FG BUY&SELL        FARMERS WEATHER       ARABLE FARMING        DAIRY FARMER      FARMERS GUARDIAN        AGRIMONEY        OUR EVENTS        MEMBERSHIP BENEFITS        BLOGS        MORE FROM US

You are viewing 1 of your 2 free articles

You’ll need to join us by becoming a member to gain more access.
Already a Member?

Login Join us now

Machinery in Practice: CTF and cover crops working hand in hand

Insights

Cover crops are providing an increasingly more important source of organic matter for Kent grower Guy Eckley, which sit neatly into a CTF and direct drill strategy. Geoff Ashcroft reports.

Twitter Facebook
Low disturbance or direct drill? Each has its place with within Guy Eckley’s machinery fleet.
Low disturbance or direct drill? Each has its place with within Guy Eckley’s machinery fleet.

With the desire to manage soils more efficiently, Kent grower Guy Eckley has recently added cover crops to his rotation, while keeping kit on a controlled traffic grid to minimise disruption to soil structure.

 

However, this simplistic approach as taken some managing at Eckley Farms, Staplehurst, and has also resulted in some tough machinery buying choices too.

 

He explains; “We’ve not moved much soil about since the late 1990’s, which soon revealed the benefits of keeping tilth in one place rather than having to start making new seedbeds every year. Soil does do a good job of repairing itself, if you give it a chance.”

Kent farmer guy Eckley is pleased with the integration of cover crops at Eckley Farms.

Eckley Farms currently handles a 600 hectare (1,480 acre) workload across four blocks of land, spread over an eight-mile radius of Staplehurst. Soil types vary from green sands to loam and weald clay – the latter is one Guy Eckley does not want to bash about unnecessarily.

 

“To make the most of yield potential and manage weed incidence, we’ve been gradually heading towards a controlled traffic grid that also involves direct drilling, along with an increasing reliance on cover crops,” he says.

 

“We do like the Horsch tine drill, and having replaced an old CO for a 4m Sprinter, we created a drilling system that could work in almost all conditions. But every time we moved the soil, we’d encourage the wrong things to grow.”

 

“We also had fields sitting empty over winter, waiting to be planted with spring crops,” he says. “And rather than let Mother Nature fill the voids with unwanted weeds, we thought that Pedders mix might be worth a try in a small area.”

 

Based on that small trial, he has increased the cover crop area year-on-year. Now in his fifth year of cover cropping, Mr Eckley says 25 to 40 per cent of the 600ha (1,480 acre) farm will be sown to cover crops each autumn.

The farm’s Horsch Sprinter 4 ST was widened slightly to suit a 4.4m CTF grid……

“Half the farm is wheat and everything else is break crop,” he says. “This includes between 50-150 hectares (123-371 acres) of winter oilseed rape plus spring sown beans, barley, wheat and oats. And all our spring-sown crops are preceded by cover crops.”

 

“We do have a flexible approach when it comes to our rotation and things have been known to change at the last minute, depending on the season.”

 

Rather than opt for off-the-shelf cover crop mixes, he, and a small group of neighbouring farmers, have developed their own complex mix of cover crop seeds.

 

He reasons that different soil types across the farm combined with changing topography means a diverse mix of seeds will naturally compensate when one of the other seed types dies off.

 

“There is always something in the cover crop mix that will pick up the slack when one other crop type dies back in the winter,” he says. “And an added advantage of such a mix means should that season’s conditions not suit one component of the mix, something else, other than weeds, will fill its place.”

…..while the secondhand 6m John Deere 750A was cut down accordingly.

When it comes to drilling, he no longer relies solely on the Sprinter with its low disturbance points. Mr Eckley now has the additional choice of a John Deere 750A.

 

“Our goal was to steer the farm into CTF and direct-drill strategies, so we could reduce compaction, cut costs and improve soil health,” he says. “And the two drills give flexibility with min-till and zero-till methods.”

 

While Mr Eckley is a fan of the Horsch, despite its use becoming less and less frequent, he is less complimentary about the 750A.

 

“The 750A is a complex piece of kit with some serious running costs,” he says. “But the results from direct drilling into cover crops speak for themselves. It has the advantage of disturbing much less soil than the Horsch, which means fewer weeds germinate.”

 

“We have carried out lots of field trials using both drills to see what works best and in what conditions, and we’ve direct drilled almost as successfully with the Sprinter as we have with the 750A,” he says. “But we do establish far cleaner crops when using the 750A simply because of the disc coulters.”

