12 no-till drills on show at farmer-organised demo day

Reduced-tillage drilling continues to gain popularity as farmers look for new ways to improve soil structure and reduce cultivation activity during the autumn.

With that in mind, hundreds of growers headed to a farmer-organised demonstration day in Hertfordshire to see some of the latest machines in action.

Both disc and tine-coulter drills were put through their paces, and the wet ground conditions gave visitors a good indication of how effectively each machine was able to close the seeding slot behind the coulter.

Most of the big players attended, and it gave Farmers Weekly the perfect opportunity to see what’s on the market.

1. Claydon Hybrid

Claydon

© Tim Scrivener

How it works

Claydon’s Hybrid is a strip-till drill that creates a seed-bed using a straight cultivating leg.

This works soils to a depth of 3-4in when drilling cereals and 4-6in for oilseed rape.

The maker’s standard A-share coulter then places the seed in the cultivated row, along with some fertiliser if required.

A combination of levelling paddles and an optional tine harrow cover the seed and complete the job.

See also: Contractor charges 2016-17

Width options

Mounted models come in 3m, 4m, 4.8m and 6m.

Trailed machines are also available in 4m, 6m and 8m form, and there are plans are afoot to complete the line-up by adding a 3m and 4.8m version.

Horsepower needed

50hp/m.

Travel speed

10-12kph.

Row spacing

The entry-level 3m has nine coulters mounted in two rows, which are spaced 30.7cm apart.

The A-share coulter then places seed in two bands along the cultivated row.

Hopper size

Hybrid drills are available with a seed-only hopper or a split seed and fertiliser version that has twin-metering systems.

Hopper capacities start at 1,750-litres on mounted machines and go up to 5,500-litres on the trailed ones.

One-trick pony?

The Claydon’s primary aim is to work straight into clean, unworked ground. But according to the company, it’s happy working in ploughed and min-tilled soils too, as well as directly into cover crops.

However, some modifications are required to get the best out of it in different conditions.

For wetter soils where the A-share is smearing the ground, there’s the option of switching to a twin-tine coulter.

Front cutting discs can also be added to slice through trash and bulky cover crops.

On trailed drills you can also bolt on a row of front press wheels to help consolidate the seed-bed when working in cultivated land.

3m price

£36,995. 

2. McConnel Seedaerator

McConnel drill

© Tim Scrivener

How it works

McConnel’s Seedaerator follows the same strip-till concept as the Claydon, in a slightly more compact package.

At the front of the rig, there’s a row of cultivating legs, which can be fitted with straight or winged points depending on how much soil you fancy moving.

Seed is then placed using a set of staggered coulters, before being pressed in with a rubber wheel.

Optional batter boards or tines then cover the seed with soil.

Width options

The Seedaerator is only available as a 3m mounted machine.

Horsepower needed

55hp/m.

Travel speed

8-12kph.

Row spacing

McConnel fits nine coulters across its 3m working width, giving a spacing of 307mm.

The standard coulter places seed in a 150mm band.

One-trick pony?

There is a range of options to help the drill work in conditions other than clean stubble, including a row of optional front cutting discs to stop trash wrapping round the legs and two alternative coulter designs.

Adapted coulters include a twin-shot foot that places seed in two bands and a pea and bean coulter that sows seed in a narrow strip.

Price

£42,000.

3. Dale Eco Drill

Dale Eco Drill

© Tim Scrivener

How does it work?

Coulters are controlled by individual hydraulic cylinders and each assembly has two legs – one for seed and another for fertiliser – carried on a parallel linkage.

Using a leg rather than a disc encourages a light tilth to form, which benefits seed-soil contact and avoids forming a smeared, hard-to-penetrate wall inside the slot.

The seed and fertiliser is dropped at the same depth in rows 25mm apart, before a depth-controlling press wheel closes the gully back up.

A lightweight harrow follows at the back to tickle the surface and make sure all the seed is covered.

Width options

There are four different Eco Drill ranges from 3m-13.3m that have the same working parts but mildly different layouts.

Horsepower needed

25-30hp/m.

Travel speed

8-10kph. Dale recommends picking a wider model and travelling slower, given the low-power requirements of the Eco Drill.

