15 August 1997


PRODUCING a fine seed-bed on heavy loam soils is tricky at the best of times. But Yorkshire farming brothers Charles and Alaric Booth say they can now do it in a single pass and with better results than they managed before.

Buying a pick-tine rotary tiller to improve the composition of potato seed-beds has had the sign-off benefit boosting to cereal production at Smeathalls Farm, Birkin, Yorks.

The Booth brothers found the implement so effective at preparing ground for the 15ha (37-acre) early and maincrop potato enterprise that they use it to prepare winter wheat and barley seed-beds.

"We like to drill early into a fine seed-bed and the Cultitiller has produced better results in one pass than we previously achieved with several," says Charles Booth. "One result of the better seed-bed quality is that we have been able to dramatically cut seed rate, making a useful cut in growing costs."

Soils on the 162ha (400 acres) Smeathalls Farm vary from light sand to heavy loam. It was an inability to break down fist-size clods using a conventional power harrow that first prompted the brothers to approach Ripon Farm Services about the relatively unknown Kuhn Cultitiller.

Designed as an extra strong power tiller for high horsepower tractors, the machine has replaceable tines mounted in a spiral on a horizontal rotor. The angle of the tines means they strike the ground point first with an action like that of a pick-axe.

Clods are split and shattered by the impact angle and force rather than sliced as with a bladed rotary tiller or stirred as with a rotary power harrow.

The Booths use a 4m (13ft) version of the E201 Cultitiller behind a 120hp John Deere 6800. Mr Booth says the implement proved its worth within hours of arriving.

"We grow potatoes on a low cost system, with no irrigation and no separation, so it is all the more important to us to achieve an ideal seed-bed with the minimum of passes," he explains.

"The Cultitiller needs just a single pass to work down ploughed and over-wintered ground before it is ready to be ridged for the potato planter," Mr Booth adds. "We used to go over potato land several times with a conventional power harrow, and still not achieve as good a tilth."

The improvement in seed-bed has resulted in tangible improvements in tuber quality from the low cost system the brothers operate, while also saving time, labour and fuel. Using the implement on cereal seed-beds has also allowed reduced seed rates.

"It is our policy to drill winter cereals as early as possible, and we believe that the finer the seed-bed, the better," says Mr Booth. "A single pass with the Cultitiller straight after the plough does the job and has encouraged us to virtually halve seed rate for winter wheat. Yet at about 94kg/ha (84lb/acre), we still achieve our target germination of 80 to 120 plants a sq m."

Producing an optimum seed-bed in double-quick time means drilling can get underway when the soil is still relatively warm, notes Mr Booth. Plants typically start to emerge within seven days of sowing with a high rate of germination.n

Throwing up the dust… The "pick-tine" cultivator in action at Smeathalls Farm. Inset: Charles Booth: "The Cultitiller produces better results in one pass than we previously achieved with several."


&#8226 Pick-tine rotary tiller

&#8226 Alternative to bladed rotary tiller or rotary power harrow

&#8226 Bought for potato land, but benefits cereal seed-beds.

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