Root structure and soil health is improving for Eckley Farms.

While the two systems give him options, he says that the reduction in seedbed preparation and the lower establishment cost of direct-drilled, spring-sown crops has enabled the farm to invest further in cover cropping.

 

He says all his cover crops are lightly grazed by sheep until the end of January, after which soils are left to recover. The remaining cover crop is sprayed off before the 750A puts in spring crops in a one-pass process.

 

“Livestock helps to convert plant matter into manure, so we’re trying to advance the nitrogen cycle,” he says. “Our soil structure continues to improve and we’re happy with the progress, even if we’re carrying out our own research as we go.”

 

Mr Eckley does report an improvement in soil structure, plus better aeration through increased worm activity and biodiversity. He says that trash contributes to better surface water retention, plus a reduction in run-off.

 

“It is becoming clearer that our system is leading us towards better blackgrass management too.”

 

The farm’s CTF system revolves around a 9m combine header working at 8.8m. The two drills are modified to achieve 4.4m working widths and the farm’s 27m sprayer needs only one nozzle on either end of the boom to work as a section. This affords a 26.4m CTF grid.

Eckley Farms has had success with companion cropping – this mix of spring wheat and peas was separated in the grain store post-harvest.

All straw is chopped and spread, enabling organic matter to be put back into the soil.

 

Though the two drilling systems give him options, he says that reducing autumn cultivations has enabled the farm to cut back on inputs.

 

“Money saved on autumn seedbed preparation and establishment costs from switching to direct-drilled, spring-sown crops has enabled us to invest in cover cropping,” he says.

 

Mr Eckley urges other growers to be brave, and to try small areas in fields or half-field scale trials to see what could work for them.

 

“We carried out lots of field trials with both drills to see what worked best and in what conditions,” he says. “We have direct drilled successfully with the Sprinter. And our use of cover crops is helping to put more organic matter and different plant biology back into our soils.”

Farm facts

  • Location: Eckley Farms, Five Oak Lane, Staplehurst, Kent
  • Cropping: winter wheat, winter oilseed rape, spring sown beans, barley, wheat and oats, with all spring-sown crops preceded by cover crops
  • Soil types: green sand, loams and weald clay
  • Staff: Two full-time plus Guy Eckley and up to three harvest operators
  • Drills: 4.4m Horsch Sprinter ST, 4.4m John Deere 750A working on a 26.4m CTF grid
Twitter Facebook
Rating (0 vote/s)
Post a Comment
To see comments and join in the conversation please log in.

Related sections

Agronomy and crop protection

Agronomy and crop protection

News, features and analysis of the agronomy challenges growers and agronomists are encountering in modern day crop protection.
Farm features across all fields

Farm features across all fields

Features focusing on farming, food, people and history, from all walks of life.
Machinery reviews: on-test and first drives

Machinery reviews: on-test and first drives

Machinery, cars and ATVs, these are the best reviews and videos from all the latest test drives.
Science and technology in farming

Science and technology in farming

Bringing you the latest in technological advancements which could help shape farming's future.

More Insights

Where next for robotics?

Although research into automation of farming tasks is gathering pace, getting it into the field on a commercial scale remains a challenge.

User Story: JCB conversion gets to work

Launched at last year’s Lamma show, Knight Farm Machinery’s forward-control conversion, based on JCB’s latest 4000-series Fastrac, has been hard at work this year with Agrii. Geoff Ashcroft reports.

Buyer’s guide: JCB Fastrac 3000 Series

If you are seeking a 200hp tractor to handle a wide variety of trailer work, while still capable of field duties, a used JCB Fastrac 3000 should be on your shortlist.

VIDEO: On-test: Is this the future of round baling?

There is always scepticism when a manufacturer comes to market with a radical new product, but could Vicon be on to something with its non-stop round baler?

New event will help grow your business

An inspiring day packed full of motivational speakers and practical advice lie at the heart of a new event being brought to farmers wishing to grow and tackle some of the most common challenges in the industry. Danusia Osiowy takes a look at why The Business of Farming conference is one not to be missed.
FG Insight and FGInsight.com are trademarks of Briefing Media Ltd.
Farmers Guardian and FarmersGuardian.com are trademarks of Farmers Guardian Ltd, a subsidiary of Briefing Media Ltd.
All material published on FGInsight.com and FarmersGuardian.com is copyrighted © 2016 by Briefing Media Limited. All rights reserved.
RSS news feeds