Delayed drilling is known to be a major tool in the armoury against black-grass, but frustrated in his search for a machine to perform on wet or heavy land, one landowner has developed his own. Jane Carley reports.
The seed drill is described by Simon Chaplin of Cambridgeshire manufacturer Triton Drills as the ‘fly half’ of the machinery shed.
He says: “Every combine will cut it, every sprayer will spray it, but the drill dictates the game.”
It was this which led him to develop the Triton drill, designed to offer cultural control of black-grass, and now producing some impressive results on his own and customers’ farms.
“My family became involved in farming by buying land as an investment and for quarrying for our core construction interests.
Farming across Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Kelso, each farm offers very different conditions, but similar challenges.
“The Cambridgeshire site’s silty clay is good growing land but herbicide resistance was clearly building up. We needed to create stale seedbeds, but as the farm was just 19 metres above sea level, once it turned wet it was impossible to get back on to drill.
"We also have farms in Scotland with more friable soils but that will not hold a tractor in wet conditions either.
Its Wellingborough, Northamptonshire farm is also on heavy soils with resistant black-grass.
“We realised that we needed a one-pass drill, and tried a number of brands. Trying to get a late crop in at Wellingborough, it was clear that none of the drills could go straight in on truly heavy land, so we set about designing our own, which is how the Triton was developed.”
Mr Chaplin’s seeding blade concept is designed with a downward facing front edge for minimal soil disturbance to avoid bringing weed seeds up, but with a leading point to lift and aerate the surface, and a sloping bottom edge for lower draft.
Seed is carried on a long bar behind and directed to either side of the ‘terrace’ created, where it sits away from any excess water in the bottom of the slot. Depth is also controlled by the bar and its raised tail. By placing seed either side of the leg, two 25mm bands are sown in the 167mm row spacing, increasing competition for black-grass.
Behind the seeding leg, a seedless side press blade runs between two rows closing the drill slot by pushing the soil between them sideways. The two plus one layout of the legs gives the drill its ‘Triton’ name, plus 760mm underframe clearance for improved trash flow.
Further depth control is provided by a lightweight trash rake and the tractor’s hydraulics, the transport wheels being carried above the surface to avoid compaction.
The first drill was ready in autumn 2017, and used to drill half of the farm, starting on November 1 with the final crops going in on January 15, using home saved, untreated wheat.
“I still had spring seed in reserve, but did not need it, the first year yielding 9.7 tonnes per hectare at our Great Abington, Cambridgeshire farm with no break crops or spring crops.”
The Cambridgeshire farm has the dubious distinction of being the first to be classified with five star resistant black-grass 30 years ago, yet Mr Chaplin has now taken the whole farm to continuous wheat.
“We are increasing cultural control of black-grass by delaying drilling so we can cut chemical use – only 40 per cent of the crop is sprayed with flufenacet, and we have been able to increase diflufenican to 0.2 litres/ha because we no longer have oilseed rape in the rotation.”
Mr Chaplin points out that the seeding blade design is suitable for all combinable crops in all conditions, the purchaser only needing to choose the required working width and type and location of tank. Drills range from 3m rigid to 6m folding models.
On his own land, black-grass patches are mapped and treated accordingly.
He says: “The Triton drill uses non-inversion vertical tillage. For severe black-grass we leave the stubble untouched until late-September and effectively use the drill as a stubble rake, but at full depth. The narrow blade cuts through, rather than bringing soil up, and has an ‘abrasive’ action on buried black-grass seeds encouraging them to chit. The leg can work down to a maximum of 220mm.”
Using GPS to work in the same slots, the Triton later returns to the field to drill, he says.
“One issue with late direct drilling is that the tractor can lose grip and compromise the sowing quality, but by putting the blade down into the same slot and working in the same direction, it is easier to pull and also reduces any further disturbance of black-grass.
"A smaller, lighter tractor can be used, which is also of benefit as conditions become wetter while the vertical action of the blade avoids layer smearing.”
Mr Chaplin suggests that one common error made last season was waiting for top layers of soil to dry out so that disc drills could go.
“The soils underneath were still wet, so this led to compaction and damage. If your crops allow it, you could drill in October with the Triton – when the wet weather first set in last autumn, it was still dry underneath but other drills could not go. We were able to drill without causing any damage even though the top soil was sticky.”
On his own land, drilling is carried out 20 hours per day in two shifts, and with forward speeds of 1 to 18kph, plenty of ground can be covered.
The Triton has also successfully been used to establish oilseed rape on the business’s Scottish farms by taking out every other pair of seeding blades to give a 540mm row spacing again with two bands to the row, producing plenty of pods. From 1.92 to 2.88t/ha, yields have increased to 4.32t/ha.
Fertiliser can be piped down the slot from a second distributor head, giving a starter effect between the rows and leaving some nutrients on the surface for the spring, and at £495/m, Mr Chaplin points out that it is a cost-effective way of adding fertiliser capability to a drill. A slug pellet applicator can also be added to blow pellets down the same pipework.
Power requirement is 50hp/m with a 4m drill well matched to a 200hp, 7.5t tractor for high output.
Drills are built by Covenbrook Engineering of Braintree, with special builds modified in the workshops at Great Abington. Tanks of 1,600 or 2,200 litres and metering systems are sourced from Alpego or Bednar, the pressurised tank on the latter models favoured for its consistency in putting seed down. A line seeder similar to that used on overseeders is a more economical option and has been specified for a dairy farming customer to establish his own maize.
Triton Drills currently has 50 machines out in the field, including some in Europe. Worldwide patents have also been granted for various aspects of the Triton seed drill.