third bout the system is correct for spraying with a 24m boom.

The demountable Knight Laser sprayer is on a Clayton 4120 tractor running on Michelin 540/65R24 low ground pressure tyres – very different to the narrow rowcrop wheels and tyres previously used for beet crop spraying – and according to Mr Gabain the ability to spray on wide tyres is the main benefit of tramlining.

"I cant comment on yields because we are not in a position to make an accurate comparison, but the Germans say there is no yield loss and from what I have seen so far I have no reason to doubt it."

Growers who wish to switch to tramlining no longer need to do their own drill modifications. Increasing interest in the idea has encouraged Stanhay Webb to offer a tramlining kit for their Selekta 585 and Rallye 592 drills. It is available on new machines and can also be retro-fitted to existing drills, including the Rallye 590.

Mike Hayward, managing director, says the latest version of the kit has been simplified, allowing the cost to be reduced to under £1000.

The tramlining unit on Stanhay drills maintains a constant seed rate across all the seeding units, but the control units available from some precision drill manufacturers allow rates to be individually varied.

This means the rate in rows adjoining a tramline can be increased, giving a bigger plant population to benefit from reduced competition beside the tramline.

Mr Hayward says the indication from growers who already use tramlines, including Mr Gabain, suggest that beet plants next to tramlines make more growth anyway, and there is no benefit from adjusting the seed rate.

The Synchrodrive unit includes automatic on/off control for the tramline rows, plus an individual drive to each seeding unit allowing rates to be varied. Kleine suggests a 15% increase for the two rows adjoining each tramline.

Philip Garford is a partner in Garford Farm Machinery, UK distributor for Kleine drills, and he also helps to run the family farm in Cambridgeshire which includes 40ha (100 acres) of sugar beet.

Not surprisingly their beet is drilled with a Kleine machine and, after a trial run on part of their acreage last year, the whole of this years crop has tramlines.

They used Synchrodrive to give a 15% boost to seed rates beside each tramline, and Mr Garford believes there are advantages in doing so.

"I agree that there will be more growth in those rows anyway, even if you dont adjust the seed rate," he explains. "But that means the roots are bigger in those rows, which could complicate harvesting. If you increase the seed rate the yield goes up because there are more even-sized roots.

Total area of sugar beet drilled on the Garford family farm is tramlined this year using a 12-row Klein drill. Seed rates are boosted by 15% for rows sown next to each tramline.

Tramlines allow wide tyres to be used when spraying – reducing ground compaction, deep wheel ruts snd allowing operations to continue when ground conditions are not ideal.