Row spacing

Standard rows are set at 127mm, but mounting the legs on spacers doubles that to 254mm in heavy trash conditions.

The first and second rows are 750mm apart, which helps keep residue flowing.

Hopper size

Hoppers gradually increase according to working width, from 1.2t up to 4t. Seed and fertiliser is split 50/50, but the baffle plate can be removed for seed-only jobs.

One-trick pony?

It is designed as a direct drill, so cultivations should be kept to a minimum. There are various coulter options to suit soil conditions from wet to dry.

Dale reckons the lack of deep-loosening tines and big discs mean the lightweight Eco Drill should be able to travel when others can’t, but the big challenge with any shank-based opener is closing the slot back up again when it’s wet.

3m price

£30,000.

4. Mzuri Pro-Til

Mzuri drill

© Tim Scrivener

How it works

Mzuri has yet another slight variation on the strip-till concept with a beefy front cultivating leg to open up the soil and generate some tilth.

This is followed directly by a press wheel to firm the ground up before the coulter comes through to place the seed in two bands.

A rubber wheel presses in the seed and there’s the option of a rear tine harrow or levelling boards.

Width options

Due to its hefty build, the 3m is the biggest mounted model available. There are then 3m, 4m and 6m trailed versions.

Horsepower needed

60hp/m.

Travel speed

8-10kph.

Row spacing

In standard setup, Mzuri’s coulters are spaced 330mm apart and seed is placed in two bands.

However, its newly launched twin-tine option straddles these row, which means seed is dropped in 166mm rows.

Versions with the Select system can also lift every other leg for drilling at 660mm spacings and precision planting units can be added for maize sowing.

Hopper size

The 3m mounted machine has a 1,200-litre hopper, 3m and 4m trailed machines can hold 2,800 litres and the 6m maxes out at 4,200-litres.

One-trick pony?

Mzuri has spent a considerable amount of time creating add-ons that make the Pro-Til a bit more versatile.

The twin-tine option should appeal to cereal growers that aren’t convinced by the wide-row concept and the Select option with precision seeder units could put an end to needing a separate maize drill.

Like all the other strip-till drills, if the soil surface is wet and slimy it’s probably worth leaving it in the shed until conditions improve.

3m price

£39,890.

5. Ma/Ag Sicura

Malag drill

© Tim Scrivener

How it works

Italian maker Ma/Ag is a new name on the UK drill market and uses a simple double-disc coulter to plant directly into stubbles.

On one side there’s a deeper scalloped disc that slices into the soil and apparently textures the bottom of the cut for better drainage.

Coulter pressure can be cranked up to 250kg to help it bite into hard ground and there’s the option of placing fertiliser under the seed, too.

The slot is then closed using a pair of angled press wheels that push each side of the slot together.

Width options

Available as a 3m, 4m or 6m trailed air drill and 3m or 4m box drill.

Horsepower needed

40hp/m.

Travel speed

10kph.

Row spacing

The Sicura’s disc coulter units are fixed at 150mm spacings and are spilt between the front and rear of the machine to improve trash flow.

Hopper size

All air drills come with a 2,500-litre hopper that can be split to apply seed and fertiliser.

One-trick pony?

The Ma/Ag’s simple disc set-up means that it’ll be most at home in uncultivated ground.

However, UK importer Rytec is offering two different rear tyre packer options to help give some seed-soil contact in looser seed-beds.

3m price

£40,950.

6. John Deere 750A

John Deere 750

© Tim Scrivener

How it works

The 750A has long been the go-to machine for farmers looking for a no-till disc drill.

The simple design uses a single disc angled at 8deg to slice open the soil, which has an integrated plastic wheel on the side for depth control.

Seed then trickles into the slot, is pressed into place with a small wheel before soil is flicked over the top by an angled rotor.

A hydraulic pressure system forces the coulters into the soil with up to 250kg pressure per disc.

Width options

The 750A is available as a 3m, 4m or 6m trailed machine.

Horsepower needed

150hp minimum for 3-6m machines.

Travel speed

8-10kph.

Row spacing

The Deere’s disc coulters are mounted 166mm apart and are staggered over two rows to improve trash flow.

