Aiming to future-proof its cultivation practices, Angus based Lour Farms decided to invest in the latest ploughing technology. Richard Bradley got a user’s view of the Kverneland iPlough.
Lour Farms’ iPlough has carried out more than 240 hectares of winter ploughing.
While minimum and zero tillage systems may be all the rage in some parts of the UK, Mike Cumming, of Lour Farms, points out the plough is still king of cultivation north of the Forth River.
This is the reasoning behind the farm’s decision to stick with the plough, but make the job more efficient with the latest technology afforded by an IsoBus-controlled Kverneland iPlough.
Based at Ladenford, Forfar, Lour Farms comprises more than 810 hectares (2,000 acres), and operates a crop rotation strategy geared towards minimising potato cyst nematode in its 100ha (250 acres) of seed potatoes. To ensure PCN is kept under control, the estate’s seven-year rotational strategy includes winter wheat and barley, oilseed rape, and, at times, peas.
Taking the brunt of the farm’s workload are a fleet of John Deere 6R and 30 Series tractors, with a trailed Amazone UX4200 looking after spraying duties, and a Claas 770 Lexion with nine-metre header bringing the cereal crops in.
Generally working directly into ploughed ground, a 4m Amazone drill has traditionally taken care of drilling wheat and barley, but is to be replaced by a similar Kverneland machine, while OSR is planted via a Sumo cultivator and broadcaster.
For the past 10 years Mr Cumming says the estate has relied on a five-furrow Kverneland plough to annually invert about 600ha (1,500 acres) of the estate’s ground, which ranges from medium loams to light clay.
He adds: “Our old plough regularly performed with very little problems and always left a good finish. Appearance with a quality finish is essential for us, and I believe if we get our cultivations looking right, everything else should follow suit.”
Mike Cumming Lour Farms manager (left) with plough operator Michael Hiddlestone (right).
Once Lour Farms’ plough operator Michael Hiddlestone had finished 2016’s spring ploughing duties, the farm set its ambitions to trade the 10-year-old KV unit in at local dealer Netherton Tractors.
Mr Cumming says: “We have a long-standing relationship with Nethertons, as they are dealers for both Kverneland equipment and John Deere tractors, and the products and backup provided by them has kept us loyal to their brands.”
The deal initially saw an identical replacement for the existing plough, as Mr Cumming says he was more than happy with the machine. However, while out at the 2016 Royal Highland Show, Mr Cumming spotted Kverneland’s latest 2500 Series plough range.
He adds: “The plough stood out with its new slicker leg profile, as they were prone for wearing on existing machines. We also liked the simplified skimmer adjustment. From then on, even though we had a brand new plough sat in the shed waiting for its autumn debut, the seed was sown in my mind that the iPlough was something we should invest in.
“Substantial investments had already been made in precision equipment, and this seemed the next logical step. Also, if we stuck with the other plough I thought we may come to regret it in a few years as the iPlough’s technology could become common practice.”
Coupled with an operator who Mr Cumming says he knew would be able to get the most of the machine’s technology, he adds the business made the decision to invest the extra cash in a five-furrow iPlough.
While alternative options such as on-land ploughs were looked into, Mr Cumming says in-furrow ploughing still makes the most sense for their operation. “On-land ploughs are much heavier than in-furrow models, requiring larger tractors which do not suit our system to work with rows for our potato operation. Also, I do not believe these ploughs leave the same quality finish on headlands and corners.”
When it arrived at Lour Farm in November 2016 the iPlough was put straight to work behind the farm’s main tug, a Deere 6210R. Thanks to an IsoBus connection, the iPlough uses an RTK signal from the tractor’s Starfire receiver to set an A-B line. Via the plough’s hydraulic vari-width and on-board control trickery, furrows are kept arrow straight, even when matching up runs after ploughing around an obstacle, says Mr Hiddlestone. Called Furrow Control, the farm operates the system through KV’s TellusGo terminal.
Kverneland’s TellusGo touch-screen terminal looks after plough setup, and changes between different operating modes.
Mr Hiddlestone adds: “Setting up the plough is very simple via the in-cab terminal. Once you get your head around how the plough works it is very easy to use. One of the main advantages, along with maintaining a straight furrow, is the ability to adjust settings on-the-go, rather than having to stop working, adjust settings manually and try again.
“This means I can constantly adjust turnover angle by one or two degrees to leave a better finish when working across slopes, and working depth can be adjusted to suit changing soil conditions. Adjusting depth via the hydraulic wheel also gives us a better finish at furrow ends, as it lifts like a semi-mounted plough.” He continues to say how, thanks to saved plough setups, settings can be restored at the push of a button – up to nine setups can be saved and recalled.
He also points out how changing the plough between its different working modes, such as marking out headlands and full working mode is quick and simple, operated via the press of a button on the touch-screen terminal.
Previously, Mr Hiddlestone says he used to use the tractor’s automated steering to try and maintain a straight run, which, in a sense, did the job. However, he adds: “A GPS-guided tractor is always at the mercy of the previous furrow when ploughing in-furrow. Whereas allowing the plough to do the driving means I can concentrate on making sure the plough is doing the best possible job.”
The iPlough’s party piece: repeatable arrow-straight rows.
While the plough is able to work with furrow widths 30-60cm, Mr Hiddlestone says it generally works around 45cm, however, Furrow Control ranges can be set to keep the plough working at its maximum or minimum width, if required.
Making savings in time, he says how plough turnover, which is engaged via one button on the terminal and can adjust almost any plough function, can be tailored to suit different tractors. “As we are able to lift the plough to a decent height, we only have to pull the plough in partially for turnover, which saves time at headlands compared to our previous plough.”
Having carried out its winter duties for the 2016/17 season, Mr Hiddlestone has turned over more than 243ha (600 acres) with the iPlough, and few issues have been encountered. He says changing the plough from working mode, where it operates like a mounted plough, to road mode, where it pulls like a trailed implement thanks to its split headstock with pivoting cross-shaft, is not always practical as it requires engaging or removing five locking pins.
“Most of our land lies within a five-minute drive of the farmyard, so spending five minutes to release the pivoting headstock and depth wheel at either end of the journey would take us twice as long as the journey itself.”
While not Lour's machine, this image shows the iPlough's head stock split and cross-shaft pivoting for transport mode, allowing it to follow like a trailed implement.
Mr Cumming says Kverneland offers an option of hydraulic locking mechanism, which would allow the switch over to be done quickly via the in-cab terminal – KV says it is looking into a retro-fit system for current iPlough users.
Mr Hiddlestone adds: “If the changeover was quicker and more simple I would use it for every journey, as the plough travels brilliantly on the road and is handy for turning into fields, as there is no tail-swing as with most other mounted ploughs.”
Mr Cumming says he hopes, similar to the existing KV unit, the iPlough will last at least 10 years, and depite a hesitant first impression he adds he has no regrets with the extra investment.
“I find it difficult to see how the in-furrow plough, which has seen little change in the last 25 years, can advance any further than the iPlough.”