Host estate for this years
Normac cultivations event is
Lexham Hall, Nr Swaffham,
Norfolk. Andy Collings took
the opportunity to discover
what type of estate it was
and what cultivation systems
are currently employed
LEXHAM Hall, with its 1200ha (3000 acres) of in-hand land is basically an estate of two soil types. Split neatly by the River Nar, the southern section comprises mainly heavy land, while the north is considerably lighter.
Broadly speaking, there are two different cropping regimes with the heavier soils being used predominantly for wheat, and winter barley production on the lighter soils together with daffodils and potatoes. Dried peas and sugar beet, of which there is some 160ha (400 acres), tends to move between the two areas.
Common to both soil types, however, is an abundance of flint stones which frequently play havoc with tyres and implements. The estates main workhorse is a 230hp John Deere 8300 tractor which, after only 3000 hours, is now looking for its third set of tyres.
"Machines just do not like flints," says farms manager Chris Nattriss. "While I can accept that plough shares, discs, rolls and their like are going to wear more quickly than we would like, having to replace tractor tyres at such regular intervals starts to hurt the pocket."
While tyres remain a sore point and one for which Mr Nattriss has yet to discover a solution – should there be one – it is a different story on the implement front.
"There is no escaping the need to plough after certain crops, such as sugar beet, but there is an opportunity to surface cultivate a significant area each year," he explains. "I was reluctant to splash out on expensive kit particularly when I realised we had the makings of a suitable cultivator train in the yard."
Thinking the job through, Mr Nattriss assessed what he wanted to achieve. First there was the need to lift the top few inches of soil and provide sufficient tilth in to which crop residues could be mixed. Secondly the lifted soil needed to be broken up effectively and, thirdly, the finished product needed to be pressed to conserve soil moisture and provide a firm seedbed.
Ingredients came in the form of a Supaflow rigid tined cultivator, a set of Simba discs and a Cousins furrow press – all offering a 4m (13ft) working width.
"Linking them all together so tines were followed by the discs and then the press was a fairly cheap and simple operation," says Mr Nattriss. "For the furrow press, which normally works alongside our 8-furrow Kverneland plough, it meant attaching a drawbar to link it with the discs.
"To couple the Supaflow to the discs we welded a second three-point-linkage on to the rear of the Supaflow to provide a variable height towing connection. This means we can raise or lower the Supaflow without affecting the operation of the discs."
Mr Nattriss reckons the conversion cost less than £400 and, bearing in mind the age of the equipment used, the total investment in terms of book value was very low indeed.
By all accounts, it performs very satisfactorily. With the 8300 taking the lead, output is acceptable and more than enough to keep up with the demands of the estates 4m (13ft) Amazone RPD drill.
"It was cheap to construct and, in my opinion does all that a new machine costing many thousands of pounds would have cost," he says.
It is a message Normacs exhibitors might like to take on board. *
• Size: 1200ha.
• Winter wheat: 200ha.
• Winter/spring barley 320ha – seed and malting, straw for pig unit.
• Dried peas 70ha – seed.
• Oilseed rape 20ha.
• Daffodil bulbs 24ha.
• Potatoes 64ha.
• Sugar beet 160ha.
• Rest strawberry plants, parsnips, parkland and woods.
• Stock: 4000 pigs – 440 sows progeny to bacon; sheep for parkland.
Lexham Halls farms manager Chris Nattriss and left, the home assembled tillage train. "Cheap yet efficient," he says.