Hopper size

The 3m and 4m machines come with an 1,800-litre hopper and there’s a 2,300-litre version on the 6m.

One-trick pony?

The 750A is an out-and-out no-till machine, but Deere says it can work in cultivated ground if required.

For conditions where operators are struggling to cover the seed, there’s the option of swapping the seed-covering rotor for a serrated Guttler ring that breaks up clods and throws a bit more soil around.

A rear following harrow can be added, too, and if it’s blocking up in wet conditions the depth wheel can be traded for a mud-shedding spoked version.

3m price

£40,000.

7. Sumo DD

Sumo DD drill working in a field

© Tim Scrivener

How it works

The DD is Yorkshire firm Sumo’s take on a low-disturbance, no-till disc drill. Each coulter assembly uses a 450mm disc opener to slice a slot for the seed to drop into.

These are set at a 7deg angle and can be given up to 200kg of downward pressure to get them in the ground.

There’s a star-shaped wheel at the front to sweep away trash and a similar spiked wheel at the rear to close up the slot.

Width options

Sumo offers a myriad of options from 3m mounted machines and toolbars to 9m trailed variants.

Horsepower needed

120hp minimum for 3m.

Travel speed

10kph.

Row spacing

All machines have a coulter spacing of 200mm and there are a total of 15 units on the 3m version.

Hopper size

Hoppers start at 1,900-litres for the 3m machine and go up to 3,600-litres on the biggest trailed ones. Seed and fertiliser options are available on all models.

One-trick pony?

The DD is designed to work straight into uncultivated ground where growers want to create minimum soil disturbance and get crops established as cheaply as possible.

For those that want to do some strip-till drilling as well there’s the option of buying the toolbar version of the DD with a front-mounted hopper.

They can then buy an additional Deep Tillage Seeder (DTS) drill toolbar, which will work with the existing front hopper.

3m price

£29,000

8. Weaving GD4000M

Weaving drill

© Tim Scrivener

How does it work?

Weaving’s unconventional design uses a serrated disc running at a 25deg to slice an angled slot into the ground.

The seed is placed under the flap of soil before being pressed in place by a following wheel. Maximum coulter pressure is 200kg on trailed models, or slightly less on mounted versions, but Weaving says the need for downward force is reduced because the opening discs do their cutting at an angle.

Width options

Mounted models come in 3m, 4m and 4.8m form. The more popular trailed versions are 4m, 4.8m and 6m.

Horsepower needed

40hp/m.

Travel speed

8.5-12.5kph.

Row spacing

Parallelogram-mounted coulters are spaced at 165mm across two rows.

Front and rear coulters are set 1.2m apart to improve trash flow in cover crops.

Hopper size

3t on trailed machines; 1,200kg on mounted ones, with the option of splitting the hopper for granular fertiliser while drilling.

One-trick pony?

The company claims the low-disturbance DG can run in all conditions, though there’s no doubt that it will prefer a pressed seed-bed or untouched stubble.

Depending on the state of the stubble, it might also be worth running with a straw harrow first to spread residue and knock the slugs about.

3m price

£26,800.

9. Sky Easy Drill HD

Sky Easy drill

© Tim Scrivener

How does it work?

Chunky rubber press wheels run ahead of coulter pairs to flatten cover crops or consolidate cultivated ground.

Opening discs are angled at 3.5deg to form a light tilth and are hugged by tungsten-tipped skim coulters that push any trash out of the slot before dropping the seed into place.

Discs can have up to 250kg downward pressure, and a set of hydraulic rams dictates whether the weight of the drill is directed over the front press or rear consolidation wheels.

A second chute drops fertiliser behind the seed outlet in one of three selectable positions – with the seed, between seed and surface, or on the surface.

A tapered cast iron press wheel pushes the soil back into the slot to finish the job.

Width options

All trailed, with 3m, 4m and 6m versions available and 8m and 9m models in the pipeline for next year.

Horsepower needed

30hp/m.

Travel speed

8-10kph.

Row spacing

166mm between discs.

Hopper size

The 4m model will carry 3,000-litre grain and fertiliser; 6m versions have a 4,100-litre capacity.

