DIRECT DRILL – BIG DECISION
Direct-drilling may be common in the US, but its taking a
while to catch on here. Berkshire estate manager
Peter King joined the pioneers when he bought a Primera
A DECISION by Yattendon Estate Farms to buy a 6m (19.7ft) Amazone direct drill was not taken hastily. Last autumn the drill was given a trial run on 200ha (500 acres) of the estates 1200ha (3000 acres) of arable crops, and this year more than 150ha (375 acres) of oilseed rape was direct drilled.
Then, and only then, the decision was taken to purchase the machine. Knowing that this was the first Amazone Airstar Primera 6300 drill to be sold in the UK, one can understand why estate manager Peter King took a while to make up his mind.
He also wanted to be sure the drill has the versatility to cope with the range of crops and conditions at Yattendon, which is near Newbury, Berks.
Most of the soil is clay with flints, but there is also sand and gravel, and thin chalk soils. Cropping comprises cereals, oilseed rape, linseed and turnips – plus more than 100ha (247 acres) of peas and beans processed for feed in the estates pig unit.
Although the Airstar Primera is designed for direct drilling, Mr King also checked it could be used conventionally and with various levels of minimum cultivation.
All barley straw and half the wheat straw is baled for the pig unit, with the rest chopped behind the combines, and direct drilling into chopped straw as well as clean stubble is also important.
"We are certainly interested in direct drilling, and about half the acreage we drilled with the Amazone last year was sown in this way," says Mr King. "The drills high clearance and its staggered coulters combine to enable crop residues to pass freely through the drill. We direct drilled wheat and rape into wheat stubble, and we also tried wheat after linseed, and it worked well.
"Obviously it does a better job if the straw has been cleared, but crops we direct drilled into chopped straw and after linseed performed well – you just have to accept that they look untidy for a while."
Although direct drilling will be increasingly important, there are no plans to abandon the plough. Mr King says some ploughing – probably on a rotational basis – will continue.
"Flexibility is important, and it is one of the main advantages of this drill," he insists. "I dont want to be tied to direct drilling or ploughing, or any other system, and this drill allows me to choose what I think is best for the field and the crop."
Mr King is cautious about making yield comparisons due to the commercial scale of the crops. Generally, he says, the yields from Amazone drilled crops were similar to or slightly better than conventionally sown crops. But rape was an exception with crops sown by the Amazone out-yielding conventionally drilled crops quite significantly.
"I am not saying the drills caused the difference in the rape crops, but the results overall were encouraging, and I think we can use the new drill and gain the advantages without loss of yield," he says.
One advantage is increased output. This is partly because Yattendon previously relied on three 4m (13.1ft) wide drills, and the new Airstar Primera is the first stage in upgrading to 6m (19.7ft) widths. Work rates are also helped by the large hopper, allowing up to 12ha (30 acres) between refills when drilling wheat. Mr King says up to 40.5ha (100 acres) a day is a realistic work rate.
The drill is pulled by a 170hp John Deere 7800 tractor, which handles it easily with working speeds of up to 8mph.
Although he is pleased with the drill, Mr King had two major criticisms when it was used last year. A bout marker is considered to be essential but the drill arrived last year without one – and markers supplied to get the drill working were not satisfactory. Proper bout markers were supplied this autumn.
Mr King also insisted on having a following harrow fitted. Amazone has supplied one mounted on a three-point linkage behind the drill, allowing it to be lifted out of work.
"This drill gives us high work rates and the versatility we need, and our experience so far suggests that we can achieve this without loss of yield," concludes Mr King. *
AIRSTAR PRIMERA DRILL
• Width: Working 6.0m, transport 3.0m.
• Openers: 32 chisel tine type openers arranged in four staggered rows giving 18.75cm row spacing.
• Weight (empty): 5.5t.
• Hopper capacity: Up to3000 litres.
• Power requirement: 136hp minimum.
• Retail price: From £53,845.
Work rates (up to 40ha/day) are helped by a big hopper that copes with 12ha
"Flexibility is one of the main advantages of the drill," says Peter King, estate manager at Yattendon Estate Farms.