A WELL-FIRMED seedbed, plus seed delivery that is both accurate and consistent, is behind improvements in germination and in crop establishment for Northumberland grower Tony Coatsworth.
Growing 255ha (630 acres) of arable crops – feed wheat, winter barley and oilseed rape – near Morpeth, Mr Coatsworth initially opted for a power harrow-seed drill combination for its time and labour-saving advantages.
"Because the weather can make things difficult the later we get, our policy is to get crops established by the beginning of October, before the ground gets too wet," he says. "With just me, and my son and daughter working the farm, the main advantages of running a combination outfit are timeliness and costs."
Stubble ploughing is followed by a pass with a power harrow if this is needed to work down heavier land on the farm, before a front-mounted press and Amazone RPD302 harrow-drill combination completes both seed bed preparation and sowing.
This 3m drilling outfit comprises an Amazone rotary power harrow and a full-width mechanical seed metering drill carried on a flexible tyre packer. Its the second such outfit on the farm, the original RPD model with Suffolk coulters being changed for the latest version with disc coulters last year.
Slow drilling speed (giving a regular sowing depth) and dropping seed into freshly tilled, moist soil is generally accepted as promoting prompt germination and even emergence.
But the design of the RPD packer is claimed to be a key component of the system in the way it consolidates soil in bands ahead of the coulters. This gives a firm base for the seed, as well as intimate seed/soil contact, with sufficient loose soil remaining to ensure good coverage with the finger tine rake.
Effective coulter penetration into hard soils is also a valuable feature, believes Tony Coatsworth.
"With our conventional drill, we typically used a seed rate of 250kg/ha to compensate for poor penetration," he says. "With the Amazone RPD, we can adjust coulter pressure to get a consistent seeding depth whatever the soil type."
This, together with accurate seed delivery and placement, has led to seed rates being trimmed 12% to 220kg/ha, making a useful saving in costs. But yields have not suffered – feed wheats have averaged 9.8t/ha in the past two years, says Mr Coatsworth.
"Weve been delighted with the way the crops look," he says. "Germination is superb, partly because we have been able to drill earlier into better, warmer seed beds, but also because of the seed placement."
The flexible tyre design has also promoted improved timeliness in a busy drilling season – because they flex, less soil is picked up by the packer when conditions turn a bit sticky, Tony Coatsworth reckons.
"That means we can keep drilling as conditions take a turn for the worse and that makes all the difference to drilling dates in a difficult season," he says. "This tyre packer concept really does work – and its reflected in the crops we grow."