There’s also the option of a 140-litre hopper for slug pellets or small cover crop seeds such as mustard.

One-trick pony?

It’s more versatile than most because it comes with big front wheels to press soft ground.

UK importer Opico says straw harrowing is rarely required for those with established min- or no-till systems, provided the wheat crop is cut high and chopped straw is spread evenly.

3m price

£42,233.

10. Great Plains Saxon CDA-400

Great Plains drill

© Tim Scrivener

How does it work?

The Saxon has more soil-working equipment than most low-disturbance drills.

A wavy disc opener creates a 3.5mm wide slot and is followed by big rubber press wheels.

On cultivated ground they’ll firm things up ahead of the disc coulters, while on tillage-free fields they simply consolidate the slot.

There’s also the option of running levelling paddles on ploughed ground.

The double disc coulter drops the seed in the slot behind the wheels, before a V-shaped pair of press wheels close the channel.

Downward pressure can be set to a maximum of 160kg, which is a bit less than most of the others.

Width options

3m, 4m or 6m trailed.

Horsepower needed

40hp/m.

Travel speed

10-15kph.

Row spacing

125mm or 167mm.

Hopper size

Buyers can pick from 3,000- or 4,000-litre hoppers with the option of carrying grain and fertiliser with a 50/50 or 60/40 split.

One-trick pony?

The Saxon looks like one of the more versatile drills on the market.

In fact, it’s well geared-up for working overcultivated ground thanks to a combination of levelling paddles and press wheels, but has less downward pressure for getting into bone-dry clay soils.

3m price

£46,300.

11. SimTech T-Sem

Sim Tech drill

© Tim Scrivener

How does it work?

A front row of vertical discs slice through any surface trash and cut a 25mm deep channel that should stop the following coulter from bursting the slot open too wide.

Shank coulters are mounted in pairs on spring-loaded tines that allow each one to respond individually to ground contours.

The tines also send shivering vibrations down to the foot, which helps open a small pocket below the surface for the seed to germinate.

Narrow-winged points pull themselves into the ground, which also reduces the need for downward pressure from above.

A flexi-roller runs between the rows to avoid pulling moist soil back out of the slot.

Buyers can also fit a heavy drag chain as a lower-maintenance alternative to pigtail tines.

Width options

Mounted options include 3m, 3.5m and 4m rigid models, as well as 4.8m, 5.6m and 6m folding. There’s also an 8m trailed machine.

Horsepower needed

35hp/m.

Travel speed

7-8kph. The company says it’s important to keep a steady soil flow and the right tine vibrations to form the perfect slot.

Row widths

187mm.

Hopper size

Rigid air drills get a 1,000-litre hopper, while folding versions are 1,700-litres.

The company is working on a seed and fertiliser set-up for the bigger drills.

One-trick pony?

The T-Sem is best suited to direct drilling or, at most, following a straw harrow.

Running a front press or rubber roller in front can also help flatten tall green manures.

3m price

£26,750.

12. Primewest Cross Slot

Primewest Cross Slot drill

© Tim Scrivener

How does it work?

The heavy-duty Cross Slot demands high horsepower to pull coulters that form an inverted T shape under the soil surface.

Coulters are mounted on parallel linkages, each with its own hydraulic cylinder, that maintains the downforce of each section.

Maximum pressure is a meaty 450kg, so operators should have fewer problems than most in getting the soil-working components to pierce the ground.

A front opening disc slices through the residue before a skim coulter drops the seed into the channel.

Depth is controlled by dual press wheels that close up the slot afterwards.

Width options

Cross Slots can currently be ordered in 3m, 4m and 5m trailed form, though a 6m is also on the drawing board.

Horsepower needed

50hp/m minimum, but more if you want to go faster.

Travel speed

10-12kph

Row widths

200mm.

Hopper size

The hopper carries 2,000kg, with a liquid fertiliser option if you invest in a front tank. It’s also possible to mount a slug pelleter alongside the main hopper.

One-trick pony?

Primewest claims its drill can get a good crop in any conditions. It performs particularly well in tall stubbles and grass leys.

As for adjustments, the company keeps things simple so there’s very little tweak no matter how tough the going is.

3m price

£97,000.