Groundswell 2019: 12 no-till drills side-by-side

The two-day Groundswell event took place in Hertfordshire last week and offered no-till growers the chance to see 12 drills sowing into the same cover crop.

A majority of the no-till manufacturers were present, including the newest offering from Spanish firm Virkar, with its Dynamic drill and Kuhn’s return to the no-till fold with its Aurock.

See also: Lamma 2019: Best of the cultivator and drill launches

Primewest Cross Slot

Primewest Cross Slot © Adam Clarke

Primewest Cross Slot

One brand synonymous with the no-till revolution is Cross Slot and UK manufacturer Primewest, which incorporates the Kiwi technology into its drills.

Warwickshire-based Primewest has been making its own direct drills since 2013 and although its products come with a relatively hefty price-tag, they are well-built and are sold as a “long-term” investment.

Although most no-till drill makers claim their drills will plant into any situation, there is no arguing that the Cross Slot can deal with huge amounts of residue due to its opener design.

Opener assembly
A 22in vertical disc cuts through residue and creates a slot, and two L-shaped coulters either side of the disc slice a horizontal shelf for seed and fertiliser placement.

Up to 450kg of hydraulic pressure can be applied to each opener to keep an accurate seeding depth, and its Auto Down Force (ADF) option can automatically adjust pressure based on a preset target.

Pneumatic 3in press wheels follow behind to firm the slot, and the main benefits of the opener is ultra-low soil disturbance and a reduction in hair-pinning of residue around the seed, which can result in poor crop establishment.

Unique feature
It can be bought in 3m, 4m and 5m widths, and a 2,800-litre hopper is slightly longer than the width of a grain bucket, allowing home-saved seed to be tipped straight in with a telehandler without handling any bags.

Drills can be specced with up to two Stocks applicators for slug pellets, undersowing small seeds, starter fertiliser or Avadex (tri-allate) herbicide application.

On the rig at Groundswell was a new 1,000-litre self-fill and -clean liquid fertiliser applicator that sits on the tractor’s rear linkage. It is said to improve weight distribution compared with Primewest’s previous front-mounted option.

Price for show model
£120,000 (inclusive of liquid fertiliser system)

Sky EasyDrill 6000 Fertisem Pro

Sky EasyDrill 6000 Fertisem Pro © Adam Clarke

Sky EasyDrill 6000 Fertisem Pro

On show from French brand Sky Agriculture was its most popular EasyDrill – the 6000 Fertisem Pro, which is imported and sold in the UK by Opico.

Coming in at a relatively lightweight 7,780kg empty, depending on spec, the drill only requires 150hp to pull it – although 180hp is recommended – and will comfortably cater for a 1,000ha arable unit by itself.

Opener assembly
Leading the opener configuration is a tyre press wheel, which also acts as the depth control. This is closely followed by a shallow 3.5deg-angled 435mm disc, which has a tungsten skim coulter in its shadow for seed placement.

A second coulter runs just behind and can be adjusted to work at seed depth, at the soil surface or above for fertiliser and slug pellet application or establishing small-seeded companion or cover crops.

A further press wheel follows to the rear and, from the cab, weight distribution can be hydraulically transferred from the front to back when more pressure is needed to close the seeding slot – vital for no-till success.

Unique feature
Opico touts its versatility to tempt potential customers, with the drill equally at home on well-consolidated ploughed ground as it is drilling into cover crops, because of its transferrable weight distribution.

With most of its mass concentrated on the front depth wheels, they essentially turn into firming wheels and ensures the following press wheels aren’t overcompacting the seed furrow.

Conversely, when rocked towards the rear in a no-till situation, it will ensure seed-to-soil contact by applying more pressure to the press wheels.

The demo model had a 4,100-litre tank, split 60-40 to enable the use of granular fertiliser down the spout.

It also had the optional 120-litre Pro applicator on board, which can feed starter fertiliser, slug pellets or small seeds into the fertiliser or seed distribution lines at rates of between 500g and 30kg/ha.

