Ploughing is still a part of farming

Paul Metheringham is emphatic: “Min-till is certainly not for us,” he insists.

“It would not work, it would be a waste of money and would be totally unnecessary.”

Well, it would be difficult to hear a more determined answer than that to any suggestion that min-till might be a more economical way of plant establishment than traditional methods.

While it is tempting to believe that Mr Metheringham is steeped in a system he has used for decades – and that he cannot fully understand the economics of modern crop establishment – one would be wrong on both accounts.

“You can’t generalise on anything in farming,” he insists.

“Every farm is different and, as such, each requires a different approach to the job – even if the aim of producing a profitable crop remains the same.”

Based at Scotter, North Lincs, Mr Metheringham and his brother David farm 400ha (1000 acres) growing winter wheat and barley, oilseed rape, beans and sugar beet.

Soil type is predominantly sandy with just the odd patch of heavier silt, but nothing that is considered to be particularly demanding in the cultivation department.

Indeed, the very nature of the soil is the key to the cultivation regime adopted by the Metheringhams.

“We plough and press everything in one pass and then, in a second pass power harrow and drill,” explains Mr Metheringham.

“It’s a very simple, traditional system and for us, it works well.”

After the combine leaves the field David moves in with a five-furrow Gregoire Besson vari-width plough and furrow press pulled by a John Deere 6920S which, he reports, hardly breaks into a sweat on the light soil type, even when the plough is set out to its maximum furrow width of 20in.

“We chop and spread all the straw so there is usually a fair degree of trash which the plough manages to bury without too much trouble,” he explains.

“I reckon to average about 30 acres a day so I start off with the power harrow/drill combination and keep up with him.”

And that is how the farm’s winter acreage is planted – two passes and no fuss.

But how do the costs stack up?

For ploughing and pressing the brothers put in a cost of 38/ha (15/acre) and the same price is entered for powerharrowing and drilling – a total of 76/ha (30 acre).

“It should also be remembered that we haven’t had to buy heavy sets of discs or other cultivator types and large, powerful tractors,” he points out.

“I suspect that most advocates of min-till still have a plough tucked away in the barn alongside a conventional drill.”

That aside, Mr Metheringham is the first to concede he is fortunate in having such easily workable soil that allows him to use the plough so readily.

“If we were on heavy clay then there is no way we could plough like we do,” he says.

“But then, those who farm on clay land don’t have the troubles we do in dry weather although I believe the plough does turn up some moist soil which aids seed germination in a dry time.”

He adds that plant root structures are always well established on the ploughed land which, on this drought prone soil is important.

“I have seen examples of min-till on this soil type,” he says.

“The plants are certainly not so well developed and appear to struggle for moisture and nutrient take up.”

On the weed front Paul also feels he is gaining by using the plough, with grass weeds, such as brome and blackgrass kept under control with out excessive spend on pesticides.

“Overall, I think we are getting it about right, I would take a lot of convincing to change our system,” he concludes.

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