One Oxfordshire grower has added more furrows to boost output and efficiency with rotational ploughing. Geoff Ashcroft reports.
Despite advances in min-till systems when it comes to reducing establishment costs, the importance of clean seedbeds remains high on the list of cultivation objectives for Oxfordshire grower Philip Green.
So much so that rotational ploughing has a key role to play at the family-run Green Farms, based at Akeman Street Farm, Combe. “We do like the level of cultural control that ploughing provides,” explains Philip Green. “Being able to bury all trash and any weed seeds, to create a clean surface for subsequent cultivations and drilling, is a big plus.”
As part of the Blenheim Estate, Green Farms is met with a variety of soil types across its acreage. While two thirds of the farm is faced with Cotswold brash, the remainder is a mix of gravel and heavy clay soils. The farm favours a predominantly min-till regime using a 5m Top Down and 8m Vaderstad Rapid drill for its 1,100ha (2,700-acre) workload, though there is a need for rotational and winter ploughing, ahead of spring crops.
As a result, Akeman Street Farm turns over about 450ha (1,110-acre) each season. It is a workload which requires a committed approach to soil inversion. And the farm’s recent purchase of a 10-furrow Kverneland reversible to harness the high power of a frontline tractor, confirms its place in the cultivation line-up. “We had been using a PB100 six-furrow model, then progressed to a seven-furrow vari-width to make the most of our 200hp John Deere 7920,” explains Mr Green.
Philip Green (right) and operator Glyn Jones are pleased with the switch to on-land ploughing.
Running in-furrow, the seven-furrow outfit was never fully on top of the workload. But when the farm swapped its frontline JD8530 for a more powerful JD8360R, the opportunity to improve ploughing output suddenly become more easily achievable. “We had gained output for cultivations and drilling, but ploughing was still a steady job,” he says. “We didn’t want to buy a second plough, so we needed more furrows to make full use of the 8360R.”
An added consideration was that the tractor spends most of its time on dual wheels, to suit cultivations and drilling, while treading lightly. So the ability to plough on-land was another key consideration. “We really didn’t want to keep fitting and removing dual wheels, so we looked at the ability to plough on-top, in addition to running in-furrow,” he says. “I think we stand to do more damage to soil structure in the long term, if we keep running in the furrow, so staying on top of land is our preference.”
The 10-furrow auto-reset PW is a 6+3+1 build and offers flexibility in work. Essentially two ploughs in one, the PW plough is assembled as two units – the rear section can be three or four furrows and is carried on a three-point linkage at the rear of the front, six-furrow plough.
Packomat furrow presses provide enough consolidation to follow with the drill.
This design enables both sections to be separated and used independently. And the 3+1 build of the rear plough also allows the last furrow to be removed, if needed, to create a nine-furrow unit. For Philip Green, such a plough creates the option of using the six-furrow front section or four furrow rear sections on smaller tractors, though so far, the farm has not needed to split the plough. “We have carried the rear section in the air on some of the steeper banks, or if some of our banks get a bit too greasy after a shower of rain,” he says.
But with the 15-tonne tractor putting its power down through eight wheels and tyres, traction is not really an issue, as operator Glyn Jones explains. “On duals, average wheel slip is below 4 per cent,” he says. “The plough is as easy to pull as our 8m drill.”
Furrow widths are hydraulically variable, with most autumn work carried out at 46cm (18in). A narrower, 40cm (16in) furrow is favoured for winter ploughing. “With its ability to work on-land, the PW plough saves us a lot of time by allowing the dual wheels to stay on the tractor when switching between ploughing, cultivating and drilling,” he says.
While the plough is equipped with ATS – automatic turnover sequence – its IsoBus capability allows it to plug into the Deere, with its control screen appearing on the tractor’s own armrest-mounted monitor. “It is a three-button-press to make a headland turn,” says Glyn. “And with manual over-ride, the plough is easy to manage when ploughing headlands.”
A key attraction for on-land ploughing is the use of RTK guidance. “With RTK and auto-steering, we’ve never had a problem matching up the work. It is a very impressive outfit with a much greater output than our previous 200hp tractor and seven-furrow plough.”
Isobus integration and automatic turnover sequence makes handling a big plough very easy.
Where the farm previously used a furrow press, the 10-furrow PW has also been equipped with two integral Packomat units. This gives the farm a more effective two-pass system – plough/press, then follow with the Vaderstad drill. “Using a traditional furrow press was awkward, and so we only ever pressed the main part of each field, and just ploughed the headland areas,” says Glyn. “Using the Packomats, we can now press all areas of each field while ploughing.”
Field sizes range from 4-30ha (10-75 acres), with the average being 8ha (20 acres), and despite its size, the big plough is remarkably manoeuvrable and easy to manage in smaller fields. “When ploughing out at the field boundary, we have the flexibility to lift and retract the front Packomat on its arm,” he adds. “The entire ploughing process has become much more effective, and very easy to use.”
“And there is enough consolidation from the Packomats to let us drill behind the plough,” he says. “Importantly, we have the capacity to pick and choose when we go ploughing, rather than having to get stuck in at every opportunity, just to get over the workload.”