Price for show model
£117,644

Dale Drills Eco S

Dale Drills Eco S © Adam Clarke

Dale Drills Eco S

Roots and a little bit of iron is the philosophy favoured by Lincolnshire tine drill manufacturer Dale Drills, and the firm was demoing its baby 3m Eco S at Groundswell 2019.

The smallest of its drill range, which also includes the trailed Eco M (3m-6m), Eco L (3m-9m) and Eco XL (12-13.5m), it has a front linkage-mounted 1.5t seed-only hopper, but a split hopper for seed and fertiliser placement can be specified where required.

Opener assembly
Like all Dale drills, the Eco S has drilling assemblies individually mounted to the frame via a parallelogram for contour following, and hydraulic cylinders providing up to 180psi downforce for consistent seed placement.

Each assembly is made up of two low-disturbance tines tipped with 12.5mm tungsten carbide points, with one placing seed and the other fertiliser, 25mm apart.

There is plenty of flexibility on row spacing, with the machine allowing the operator to configure the tines in 12.5cm and 25cm rows for cereals and 50cm rows for oilseed rape.

A leading cutting disc for use in the 25cm row configuration is available for those drilling into cover crops and a banded coulter is an option on any row width for spreading seed in 100mm bands.

A self-cleaning steel press wheel controls seed depth, and its wide design is said to be suited to wet conditions.

Unique feature
The Eco S, in particular, is lightweight – coming in at just 1,750kg – and requires a measly 75hp to operate, so users can minimise compaction.

The same can be said for the firm’s bigger models, because, unlike disc drills that require plenty of weight to keep the seeding components in the ground, Dale’s tine-based system pulls itself in, so requires much less bulk.

The Eco Son display at the show is suitable for 200-600ha, with the caveat that about half of Dale customers are now running a controlled traffic system, so despite small acreages, often opt for wider drills that fit into their pre-defined lanes.

Price for show model
£39,500

Sly Boss

Sly Boss © Adam Clarke

Sly Boss

Another no-till drill supplier that has plundered an Antipodean country for its opener design is Anglo-French firm Sly, taking the Australian Boss no-till opener and adapting it to European conditions.

Showgoers could see its 4m Sly Boss trailed drill in action, but the model on the market attracting most buyers is its slightly wider 6m version.

Options are from 3m to 12m and, with the chassis being the same size across the range, growers can spec their machine with one, two or three pressurised seed hoppers carrying 1,200 or 2,000 litres each. A 200-litre small seed hopper is also available as an option. 

Opener assembly
The Sly Boss uses a double-angled disc that pulls itself into the ground and lifts a flap of soil – almost like a plough share – for seed placement via a boot to one side.

Slightly set back on the other side of the disc is a sprung rubber press wheel that neatly folds the flap of soil back on top of the seed, as well as helping to keep the disc clean.

Finally, an angled rubber press wheel acts as depth control and firms up the soil around the seed. Press wheels can be single-ribbed in most no-till situations, or there is a flatter, double-ribbed option for crumbly or cultivated soils.

Each seeding assembly is mounted on a parallelogram linkage and 28-30bar of hydraulic pressure is exerted on each to aid stable depth control when travelling at working speeds. Almost every aspect is adjustable without any tools.

Leading row cleaners are an option for those drilling into trashy situations, preventing hair-pinning of straw into the seed flap.

Unique feature
The double-angled undercutting disc means the Sly Boss can work itself into dry, hard soils without the need for huge weight or loaded pressure, reducing the risk of compaction in the seeding zone.

This also means it is light and horsepower requirement is low, with a 150hp tractor able to pull a 6m machine on flat ground. However, 200hp would be more suitable on undulating farms.

Price for show model
From £72,500

Weaving GD4801T

Weaving GD4801T © Adam Clarke

Weaving GD4801T

Worcestershire-based Weaving recently gave its GD trailed direct disc drills a bit of a revamp, as demonstrated by the 4m GD4801T on show at Groundswell.

