Top tips for cultivating in a wet autumn

With post-harvest soils wetter than for many years, autumn cultivations are proving to be tricky. Emily Padfield asked the experts for their wet-weather tips.

“Min-till equipment is likely to prove problematic this year,” says ex-ADAS machinery adviser David Pullen. “As there has been so much rain, the top section of soil is wet and some min-till machines will struggle to get down to dry soil. If you are committed to using min-till, you will have to be extremely patient.”

Min-till cultivators can cover a lot of land quickly, which has meant a lot of farmers have taken more land on. But discs are a dry land tool and can do damage if the soil is wet. “By messing about with the top layer, you will create a pudding mixture,” he says.

“Non-ploughing, or min-till, relies on level surfaces, so ruts caused by trailers, combines and tractors are bad news, not only in terms of compaction, but also in terms of creating a seed-bed.”

So what’s his advice?

• If using disc and tine combinations, make fewer passes.

• Be less critical of seed-beds – seeds will germinate, as soil is damp.

• Set depths of tines to find dry soil, if possible. Don’t work soil in its plastic stage, as this will create deep smearing.

• Widen tine spacing to prevent blockages.

• Be prepared to up your seed rate, as a rougher seed-bed may require more seed, and talk to your agronomist.

Farmers have to ask what sort of min-till operator they are when considering cultivations this year, says min-till specialist Steve Townsend.


Operators who have cultivated less than 10cm (4in) deep for a number of years will see compaction limited to within this zone and close to the surface, making it much easier to rectify, he explains. “But, if cultivations have gone a lot deeper than 10cm, then compaction will have, too, along with ruts from tyres.”

For those who worry that min-till cultivators will be unable to deal with ruts, he suggests running over the top of them and in a worst-case scenario attempting to fill them in.

“Tine cultivators with narrow soil-engaging tines will produce the best tilth, while at the same time deal with any shallow compaction and produce less smearing or pan forming.”

What do the tillage kit makers recommend in an autumn like this? David Holmes from Simba, whose SL cultivator is proving a popular addition the company’s stable of implements, says the first thing is to check tractor tyre pressures are right for the cultivation work planned.

His other tips include:

• Straightening the level of disc aggression and reducing depth.

• Checking the tines on the cultivator are not working too deep.

• Making sure the scrapers are adjusted correctly.

• Considering using narrower points.

Ploughs are likely to dominate this season’s cultivations, says Alan Jones of Kverneland. But, he says, a number of things need to be considered.

If you are ploughing at 10in, set the shares at 8in to allow for a “hinge” at the base of the furrow so that the furrow can turn over completely, Mr Jones says. Also, on wetter land, in-furrow ploughing may be better than on-land ploughing, as there is more traction to be gained on the furrow bottom, he adds.

Other tips?

• Only plough deep enough to establish the following crop.

• Ensure that the right plough share is fitted for the ploughing width.

• Get the weight right on the front of the tractor.

• Remove skims and use trash boards to increase ground clearance and open up the plough.

Vaderstad‘s TopDown has become a familiar sight on many farms. But this year, how should you approach using it?

“This year there are two schools of thought,” says the firm’s Mark Littleford. “One is to go deep with tines to remove compaction and the other is to leave the top layer to dry out and avoid bringing wet soil to the surface and carry out shallow cultivations in the top 2-3in.”

For deeper cultivations, he suggests:

• Fit narrower, 50mm points.

• Set discs shallower than tines at about 5 cm (2in).

• Lift the packer into float or off the soil completely.

For shallower cultivations:

• Set tines shallower.

• Fit slightly wider 80mm points.

• Set disc depths at the same as tines.

• Leave the packer in float.