9 March 2001

Tramlines get thumbs up from sugar beet grower

By Edward Long

REDUCED seed costs, faster and less stressful spraying and more uniform root size, which eases harvesting and reduces in-field losses – those were the key benefits for a Lincolnshire estate when it bought a new sugar beet drill to tramlines crops.

"We first used it to tramline our 147ha crop in 1999. It proved so grower-friendly that wild horses would not get me to go back to the old system," says Philip Ashton of Aubourn Farming who runs the 2226ha (5500 acre) Nevile farming business at Aubourn.

"After recent experience we also know tramlines make harvesting easier in a wet year," he says.

The technique is now an integral part of the policy of fine-tuning management to squeeze more profit from beet. The crop is mainly grown on drought-prone heathland, but after failing to meet the 5400t quota four years ago some was moved to heavier soils.

Although tramlining is not new some growers fear that missing rows could cut yield. But BBRO-funded trials show there is no yield reduction and sometimes a slight yield increase.

"After seeing beet drilled by a 12-row Kleine Unicorn 3 and being impressed by the accuracy achieved we paid around £15,000 for the model fitted out for tramlines," says Mr Ashton.

That was about £2000 more than the standard version.

"We liked its ability to automatically alter the seed spacing in the edge rows to compensate for tramline wheelings. It has allowed us to stretch the spacing from 6.0 to 7.2 inches in the row elsewhere, without compromising yield. This has reduced the amount of seed needed from 1.2 to 1.01 units/ha, a saving of £23.75/ha in seed cost alone."

Seed is the biggest variable cost involved with growing beet on the estate. Last year it totalled £125/ha compared with £75/ha for herbicide and £65/ha for fertiliser.

"We made a considerable saving, which more than repaid the additional cost of the tramline kit on the drill," says Mr Ashton.

"Tramlining has also allowed us to reduce our fertiliser cost by about 30%, which is valuable in a year when prices rose by 60%."

The new drill is set up at 50cm (20 in) row widths with a pair of rows missing every 24m. The arrangement is important as it allows the new high capacity self-propelled Househam sprayer to cope with both cereals and beet without having to change wheel settings.

Use of wide tyres early in the season allows the first liquid top-dressing to be applied with pre-emergence herbicide, so saving one pass.

The sprayer operator also finds it easy to work in the tramlined beet. There is no need to count rows when turning on the headland, all he has to do is look for the next set of tramlines.

With little variation in root size the Holmer Terra Dos 6-row self-propelled harvester copes well and is easier to set-up, resulting in less in-field losses than before. &#42

Moving to tramlined beet has brought big benefits, says Philip Ashton of Aubourn Farming, Lincs. Reduced harvest losses and damage are a key improvement.

BEET TRAMLINES

&#8226 Automatic tramlining.

&#8226 £2000 extra cost on drill.

&#8226 50cm rows, 24m tramlines.

&#8226 Big seed saving.

&#8226 Easier spraying.

&#8226 Reduced harvest losses.

&#8226 No yield loss.