The GD range used to have its drilling gear out back in a hydraulic bi-folding arrangement, but a number of issues – including poor road transport ride, dribbling seed on headlands and crabbing on slopes – have seen everything moved to the centre of the machine.

It now has a static section underneath, with two folding wings on either end, making the machine shorter and more balanced on the road and less like to pull itself down slopes when in work.

Opener assembly
Weaving uses a double-disc concept, with a large leading disc sat at 25deg from vertical cutting a slot and a smaller disc making another incision for seed placement. A single press wheel controls depth and firms up the slot behind.

Each disc arrangement has some freedom of movement around a central kingpin, allowing a degree of tractor following around sweeping bends, for example.

Each opener is independently mounted and hydraulically pressurised, with a maximum of 300kg of pressure available to maintain seeding depth and follow contours.

Previously, press wheels were only pneumatic, but issues on stony or flinty ground has seen a solid tyre added to the options list.

Unique feature
Weaving says the unique selling point on its GD is the way seed is placed, with the double-angled discs resulting in better slot closure than some of its competitors.

With the machine generally having to run with less pressure on the openers, it also claims that the lifespan of bearings and wearing parts should be longer, dependant on conditions.

Other key features include a 5,000-litre hopper with Weaving’s beefed-up Accord-type metering system and RDS iSOCAN controls, which allows for high seed rates to be sown at fast forward speeds.

The main tank can now be configured to accommodate two microgranular hoppers for slug pellets, small seeds or starter fertiliser, although the demo machine was seed only.

Price for show model
£56,600

Ma/ag SSP40

Ma/ag SSP40 © Adam Clarke

Ma/ag SSP40

Machinery distributor Ryetec delivered the first Italian-made Ma/Ag SSP low-disturbance drill to the UK in 2013.

The 4m model on show had a 2,500-litre tank, split two-thirds for grain and one-third for fertiliser, Artemis RDS electronic metering and a simple one-point calibration system.

Other models available in the range include a 3m linkage-mounted option, a 3m trailed version with the option to hydraulically fold to 2.5m, and the largest 6m drill, which has proven Ryetec’s best-selling option to date.

Opener assembly
The Ma/Ag uses a 450mm vertical serrated disc to cut a slot into the soil 25mm deeper than a smaller-diameter, angled disc, which slices into the sidewall of the initial incision and places the seed. Fertiliser is fed in underneath.

Downforce is created when weight is lifted off the transport wheels, and springs on individual coulters – each with three settings – provide up to 250kg additional pressure for tougher ground.

Depth control is managed by 150mm-wide rubber press wheels, which are hard on the outside and soft in the middle, helping to firm up the slot on both sides of the seed. This is said to improve seed-to-soil contact, aid establishment and reduce slug risk.

Unique feature
The use of a leading serrated disc creates a drainage channel beneath the seed, apparently giving the Ma/Ag an advantage in wet conditions. It is also said to aid seedling root development and avoids an open slot at a consistent depth, which can ease movement for slugs.

The drill is capable of working in any conditions, including cultivated land or stubbles, and it can deal with high volumes of residue, as the two banks of openers are sat either side of the transport wheels for maximum clearance.

Price for show model
£63,000

Novag T-Force 440

Novag T-Force 440 © Edd Mowbray/Proagrica

Novag T-Force 440

French firm Novag was showing its T-Force drill, which shares plenty of similarities with the well-known Cross Slot. For a short time, the company imported the same coulter assembly, but in 2014, it decided to build its own and believes it has improved on the original Kiwi design. 

However, the two companies are currently locked in a legal battle relating to the design of the T-shaped seeding assembly.

Opener assembly
The opener design centres around a grooved disc with two inverted T-shaped seeding coulters on either side. These coulters are linked to different sides of the split hopper, allowing seed and fertiliser to be placed in adjacent rows, about 2cm apart.

