Strip-tillage valuable in grassweed fight

What started out as a one-pass system designed to provide an ideal environment for plants to flourish in is proving to be valuable in the fight against grassweeds.

The drill has been designed to allow a broad range of autumn and spring crops to be established in almost any situation. In addition to working directly into stubble, the machine can work in min-tilled or ploughed land.

Historically, Worcestershire farmer Marin Lole had a rotation of winter cropping – wheat, oilseed rape and beans – at Springfield Farm, and even with the best chemistry, he was losing the fight against grassweeds. Something had to change; it needed to be quicker, simpler and cheaper, while reducing the blackgrass burden.

He has developed a system around a fundamentally simple framework. The system hinges on doing the simple things well: rotation, minding soil structure, spring cropping, cultural controls and a generous helping of attention to detail.

“I only farm in the evening and weekends, doing it myself with help at harvest. I used to spend hour upon hour ploughing and cultivating, trying to make seed-beds. It’s expensive, you burn lots of fuel and you don’t always produce the right results,” says Mr Lole.

“I looked at subsoiler seeding, but was really worried about the drilling depth. The Mzuri is the precision version,” he says.

There’s no denying the benefits, they’re plain to see when you walk around Springfield Farm. Any previous compaction issues have been dealt with by using the drill’s low-disturbance leading tines. The soil structure has improved and there’s more worm activity, leading to better drainage and aeration. Organic matter is on the increase and suddenly the environment doesn’t favour blackgrass at the expense of the crop.

“We have introduced a spring crop into the rotation which allows better use of cultural control methods to get on top of blackgrass. Cultural controls, rotations and timings are all key. This allows us to get the best from chemicals,” says Countrywide agronomist David Morris, who advises Mr Lole.

“At harvest time I don’t even like to see grain trailers on the field. If I can keep trailers on tracks I will. I only drive over the field when I am drilling, fertilising or spraying. I even use the previous year’s tramlines to avoid further damage.

“I always combine in the same direction as the tramlines, then when it comes to drilling I alternate from one year to the next. I go at 30 degrees to the tramlines, so one year I will aim at 11 o’clock and then the following year I will aim at one o’clock,” says Mr Lole.

“This means I am always planting seed into undisturbed soil, which enables me to get good soil-to-seed contact, which is important for good germination.”

The Mzuri drill can also come with a fertiliser hopper, allowing compound fertiliser to be applied beneath the planted seeds. Fertiliser rates can be trimmed right back.

“We know P and K doesn’t move within the soil profile, so by placing the fertiliser next to the seed you make better use of the product while only having to apply about one-third of the total amount. This equates to a saving of £50-55/ha,” he says.

The other major savings are on fuel, labour and time. “I can establish my crops for £60/ha, including machine depreciation, interest on capital, spares, tractor fuel and operator. I now only fill up the farm’s diesel tank once instead of three times a year,” says Mr Lole.

Mzuri system protects soil structure

The Mzuri system had been borne out of a need for Mr Lole to establish a broad range of crops in varying conditions while safeguarding soil structure.

Front soil loosening legs are set to a depth to ensure any compacted layers are alleviated. In time, as the profile improves, the tines can be set shallower, saving time, power and costs.

Following directly behind is a cleated tyre that reconsolidates the soil ahead of the coulter arm. The packer wheels take the weight off the drill during work and provide a level tilth for the coulter arm to plant into.

Behind the cleated tyre follows the coulter arm. It has its own independent parallel linkage to allow the coulter to follow ground contours and ensure constant seed depth.

Following on behind the seed coulter are semi-pneumatic wheels that help to control seed depth. They firm the tillage band, maximising the soil-to-seed contact which will enhance germination.

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