While British-built no-till drills are on the up here in the UK, there are heaps of other brands from around the world that remain relatively undiscovered.
The concept of getting a crop in the ground without the need to bother with time-consuming, costly and potentially soil-damaging cultivation work has obvious appeal.
So it’s no small wonder that interest in no-till drilling is on the rise in the UK.
For those looking to get in on the action, there are a couple obvious names that pop up – John Deere’s 750a has been around for years and the Kiwi-designed Cross-Slot system, imported by Primewest, is getting more and more popular.
But as popularity has increased, makers such as Weaving, Great Plains and Sky have also jumped in with new machines.
However, there are also plenty of drills available in other countries that have been into the no-till trend a lot longer than UK farmers.
Here we look at a few pieces of no-till drilling kit that you might not have heard of.
South America is often viewed as the Mecca for no-till crop establishment, and over the past 25 years in Argentina it has become the mainstream approach for 95% of the country’s growers.
One of the main drivers for this move was to limit soil erosion (40 years of conventional cultivations had seen 2% of soil go down the drain – literally). Studies in Argentina showed that by leaving the soil surface undisturbed, erosion could be cut by 90%.
A quarter of a century of direct-drilling has seen organic nitrogen levels across the country’s cropped areas increase five-fold and that has contributed – along with advances in breeding, GMOs and plant health – to 25-40% increases in crop yields.
No wonder then that the country has a whole plethora of zero-till drill makers. However, just two build models suitable for travelling on European roads.
As their name suggests, Victor Juri’s Atlantic drills have been specifically developed to cross to this side of the pond.
Although they use the same coulter arrangements as the company’s South American-spec seeders, the 3-6m models fold to within 3m for transport.
The coulter set-up is mechanically simple, with each double-disc opener mounted with twin rubber press-wheels on individual parallelogram linkages, kept in the ground by a pair of coil springs.
Mounted ahead of this on the box-section tool bar are free-swinging wavy discs to cut through trash, also with coil-spring protection.
Twin hoppers and pneumatic metering systems are standard, with the front row of coulters responsible for fertiliser placement and the rear row dealing with seed.
Brought into Europe by Danish dealer Horsens Maskiner, the 6m verions cost about €70,000 (£50,500), depending on spec.
Probably better known in Europe is Bertini. The company prefers to stick with simple, mechanically-metered box drills but has managed to adapt them so that they can fold to within 3m for the road.
For this, the drill is raised on its wheels and then two outer wing-sections fold forward over the drawbar.
Working widths run from 3m to 5.2m with equally split hoppers for seed and fertiliser.
It too employs double-disc coulters, each flanked by a pair of smooth steel depth wheels and followed by serrated closing wheels.
Up front, again wavy discs cut through the trash but these are flanked by “straw skateboards” – narrow paddles mounted on spring tines that press down on the soil either side of the disc to stop soil and straw build-up.
Bertini drills were sold in the UK by Stirtloe Enterprises for a number of years but currently there is no one representing the company so getting hold of one could be tricky.
Ma/ag is relatively unknown name from Italy, but it has been developing its Sicura seed and fertiliser drill over the past eight years and claims to have sold several hundred since it has been on sale on the company’s home turf in the past couple of years.
There are a whole raft of choices on offer from single-disc coulters to double-disc openers, with rubber depth/cleaning wheels and steel or rubber press wheels all available as options.
Row spacing is set at 187mm with the front toolbar carrying the fertiliser coulters while the rear one hosts those placing the seed.
That way the depth of the two can be varied independently, with extra nutrients generally placed 2-3cm below the seed, according to the company.
All models – pneumatic and box drills – are trailed and a 4m version needs about 150hp up front. Kitted out with electronic metering ready for GPS-controlled variable rate seeding, a 4m Sicura will set you back €55,000 (£39,650).
Finnish firm Junkkari offers its D300 Eco drill for those interested in zero-till seeding.
Available in 3m and 4m widths (both all-mechanical box drills), it has double-disc openers that deliver both seed and fertiliser.
Apparently designed to work in wet, trashy conditions, the coulters are each individually sprung via the following press wheels.
A single central ram lifts them in and out of work on the rear tyre packer and simple collars limit seeding depth.
With a 167mm row spacing, the D300 needs just 100hp to pull it and costs about €50,000 (£36,000).
Also from the Nordic region’s most eastern state, Tume has a range of different box drills of varying widths, all apparently capable of running direct into stubbles as well as in min-till conditions and pre-prepared seed-beds.
Key to this are the double-disc coulters which, mounted in pairs, follow individual pneumatic depth wheels which are said to help in running down tall cover crops.
There are pairs of coil-springs to provide stone protection and others to generate downforce on each coulter which can be adjusted from 20-200kg. Following this is a full-width tyre packer with wheels again mounted in pairs on hydraulic rams.
Plumbed together in one circuit with integrated gas accumulators to allow contour following, they are powered down as one to lift the drill for transport and headland turns. Tume says it has stuck with mechanical box drills rather than moving to a pneumatic system to avoid the issues of fertiliser blockages in damp conditions.
However this of course presents a problem – how to make a seeder wider than 3m for Europe’s roads? The company has two innovative solutions to that conundrum.
On 4m versions the outer 50cm wing-sections fold forward and tuck in underneath the drawbar while 6m models are just two 3m machines paired end-to-end with a clever swing-around, follow-my-leader system for the road. The 3m version has a 40,000euro pricetag while, with all its extra steelwork, the 6m model comes in at just shy of 100,000 euros – all are seed-and-fert machines.
Guttler might be best known for its serrated ring-presses and rollers brought into the UK by Northumberland-based Wox Agri, but the German firm is keen to make the point that its range spreads wider than that.
It had a spring-tine seeder designed specifically as a low-cost means of establishing cover crops.
Five staggered rows of wraparound tines are reckoned to be 150% stronger than traditional Triple-K-type versions and produce a shallow tilth ahead of spreader outlets from the pneumatic seeder.
These are followed by straw harrow tines and finally a lightweight plastic version of the company’s trademark Prisma roller.
In addition to acting as a seeder, the unit can be used to produce stale seed-beds and, with the applicator outlets moved to behind the roller, it can also be used to apply Avadex granules.
A 6m version requires around 125hp to run it at decent speeds and costs £16,400. The seeder unit adds a further £5,500.
German firm Horsch is well known in the min-till game but until now has had little to offer in the zero-tillage arena aside from its Sprinter tine drill.
That changed this autumn, however, with a prototype 6m direct-disc drill out on evaluation with growers across the east of the UK.
The Avatar uses a large, angled disc to open a slot with a scraper coulter running in its shadow to place seed into the narrow strip of tilth.
An overlapping rubber cleaning wheel clears any sticking soil followed by a spring-loaded, angled steel press wheel to close the slot.
There is a choice of 167mm and 250mm row spacings but as yet there is no set route for fertiliser to be simultaneously applied.
The company says that the Avatar has been designed primarily for the key no-till markets of France, Ukraine and South America and believes in the UK it will, in the main, be used following at least one shallow cultivation pass to generate a stale seed-bed for blackgrass control.