COULD this German harrow/hoe be the way to lift wheat grain protein – without applying bag nitrogen?
It sounds far fetched – but the secret is that the Kress harrow could destroy not only weeds, but an undersown clover.
The clovers root nodules contain nitrogen, fixed from the atmosphere. This might then be released into the soil – just at the time when nitrogen could be taken up by the wheat and converted to grain protein.
Such a technique could fit in well with the low input systems which have been investigated within the LIFE (Less Intensive Farming and Environment) research project, co-ordinated by Dr Vic Jordan of IACR-Long Ashton.
He aims to take the hoe through at flag leaf, and then again at ear emergence.
To allow the harrow to pass through the crop late in the season, without damage, calls for wider rows.
Dr Jordan is testing a system where drill coulters are blocked off, and remaining rows are put closer together. This gives alternate close double-rows, with a wide gap between the pairs.
Plant spacing is adjusted, to give the equivalent plant population to a conventional crop.
"Initial trials indicate that the wheat withstands late harrowing quite well," said Dr Jordan at the Royal Show.
The Kress machine was originally designed for row crops. The tine depth is set against the forward wheel, and is independent of the soil surface. This means that the tine works at the same depth – no matter how bumpy the soil.
Last seasons results from LIFE crops were "embarrassingly good", Dr Jordan pointed out.
The soil conditioning resulting from non- inversion tillage techniques meant more moisture was retained in the soil, and drought stress problems were less than with conventional systems.
"And as wheat prices tumble, the profitability of low input LIFE crop management increases," he added.
"With wheat at £80/t, LIFE margins increase by about £180/ha compared with conventional systems."