The inverted T-shape creates a slot under the soil that gives the seed space to germinate. Seeding depth is adjusted from the following press wheels by a manual screw. Each opener can provide up to 500kg of downward pressure, with options to ballast each wing with 700kg to improve downforce.

Unique feature
One of the T-Force’s stand-out features is the Intelliforce pressure system, which Novag says only applies the required pressure needed for the soil type and conditions.

This works by matching the opener’s force to the resistance of the soil in order to achieve the required depth. The rear press wheels also play a part by monitoring how much weight is required to close the slot.

In lighter soils, the downforce is automatically reduced to avoid burying the seed, while heavier soils may need a bit more to help the disc reach the correct depth.

Price of show model
£110,000

Kuhn Aurock RC

Kuhn Aurock RC © Edd Mowbray/Proagrica

Kuhn Aurock RC

Kuhn launched its Aurock drill to the UK market at Cereals, so Groundswell provided the first opportunity for interested buyers to see it working. The firm was part of the no-till scene back in the 1970s, but has long been without a drill for the rapidly growing market.

Opener assembly
The company uses a triple-disc concept to place seed in the ground using two rows of front discs – either 460mm corrugated or 430mm embossed – that run directly in front of the rear twin-disc seed coulter.

These front rows can put up to 300kg onto each disc and act as a row cleaner to avoid any hair-pinning in the slot. As the trough has already been created, the following seed coulters (mounted in a bank behind the hopper and optional packer wheels) don’t require as much downforce. Unusually, the seeding bank pivots on the main chassis to follow corners and hills.

The twin-metered hopper has a 5,500-litre capacity split 60:40 for seed and fertiliser, which can be delivered down the same spout or separately.

Unique feature
The Vistaflow distribution head allows the operator to form a tramline from any row on the drill, which is ideal for contractors who have customers on different tramline widths. Single-row blockage detection is also part of package with this feature.

Price of show model
£130,000

Horsch Avatar 6SD

Horsch Avatar 6SD © Edd Mowbray

Horsch Avatar 6SD

Horsch was showing its well-known 4m Avatar and was keen to point out the virtues of its ability to seed into all kinds of ground, from power-harrowed land to direct drilling.

Opener assembly

The simple setup has two banks of coulters at 16.7cm row spacings, attached to a hard bar – all with rubber mounts that offer 10deg of flex to follow the soil independently of one another.

The 480mm disc is mounted at a 6deg angle, which leaves a slot wide enough to get the seed in, but makes it fairly easy to cover again, says Horsch.

When in work mode, the drill shifts its weight – including the 5,000-litre hopper – from the big rear wheels to the coulters.

This offers 100kg of downforce from weight transfer, with the tractor providing another 190kg. The obvious benefit of not solely relying on hydraulic pressure is that farmers can use a smaller tractor on the front.

The seeding spout is independent from the opening disc, which allows trash to move through and reduces hair-pinning.

Once the seed drops in the slot, a small press wheel follows to firm it before the following larger wheel closes the opening. The angle and rotation of the larger wheel can be altered if drilling into dry or wet soils.

Unique feature
Horsch is one of the only manufacturers to offer a 12m-wide unit that can be folded to less than 3m for transport, although it does carry a slightly different layout, with the coulters to the rear of the hopper. Across all Avatar width options the coulter package is totally maintenance free, with no daily grease points.

Price of show model
£108,000

John Deere 750A

John Deere 750A © Edd Mowbray

John Deere 750A

The 750A has been around for decades and has been enjoying something of a renaissance in the UK over the past few years. It remains a popular drill in the US, and Deere has now added the US-derived Pro Series opener to its UK-spec versions.

Opener assembly
The 6m model shown at Groundswell was sporting the new Pro Series opener launched at last year’s Tillage-Live event in Scotland. The 450mm disc is still set at 7deg, which Deere reckons is the perfect angle for accurate seed placement and minimal disturbance.

