US-built Great Plains drill is
a newcomer to UK
conditions. Ian Marshall met
one of its first purchasers
"IT may be relatively unproved in the UK, but it holds the largest share of the drill market in the USA, and is sold extensively in other parts of the world."
That is one of the reasons why Albert Nixey has put his confidence in £27,000 worth of 3.7m Wallis Great Plains drill, which, this autumn, will be sowing the 404.8ha (1000 acres) of combinable crops he grows at Easington Manor Farm, Watlington, Oxfordshire.
The decision to buy the drill – a 3.65m (12ft) model to fit in with a 25m (82.5ft) tramline system – was made with the intention of reducing establishment costs.
"With the drop in cereal prices and there being no reason to believe they are going to get back to the levels of two years ago, we need to change to a minimal tillage/no-till regime," explains Mr Nixey. "It also has to be a system which gives us the flexibility to work in a conventional cultivations system."
Up to the present, a more traditional approach has been made with primary cultivations performed by a plough/Claydon Furrow Cracker combination. If needed, the ground is then disced and pressed with the final seedbed produced from a pass with spring tines or a power harrow in front of the drill.
"This autumn, depending on the crop and the conditions, well be looking, primarily, to no-till drill or minimally cultivate, when it will be a case of first discing and pressing directly behind the combine, to get a soil/crop residue mix and promote weed and volunteer germination.
"And, season allowing, well be looking to start cereal drilling earlier – mid rather than the end of September – with lower seed rates."
Mr Nixey believes this system will result in establishment costs of around £30/acre – some £20 or so less than the current system. But there are also the opportunities to improve timelines of drilling and sow crops into optimum seedbed conditions.
So what was it that drew him to the Great Plains, a drill which has only been on the UK market since July 1997 and, by definition, virtually untried in UK conditions?
"It looks a strong machine which, in my opinion, current European-built machines do not come near. Im confident it wont spend time in the workshop being repaired," says Mr Nixey.
When working in no-till mode, a leading staggered bank of scalloped discs mounted on an independent centre pivot unit act as openers. Their cutting depth is set hydraulically – a feature also designed to enable the disc to penetrate hard soil – and seed, fed by delivery tubes via a fluted roller and gearbox system, is sown by following disc coulters.
Seed is then pressed in by mini seed lock wheels before a consolidation wheel, on which drilling depth is also set.
"The opener discs are set to work deeper than the sowing disc coulters and the combination of disc rotation speed and the angle of the scallops creates a mini tilth. This helps to conserve moisture and ensure seed placement is at a constant depth into a prepared environment, " claims Mr Nixey.
The Great Plains arrived at Easington Manor in February and has seen some action, drilling a small area of soya for merchants Robin Appel of Hampshire. Its evenness of growth has supported Mr Nixeys observations of other crops.
"It went into an autumn-prepared seedbed which had been ploughed and power harrowed. Overwinter growth was sprayed off in the spring, but due to the weather we couldnt drill it until mid-May, some three weeks later than we should have," he says.
"This autumn will be the real test. If it is dry – as it has been for the past three years – and moisture conservation in the seedbed is paramount, the drill will come into its own – a wet season and it will not be so valuable.
"But that aspect is offset by the flexibility the drill gives us. I dont see any reason why it will not do what we hope to achieve and reduce establishment costs." *
Uniformity of establishment and growth of a small area of soya supports Mr Nixeys observations of other crops sown with a Great Plains drill.