|Primary Cultivation by the SL400|
Summer – Autumn – Indian Summer – and now Winter!
Life down on the farm has been a series of whirlwinds. July through to October is a hectic and very busy time of year for all at Lodge Farm.
Pretty much as soon as we started the wheat harvest, after gathering the grass and the oil seed rape crops, land was ready to be cultivated and this allowed John to roll out the big tractor. John has worked on our farm since he was eighteen years old and he has seen the transformation in machinery first hand. Today he drives our Claas Crawler which is 250Hp and is an invaluable tool which has the ability to cover the ground quickly. On the crawler tractors, the footprint of the tracks are much larger than those of a wheeled tractor; this allows the weight of the machine to be spread over the enlarged footprint, which also gives greater contact with the ground to help with the efficiency of transferring all that power into driving the machine forward.
The land work, known as cultivations, happens in four phases; Rotational, Primary, Secondary and Seeding. Many different machines are used and we have invested in some very expensive equipment to allow us to cover the farm as quickly and as efficiently as possible, so that the land is prepared in tip top condition and so that we maintain it in a very healthy state. Without good soil structure we would compromise the quality crops we strive for right from the start, so our aim is to keep the soil with a good healthy structure. On the clay based soil, we need to think ‘deep structure’. Compaction is the source of many problems. Compaction comes from farm traffic throughout the year on the fields, but rain hitting the surface also causes a degree of compaction - and other problems in some conditions.
Before any cultivations start we would already have a plan on paper of what each field requires. This is determined by what it has had in the past, what the past cropping was and what the field looked like throughout the previous growing year. Plants can’t talk but they still tell you when they don’t feel well or do not like where they are growing by going yellow, dying, falling over, or by sending roots out in all directions bar down! I keep notes on each field throughout the year, of anything I see as a problem and then build a plan to combat snags that I find.
The first machines to be pulled through a field are the rotational or fixers. These are the Mole Drainer and Deep Subsoiler. The mole drainer is a single blade that has a foot which pulls a ceramic expander behind it. The foot and the expander work at depths of 50-60cm deep in the clay sub soil. They create a hollow channel (like a mole tunnel in your lawn) that will aid the soil in removing water. The ‘mole’ is pulled every 3 metres over the whole field at 90 degrees to the land drains, which are permanent pipes set in the field at around 1m deep. This creates a lattice work of drainage channels deep in the clay to allow the winter rain to move quickly into the ditches, so that the soil does not become water logged. Plants don’t like sitting through winter with the roots in cold, wet soil, especially if the land freezes a number of times. You will soon see yellowing as the roots start to rot. The mole drainer is one of the most expensive processes we have to do on a 5 year rotation. It takes every 250Hp of the crawler to pull the single ceramic expander through the deep, tight, clay sub soil.
After any mole draining has been carried out, John moves on to the next deepest cultivator, the Subsoiler. This is a mounted machine that is attached to the tractor by the three point linkage. It has a strong frame with 5 winged legs attached to it; the legs are set about 50cm apart and are positioned to work just below the cultivation pan or compaction zone. The part of the soil structure that becomes compact is the top 30cm. This fine particle soil gets condensed and sometimes, if cultivations are carried out when the soil was not in perfect condition, it creates a ‘pan’ which is a smeared layer that holds up water and is hard for roots to break through if it becomes dry. The subsoiler legs have a wing on the bottom of them that is at an angle to the surface. As the cultivator is pulled through the soil, the soil is lifted up by the angled wing, shattering the condensed top soil. This relieves the compacted zone and breaks up the smear pan to allow water and roots to drive straight down deep into the soil. Again, this is an expensive operation and is relatively slow, so only parts of fields are done when they require it. Normally this would be areas close to the edges of fields where the large tractors turn and corkscrew the land tight with repeated passes over the surface. The general rules for cultivations are that as depth increases so does the cost and the work rates become less. Shallower soil movements are quicker and cheaper as machinery becomes wider and speeds higher.
The next passes for all fields are the Primary cultivations, these being the traditional Plough and the new modern Multi-Cultivators, ours being the Simba SL400. The plough is the traditional starting point for any seed crop. It turns the soil over, burying the leftover plant residue and leaving the bare earth to be broken up ready for replanting. It has its plus points such as no surface trash, weed seeds buried to rot, and allows the weather to start break down. It also its negatives such as unknown weeds brought up, expensive, potential creation of a smear pan and lots of wearing metal parts. We use it as a cultural barrier for black grass control and it spreads the work load and gives us the opportunity to cultivate at different depths, as we would be ploughing to about 25cm. The new modern multi cultivators use discs, tines and rollers to prepare a seed bed in one pass, something that is not possible with the plough, so saving money in the long run. The SL400 cuts and mixes the trash with a set of discs then large sprung-loaded tines pull the soil around at different depths, set by the driver depending on what the crop was - and is to be. Then another set of discs levels and creates some small soil particles know as tilth and a roller on the back consolidates it ready for the drill or a light cultivator before drilling.
|Secondary Cultivation by the Unipress|
The secondary cultivators go over the fields once they have either been ploughed or pulled up by the SL400. The secondary cultivators are lighter and use tines and rollers, so break up the drying clods to create lots of small particles. Then, when the seeds are placed in the soil, there is lots of soil-to-seed contact in a warm, moist and level seed bed. We use a Simba Unipress and a Toptilth in really dry conditions, both with levelling boards to drag soil along making it level, tines to knock the topsoil around and then rollers to consolidate and firm up the top few inches to be ready for planting. These machines are over 6m wide, therefore you can cover 45+ hectares a day easily with them. Again, timings are important, as we don’t want all the moisture dried out of the soil by the sun and wind, otherwise we are just stirring rock-hard boulders around.
The last phase is the planting and rolling. Our Drill that places the seed in the soil at the correct depth has a series of discs and a levelling board built into it to make sure that the seed is placed into fresh, moist soil. The larger seed, like beans, are placed deeper in the soil by the drill and the smallest, like oil seed rape or grass, are kept very close to the surface. Then we need to make sure the seed is touching lots of moist soil, so the drill has a roller on the back and we also roll everything with a set of 12m rolls to make sure soil and seeds have good contact. The rolling conserves moisture by not allowing the sun and wind into the top and it also helps to protect the seed from one of our main pests, the slug, as those slimy creatures do not like squeezing up through consolidated soil.
This all happens very quickly. John, Nick and I cover the farm in an organised circus one after the other. John does all the early cultivations, which require the big tractor. Nick does all the ploughing, followed by the secondary cultivations that John has not done because his tractor is by then needed to pull the drill, planting the seed at the set rate. I follow up behind with the rolls and chase John with the large bags of seed to keep him moving, so we don’t waste time. About 10 days after the drill has placed the seed in the soil, the green shoots start to appear and the farm changes from brown to green; the yearly cycle has begun again. BWB