Pressure is controlled by a pre-loaded spring that offers up to 250kg of downward force, and the depth control of each independent coulter is manual. It is gauged from the seed boot, which is narrower than on previous versions and is sprung-loaded against the side of the disc.

A small seed tab keeps the seed from bouncing out of the slot and the following spoked press wheel offers angled pressure to close the slot side, rather than pushing from above.

Row spacing is 16.6cm on all three drill sizes – 3m, 4m and 6m. The two smaller machines get an 1,800-litre hopper, while the largest 6m gets a 2,300-litre bin.

Unique feature
The whole Pro Series coulter setup can be bought separately off the shelf to replace worn-out units. This means if your drill frame is still in good order, it’s possible to upgrade to the Pro Series openers . The 7deg angle of the disc requires minimal power, says Deere, and a 6m model can be pulled with a 140hp tractor.

Price of show model
£117,311

Simtech T-Sem 300

Simtech T-Sem 300 © Edd Mowbray

Simtech T-Sem 300

Simtech has developed its T-Sem models from an uncomplicated New Zealand design that was originally built to overseed grassland in tricky conditions.

Opener assembly
The T-Sem was one of only two tine drills on show and runs a 385mm disc at the front to slice through trash and give the tine a clear entry into the soil. The tines themselves are double coil-mounted units, with 20 spaced at 15cm or 16 at 18.8cm.

The foot of the tine is replaceable and coated in tungsten to make it last a bit longer. The inverted T-shape means it pulls itself into the soil and forms a cavity for the seed to sit in. The ringed spring flex roller at the back doesn’t run on top of the freshly sown seed – instead it presses the side of the slot to leave the seed with an easy route out.

Pressure is controlled by two ratchet winders (one under the top link and the main one on the rear packer) that can be wound into the ground for extra downforce. Chain harrows to the rear bash down any remaining lumps of soil.

Unique feature
Simtech’s system makes it one of the simplest and cheapest tine drills on the market. Its trump card is the ability to sow upwards of 14 different varieties at once for cover crop and wild bird mixes and evenly distribute all seeds across the field without holding back the odd-sized seeds until the hopper is nearly empty.

The metering units are sponge spinning discs on top of each pipe. These have seeds forced against them, which they transfer down the tubes, so there is no restriction when drilling a number of different sized seeds as they can all fall onto the sponge at the same time.

Price of show model
£22,660

Virkar Dynamic

Virkar Dynamic © Edd Mowbray

Virkar Dynamic

Punters were able to get their first glimpse of the Spanish-made Virkar Dynamic drill, which has a number of unique options to make it stand out from the established models.

Opener assembly
The seeding section leads with a 450mm wavy-cut turbo disc that runs deeper than the following seeding tine to prepare the slot by cutting through any trash. Hydraulic pressure can be altered from the cab to a maximum of 280kg.

The discs open up a 12mm gap and each one moves independently, with 35cm of travel to negotiate stones or rolling hills. This means the tine has less resistance when travelling through the soil.

Seed depth is manually altered from one of 10 settings, offering 0.5cm of movement each time. The following two press wheels are angled against each other at 15deg to close the slot, and they can either be made of ridged steel or hard rubber.

According to Virkar, it is capable of handling all types of crop, from maize to wheat, using an Accord-style metering system. The hopper has a 5,300-litre capacity (split 65:35) and there is an optional second 600-litre hopper for smaller seeds.

Unique feature
Clever features on the Virkar include bolt-on wings, so if you bought a 4m drill and want to go bigger, it is possible to attach 1m sections to either side, rather than having to invest in a whole new machine.

Handily, the required seed outlets are already drilled in the hopper, too.

Another nifty idea is the steering axle. This is ideal for headland work or curved drilling, as the axle will steer away from the turn, keeping row spacing at 25cm or 19cm. It can be locked for road transport.

Price of show model
£80,000