Controlled traffic farming system eases seed-bed concerns in North Lincolnshire

Controlled traffic farming is proving to be a “godsend” in coping with challenging soil conditions this autumn, according to a north Lincolnshire farmer.

Designed to minimise traffic on cropped areas, controlled traffic farming requires all cultivation, drilling, spraying and harvest machinery to run down the same tramlines.

It is a system Edward Dale, well-known for his John Dale Drills business, has used on his own 1400ha (3500 acres) farm in Howsham, near Market Rasen, for the past three seasons.

The benefits of doing so have never been greater than this autumn, following the extremely wet harvest, he says. “Controlled traffic farming all sounds like a bit of a hassle initially, but the benefits in a year like this one have been tremendous.”

The reason is by not “trafficking” the vast majority of the field it leaves the soil, in theory, in perfect condition, he explains.

Certainly this season it has left seed-beds with “lovely, friable soil”, according to Mr Dale, which has helped speed drilling progress.

The system Mr Dale uses is based on an 8m, or multiple of, implement width, including an 8m John Dale drill. Only 8m of the 9m combine bed width is used for harvesting to keep the system on track. The combine is fitted with tracks that limit the pressure exerted to 10psi, compared with 37psi usually, he says.

Even so, damage to the soil still occurs, which is lifted up with a sub-soil tine. The headlands, which are used for turning, also need sub-soiling to repair soils.

Grain carts don’t quite fit the system, Mr Dale admits. One wheel follows the CTF system, while the other runs on non-trafficked soil. “It is a sacrifice we have to make [to keep combines moving efficiently].”

It doesn’t add up to a big proportion of the field, he says. In total trafficked land accounts for about 20% of the field, compared with 80-90% in a random-trafficked system.

But last harvest’s wet conditions it did mean a little extra cultivation was required before drilling. “It meant we had to do a separate pass with the sub-soiler.”

Yields under the CTF system have increased by 7% in wheat and beans on the farm, which is mostly heavy boulder clay. Oilseed rape yields have remained fairly static since the switch.

The other noticeable improvement is in diesel costs. “Our diesel use is about 35 litres/ha. Someone heavy land ploughing and cultivating afterwards could be using 140 litres/ha.”

At the 56p/litre diesel price Mr Dale paid recently that equates to a saving of just under £60/ha.

Interested in controlled traffic farming?

CTF (Europe) is holding a two-day conference aimed at providing growers with successful strategies for low-input tillage systems at Askham Bryan College, York, on 12-13 November. Members of the CTF growers club will be able to visit two farms in the area in the process of converting to the system.

For more information contact Tim Chamen on 05125 405 121 or 07714 206 048 or by emailing

  • For more information on controlled traffic farming click here

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