West Yorkshire farm benefits from strip-tillage

The success of direct drilling oilseed rape at Clayton and Frickley Farms near Doncaster has encouraged manager Phil Barlow to look at similar methods for establishing cereals and beans.

After direct drilling rape for several years with good results, he started to look at alternative means of putting in cereal crops.

“None of the land has been ploughed for the past seven years, and rape is established with a Sumo Trio and seed box,” he explains.
“In 2008, we drilled a small percentage of the barley in 50cm bands in the same way to see what sort of effect it had. When it came to combining, we didn’t see that much of a difference in yields.”

Mr Barlow and farm owner Charlie Warde-Aldam started to look round for suitable drills. They had heard of the Claydon drill and went to see it at LAMMA. “They wouldn’t give us a demo, but said we could use it for two years and agreed a resale price if we didn’t get on with it, which worked out to be equivalent to the cost of hiring a drill.”

They settled on a 4m SR model with stone release. “We’ve learnt not to do any cultivation before drilling. We did try subsoiling the tramlines, but disturbing too much soil seemed to make a haven for slugs and the drill seemed to take better when the soil was undisturbed.”

Rotation is rape, wheat, barley and beans on 344ha (850 acres) of medium to heavy loam. “We’ve actually noticed a reduction of blackgrass, not the reverse, since we’ve been using the drill and haven’t had to use Atlantis this year. We put that down to not working so deep,” adds Mr Barlow. The system involves applying round-up pre-harvest then using a stubble rake to encourage weed chitting. “Although there were pockets of blackgrass before, these have almost gone now,” adds Mr Barlow.

The pair admits that it’s taken a leap of faith on their part. “You’ve got to embrace it 100% – not dip in and out.”

Before, the farm was drilled with a conventional power harrow combination Sulky drill. Mr Barlow used to hire in a tractor at harvest and drilling time to pull the Sumo in front of the combidrill. “We now manage to get everything harvested and drilled with one less tractor, one less man and in a lot less time.”

The SR is pulled by a remapped New Holland TM175 that puts out 220hp. “Before we had it chipped it only boosted when we were using the PTO. A standard TM175 wouldn’t have been enough to pull a four metre drill and it was a choice of either buying a new tractor or upping the power of our existing one.”

Workrate is now roughly 8acres/hour, with speeds of 10-11kph, adds Mr Barlow. “Timing for conventional cultivations and drilling [used to be] critical on our land – but we’ve found that with the Claydon it’s not.”

Another benefit of the system, explains Mr Barlow, is that stubble dries out a lot quicker than tilled land, which means you can get back on the land sooner after wet weather. “As for yields, there’s been no detrimental effect with the switch in system. We’re surprised it’s done so well, to be honest.” The farm is on the edge of the Pennines and gets around 650mm rainfall a year, so moisture retention is also an important factor.

“Soils are so much better now,” explains Mr Barlow. “The 12-inch bands between rows have held the moisture well, particularly this year.”

The KRM rape seeder that used to sit on the Sumo Trio has now been fitted onto the Claydon to apply slug pellets at the same time as drilling.

When delivered, it was fitted with press wheels at the rear. In the second year, Mr Barlow replaced these with paddles. “With the change, Claydon altered the depth wheel to enable wheat seed to be drilled shallow enough,” he says. The bean attachment has proved particularly successful, he adds.

Reducing compaction on the 800 acres is a priority. All grain trailers are dropped at the headland and straw trailers are kept to tramlines wherever possible.
The drive towards reducing compaction has also encouraged Mr Barlow to fit VRS RTK steering to the combine, tractor and sprayer.

“It’s not strictly controlled traffic farming,” explains Mr Barlow. “But we will be able to keep tramlines in the same place year-on-year.”

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