Flindt on Friday: Nervous foot forward into wheat drilling

Rumour has it that by the time you read this, the arable countryside will be alive with tractors and drills, flying across the rapidly drying ground.

And at the wheel of almost every tractor there will be a drillman, grinning ear to ear, thrilled to be back out on the land, getting some seed in after the post-equinox deluge.

In my case, however, there won’t be a grin; there will be a look of slight anxiety.

See also: Read more from Charlie Flindt

But why? After all, that wet weather has done more good than harm, and it was long overdue, after two dry summers and two dry autumns. (Granny Flindt weather lore: “Wet to dry, dry to wet, Nature always pays her debts”.)

It’s not as if I could have done any sowing pre-equinox; the two new seed companies our buying group is trying this year both interpreted “ASAP” on the order confirmation as: “Like, wow, whenever, dude. Or later, bud.”

Even if we had had the seed in stock, and hammered some winter barley into the rock-hard clay on our heaviest land, the ensuing 8in of rain would have left an unimaginable slug-filled and unsprayable slop.

Home and dry 

The wet weeks weren’t wasted. I started the accounts three months early, watched far too much rugby, and managed to finish the overhaul of the second-hand Sprinter ST4 I bought in a post-Flowerpots midnight moment ages ago on the internet.

The utterly knackered rear tyres were emptied of the hideous heavy resin and replaced on resprayed silver rims, and new points, plates and following harrows fitted.

Mind you, the state of the yard brings more Granny Flindt (JP) wise words to mind: “It’s not the murder; it’s the disposal of the corpse.”

Look what else the long drilling delay has done: many fields have greened up fantastically with another flush of blackgrass, ready for more glyphosate to do a really useful tidy-up.

Much of the green sheen is also down to volunteer beans and peas growing – in low enough numbers to make the combine driver smug, but numerous enough to attract the pigeons away from my surviving 50 acres of August-sown oilseed rape.

Vroom for manoeuvre

You’d think it would be an odd win-win all round. So why, if you were to catch sight of me trundling across the bean/pea stubbles, would you see a furrowed brow and a cocked ear?

It’s all down to that 4m drill – it’s a major step-up in power requirement from my old 3m CO version, of course.

And after many months – wet and dry – of getting quotes from dealers, I really could not justify changing my precious seven-year-old, 3,500-hour Deere 6630 Premium for something much more powerful.

That’s why, last week, a man arrived in a discreet van, towing a dynamometer. Within an hour, my Deere was sporting some smart little boxes under its bonnet.

One warmed-up engine later, and we were running the pto hp test. “Flippin’ ‘eck – that should pull the 4m drill!” I thought as the “box on” printout emerged from the machine.

But the engineer in me is still a bit worried. This is a first for me, and it still feels not quite 100% the right thing to do.

True, the internet is full of positive experiences and reviews, but it’s not entirely free of bewares and caveats.

So I’ll be staring hard at the temperature gauge, scanning the message panel for warnings – although I doubt there’s a code for “back axle/gearbox disintegrating”. 

How long before I’m confidently smiling at the wheel again? 200 acres? 300? Who knows – it’ll probably start raining again first.