7 September 2001

Which cultivation system?

It was not perhaps so much

the event itself which drew

a sizeable number of visitors

to last weeks Tillage

demonstration but the fact

this was the first notable

agricultural occurrence since

foot-and-mouth disease took

hold. Andy Collings

and Andy Moore report

LARGE cultivators, large drills, large tractors. The Tillage event held at Fonthill Estate in Wilts offered an interesting selection of different cultivation systems, many of which would claim to reduce crop establishment costs.

The more discerning visitor will have noted just how few ploughs were on display. Instead, the event presented a multitude of surface working cultivators each with its own contrived combination of discs, tines and presses – and a suitably powerful tractor to pull them.

What many may find surprising in all this is how the growers perception of what constitutes an acceptable seed-bed has changed so radically over recent years.

A trash-free, finely worked soil appears to have been replaced by what many growers would have previously described as scuffling.

Economic pressures have clearly demanded cheaper techniques to be employed but few of those attending the event felt entirely at ease with the systems on offer – particularly in the long term.

One company which would refute such criticisms is Soil Science Direct. Based at Derry Hall, Calne, Wilts, the firm has developed a rigid tined winged cultivator which, it claims will incorporate straw in the top 10cm (4in) of soil.

Successive years use with the Zoiler, as it is called, will reduce all inputs, increase yields and result in quality grain being produced.

Conventional ploughing up of low quality soils, says the company, upsets the chemistry of the soil. This reduces grainset potential, increases fertiliser needs and increases crop disease.

The principle of the Zoiler is to create high quality topsoil containing high levels of organic matter. After three to four years, the soil becomes so friable that lower powered machinery can be used.

A tractor-mounted implement available in 3m and 4m working widths, the Zoiler also has a rear three-point-linkage to which a press or drill can be attached. An operational speed of about 10mph is considered essential if the required soil boiling and straw mixing action is to be achieved.

Price of a 3m version is £4980.