Quest to discover best establishment regimes

29 October 1999

Quest to discover best establishment regimes

Much has been talked about new establishment techniques

and machinery. To create independent, comparative data

one farm manager has set up his own trials to find out what

is best for wheat and oilseed rape. Andrew Swallow reports

FIVE drills, four fields, three tillage methods, two crops, one goal – to find the best establishment regime.

That is what Felix Thornley Cobbold Trust farm manager and FW Farmer Focus writer James Moldon have set out to do at Stanaway Farm, Otley, in Suffolk.

"Overall the idea is to find a cheaper way of establishing crops. But within that we are looking at crop output, weed effects, and soil structure," says Mr Moldon.

First year results, judged purely on yield, suggest plough-based systems have the edge on the heavy Hanslope soils. But conditions were wet, and far from ideal for the reduced tillage techniques.

"Weve got to be aware that it is only one years data but there was a small yield reduction using minimum tillage or direct-drilling. However, when you take into account the cost savings, there is not a lot in it." (see table).

An HGCA-funded oilseed rape trial, comparing Autocast, broadcast, minimum cultivation and traditional plough-based establishment did show the new techniques in a favourable light.

Autocast Apex topped the table at 3.85t/ha (31.2cwt/acre), followed by broadcast at 3.76t/ha (30.4cwt/acre), plough and drilled at 3.58t/ha (30cwt/acre), with disced and drilled trailing at 3.56t/ha (28.8cwt/acre).

"Im cautious about reading too much into the yield differences, but the cost saving of the non-tillage techniques is about £100/ha," says Mr Moldon.

Five different drills have been introduced on the wheat, and four on the oilseed rape, this autumn.

"The aim is to show farmers how, on our heavy land, these new drills can cope with different types of cultivation. If it will go on this land, then it will go on pretty much anyones," he says.

"But the problem is every year is different – one year one particular drill will look great, the next its not so good. Hopefully after a few years well build up enough data to be really useful. What we need next year is a very dry season to provide a contrast."

First wheats have been drilled across the oilseed rape trials of last season so longer-term effects on soil structure and weed burden can be observed. "We want to expand the trial, but not to change too much so we can build data from different seasons."

First and second wheat trials, Malacca and Charger respectively, were drilled on Oct 13. That was over a fortnight later than planned, which Mr Moldon accepts may reduce yields next harvest.

"Take-all should be reduced in the second wheat, but yield potential may have been lost in the first wheat," he says.

The trial work, which extends to 22ha (54 acres) of wheat and 20ha (49 acres) of oilseed rape, has to fit in with the farms financial objectives.

"One of my biggest worries is that one of these drills fails to establish a crop. We have cut back the second wheat trial area as there is quite significant yield loss on the second wheats. We wanted to do the same range as with the first wheats, but I wasnt prepared to put such a large area in," says Mr Moldon.

Morley Research Centre has been involved in the set up of the trial, and will be doing plant counts, weed assessments, and examining soil structure during the year. Subject to finding funding it is hoped to look at impact of the different cultivation methods on bio-diversity and beneficial insect populations. &#42


&#8226 Four fields: Oilseed rape, first wheat, second wheat and continuous wheat.

&#8226 Oilseed rape: Autocast, direct-drill or plough-based.

&#8226 Wheat: Direct-drill, minimum cultivation, deep-disc and press (Simba Solo) or plough-based.

&#8226 Drills: 4m Simba Freeflow; 6m Vaderstad Rapid (with system discs); 4m Horsh CO4; 4m Gaspardo DPI 400; 3m JD No-Till.

&#8226 Plant and ear counts.

&#8226 Weed, take-all and soil structure assessments.

&#8226 Take-all seed-dressing trial.

&#8226 Morley researchers collecting data.

1998/99 results

Establishment Cost Yield Net Margin Estimated time

(£/ha) (t/ha) (£/ha) (hrs/ha)

First wheat

Plough/press, combi drill 83 12.3 777 4.0

Discs and free-flow drill 61 11.5 747 2.5

Second wheat

Plough/press, press, free-flow drill 87 11.5 739 3.5

Discs, free-flow drill 61 11.1 740 2.1

Direct free-flow drill 35 10.1 707 1.5

All drilled Sept 28-29. Rolled pre & post drilling. Conditions described as sticky.

Results to come

Further results of the study will be reported in forthcoming issues of FW.

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