One-man system plus agronomy changes work
By Charles Abel
DIFFICULT times demand bold actions, which is why one Shropshire farmer is using a Horsch minimal cultivations system to single-handedly establish 263ha (650 acres) of rape and cereals this autumn.
For Jon Fox at Folly Farm, Lydbury North, low crops prices are only half the reason for change. Rent rises of 90% and 45% have seen land costs rocket from about £116/ha (£47/acre) to £185-227/ha (£75-92/acre). "The FBT system really is proving quite iniquitous," he says.
In February the farms one worker took another job, providing the chance for radical change. A one-man operation seemed daunting at first, but with minimal cultivations and a 24m self-propelled sprayer it not only looked viable, but potentially more profitable.
Whole-farm agronomy advice and help choosing the right sprayer from Profarma agronomist Phil Edenborough has aided the transition. A Horsch minimal cultivation and direct drilling system was felt most suitable for the light loam to brash land. The 5.7m (19ft) goose-foot tine cultivator works at 5-6.3cm (2-2.5in) to produce a stale seed-bed directly behind the combine.
Weeds and volunteers
Chitted weeds and volunteers are sprayed 7-10 days pre-drilling with 1-1.5 litres/ha Roundup (glyphosate). The 4m (13ft) CO drill then uses tine-mounted Teflon-coated drilling boots to sow a wide band of seed every 25cm (10in).
Seed covers 60% of the seed-bed, rather than the 15% with a conventional coulter-type drill and problems associated with disc drills, such as disc blockage and toxin trouble from trash folded into slots, are avoided, notes Mr Fox.
Workrate behind a 180hp John Deere 8100 is 4ha/hour (10 acres/ hour) for either machine – twice that of the old plough, roll and combination drill system, with half the labour. Total cost for five-year hire-purchase, including trade-in, is £650 a month, less than half a mans wages.
Replacing a mounted 20m Airtec sprayer with a second-hand 24m self-propelled Airtec completes the labour saving measures. "We used to waste two or three hours fitting the sprayer, which can lose a spray window." A liquid fertiliser line means application savings too.
First establishment results look promising. HEAR oilseed rape sown at 6.5kg/ha (5.8lb/acre) on Aug 28 after barley came through well in five days. "There is more surface trash than usual, but the plants are there."
Less concern about wet
Barley and wheat will follow, with less concern about wet conditions than before. "I wont need to work wet ground, I can catch up when it dries, or run the cultivator 0.5in deeper to pull drier soil up to drill into," says Mr Fox.
But the new approach demands agronomy changes. "The Horsch philosophy is to practise professional minimum cultivations, which means rolling to consolidate after the first pass, using the right total herbicide for the weeds present and working when conditions are right."
Inputs will also be adjusted by drawing on Profarma Select agronomy work. Weed pressure should reduce, so a single pre-emergence treatment based on Prebane (terbutryn) should suffice. Together with anti-BYDV seed treatment that should avoid a repeat of last autumns weather hit spray programme, says Mr Edenborough.
Extra eyespot pressure means routine T1 control and take-all pressure may mean new fungicide seed treatments have a role.
With the legacy of last autumn this is not the best season to be introducing changes, Mr Fox admits. "There is no room for error." But one thing is clear – labour savings mean the one-man system will be more profitable.
Once cereal variety choice, sowing date and seed rates are investigated next season, Mr Edenborough confidently predicts further benefits from yield improvements. *
FOLLY FARM CHANGES
• Low prices, hefty rent rises.
• 263ha wheat, barley, rape.
• Up to 9.3t/ha (3.75t/acre) first milling wheat, 7.4t/ha (3t/acre) malting barley, but some second wheat disappointingly below average this year.
• New one-man system.
• Min cults, direct drill.
• 24m SP Airtec sprayer.
• Sharp agronomy helps.
• Yield boost expected.