Stripcat drill set to boost yields

A Hampshire farmer is hoping to boost his oilseed rape yields and slash establishment costs after investing in one of the latest strip-till drills.

David Miller, farm manger for the Wheatsheaf Farming partnership invested in the Stripcat machine from Sly Agri after seeing it working in both Lincolnshire and France.

“I was impressed – particularly seeing the latest version demonstrated in France and crops grown there,” says Mr Miller. “Working in maize stubble, it cleared all the rubbish to one side and created a fine, clean tilth for the seed.”

In autumn 2012 Mr Miller used a development version of the Stripcat to sow 4ha of oilseed rape, alongside a 4m Sumo Versadrill that established another 324ha.

“With subsoiling legs at the front and sowing two rows of seed either side, the Versadrill worked with some of the principles of strip tillage. But didn’t clear trash to the same extent, he says.

“Once we knew we’d have the Stripcat for this year, the Versadrill was sold.”

Now Mr Miller is eager to see how his eight-row Stripcat performs. With the tilling units spaced 625mm apart to create a 5m implement, it offers increased output potential, yet should be easier to pull than the farm’s old Shakaerator and Versadrill. Seed will be sown in two rows per strip spaced about 150mm apart.

“I’m confident this technique will give us speed and economy but also precise sowing depth in a trash-free, consolidated seedbed,” says Mr Miller.

“Moisture retention and targeted fertiliser application using a pencil jet on the Stripcat are also attractive, along with a potential reduction in weed burden by not moving all the soil.”

Like other implements of its type, the Sly Stripcat uses several different assemblies to create seed bed strips with the option to place fertiliser and sow seed at the same time.

A wavy edge disc starts this process, its working depth being regulated by two generous polyurethane wheels positioned alongside that also trap and hold material to help the disc cut through.

Aggressively angled and profiled trash-clearing discs from US manufacturer Sunco come next; they are slightly offset from each other to be sure of working the entire width of the strip.

Spring tension, which is adjusted by pin and holes on the disc mounting leg, keeps them in contact with the field surface while also providing break-back deflection over large stones.

One concern is whether the steel fingers will pick up too many of the flints strewn across the mainly loam over chalk soils farmed. Rubber versions less like to suffer this problem, but also less durable are waiting in the wings.

Mr Miller expects to set the chisel tine that follows the trash discs to around 10in working depth to encourage drainage and rooting. “Two discs are positioned either side of the tine to prevent soil from being thrown beyond the strip,” he says.

“They are adjustable forwards and backwards, up and down, and for angle to get the right set-up for different soils and working speeds.”

A crumbler wheel then crushes any clods and consolidates the seedbed strip ready for the disc coulters. These will sow two rows of seed into the tilth, where the seedlings can put roots down into the fissures opened up by the preceding tine.

A pair of plastic press wheels completes the separate sowing assembly, which is allowed free pivoting movement where it is attached to the strip tilling assembly to follow humps and dips in the field surface.

The entire tilling and sowing assembly can pivot from the pin that attaches it to the main frame arm, with a pneumatic ‘spring’ positioned between the frame and assembly providing down pressure.

This is a new departure for the Stripcat, since previous versions have hydraulic cylinders for pressure control. All the rubber spring units are connected to each other to maintain even pressure across the implement, with adjustment available on the move using an in-cab control box.

For sowing, an existing Austrian-built APV broadcaster has been mounted on top of the 5m, eight-row frame, with electric drive to the metering roller and fan.

The entire set-up represents an investment of more than £32,000 – and one that Mr Miller expects to be fully justified.

“At £300-£350/t, oilseed rape can give a tremendous return but we’re not making the most of its potential,” he says. “With strip tillage, I’m hopeful we can continue to keep the lid on costs but also produce higher yielding crops as we work towards that 6t/ha goal.”

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