Different methods of establishing oilseed rape are being assessed on a South Staffordshire estate. Farmers Weekly went along with a host of local growers.
There are as many ways of establishing oilseed rape as there are corny chat-up lines. But, for many, staying with the proven method seems the safest option, in both instances.
The decision to invest in a new drill at Chillington Estate, near Codsall, has provided a chance to appraise different methods before getting out the chequebook.
Six companies were showcasing different establishment methods at an open day organised by distributor group Agrii, the idea being that each will be appraised by Agrii agronomists and farm manager Simon Collins before a final decision is reached as to what machine to buy.
Mr Collins has improved yields of oilseed rape from an historic 2.5t/ha or less to 3.75t/ha and beyond, through better soil management and variety choice, and is keen to push this further.
The biggest soil-based obstacle to oilseed rape performance is compaction, particularly on sandy ground, identified by Mr Collins and his agronomist Peter Jones with the help of test pits dug with Agrii oilseed rape specialist Philip Marr.
They overcame this by introducing sub-soiling into the rotation ahead of every oilseed rape crop, despite the extra time pressures it placed on establishment.
Sumo’s Deep Tillage Seeder, or DTS, offers a strip-till method of planting both oilseed rape and cereal crops.
This tine-based drill, launched two years ago, has an independent coulter design to achieve precision seed placement.
Up front, a cutting disc clears a path for the auto-reset tine. The loosening leg can work as deep as 250mm (9in), but on Chillington ground the 4m machine was working at 177mm (7in).
Individually mounted 127mm (5 inch) seeding shoes split seed into two rows a few centimetres apart and are hydraulically pressured. A smaller tip for crops such as beans is also available.
At the back, foam-filled press wheels firm the soil around the seed, whilst also governing the sowing depth of the coulters. Drilling depth for oilseed rape on the day was 12mm (½in).
There’s also a seed and fertiliser option that places fertiliser down to 100mm (4in) deep between the two rows of seed.
The 4m machine can manage 40ha/day and it requires in the region of 50hp/m to pull. A 4m costs £60,000. Add £8,000 for the fertiliser kit.
Claydon used an original prototype version of its Hybrid seed and fertiliser drill, having sold all new models of the machine ahead of this year’s drilling campaign.
A front-leading tine creates a channel to allow the taproot unhindered growth. This tine is low disturbance, explained the company’s Charlie Easton. “All we’re looking for is space for rooting and drainage.“
Seed is then blown on to the surface of the soil in bands using a 178mm (7in) seeding tine, after which batter boards tickle it in before individual press wheels consolidate the seed-bed.
In this case, fertiliser was placed down the seeding tine with the seed, but other options are available such as down the front tine rather than with the seed.
The 3m version working on the day required about 150hp and costs in the region of £48,000, the fertiliser option adding a further £7,000.
Lemken Solitair and Karat
Lemken doesn’t advocate any one way of drilling oilseed rape, as the company offers everything from ploughs to min-tillage cultivators.
“It’s about what works best for the farmer, so we’ve used two very different methods today,” explained general manager of Lemken UK Mark Ormond.
First up was a 4m Karat disc and tine stubble cultivator, fitted with a Stocks seeder. This hydraulically controlled cultivator can work from 5cm to 30cm (2in to 7in), with different points depending on the depth of work undertaken.
When the working depth is altered, an automatic disc adjustment system makes sure the concave discs maintain the correct working depth.
The second system used by Lemken was the 3m Solitair powerharrow combination drill, fitted with a Dolomit subsoiler up front.
This four-legged pre-loosener loosens the complete soil profile up to a depth of 50cm. Working depth can be adjusted independently, while a number of different wing shares can be fitted. Using the Dolomit turns the powerharrow drill combination into a one-pass machine.
The 3m Solitair combination drill needs 150hp and costs £35,000 while the Dolomit costs £4,000, while the Karat costs £45,000.
Although it’s possible to fit a Biodrill seeder to its TopDown one-pass stubble cultivator, which many farmers already do to drill oilseed rape, Vaderstad instead used this disc and tine machine to establish a tilth, working to a depth of 155mm to 200mm.
“You can opt for a deep loosening tine and go up to 14in, but this machine is not really for subsoiling,” explained Rowland Dines, territory sales manager.
Ten tines with 27cm spacing mean all soil is moved regardless of working deep or shallow and tines and press can be taken out of work accordingly.
Working on the TopDown-prepared ground was the Spirit, however Mr Dines was keen to point out that it can go straight into stubble. System Discs can be replaced with tines, with one tine to two coulters and this will place fertiliser between each tine.
The 4m Spirit costs £55,000 and requires 160hp to pull it on prepared land, or for strip-till needs 250hp to 280hp and costs £65,000. The 3m TopDown costs £35,000 with BioDrill.
The Simba DTX 300 has five, staggered tines and can be equipped with either a subsoiler leg or low disturbance tine. Tines are followed by two rows of adjustable 500mm diameter discs.
This version had the latter with the seeding outlet behind the discs and in line with each tine.
The DTX’s legs work to 350-400mm deep and run ahead of two rows of 500mm cultivating discs set at a spacing of 125mm. Their working angles can be adjusted according to soil type, conditions and trash levels.
A well-known DD-roller at the back makes for good seed-to-soil contact and the ridge on the DD roller creates a weatherproof finish. The 3m machine needs 200hp upwards to pull it and costs £27,000 with seeder unit.
When Agrii’s Mr Marr started experimenting with different seeding techniques 14 years ago, he looked at different subsoilers including Opico’s to create a system that gave each oilseed rape plant more room to develop through better light interception.
The He-Va seven-leg subsoiler, fitted with 110mm feet to reduce heave is fitted with a Variocast seeder, which drops seed in bands behind the legs. A variety of rollers are available to follow.
Opico has recently introduced the Accu-Disc system, which provides more precision placement of the seed behind the machine using a double-disc coulter arrangement, but at Carrington it was the more typical outlet behind the leg setup.
The 3m HeVa needs upwards of 165hp to pull it and costs £15,500 with seeder. The Accu-Disc option costs between £3,500 and £4,000.
Farmers Weekly will be returning to see the results later this autumn.