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Cousins working together on our family owned farm with the aim of running a commercial modern farm producing high yielding, high standard crops while maximising wildlife diversity. Brian is said to be the farmer and conservationist, whereas Patrick is a conservationist and farmer. This mix has given a new direction for the farm, building upon the work that our fathers and grandfather has done to improve the overall success of the farm business. The farm has gone from strength to strength with the farm being recognised at a national level winning the coveted National FWAG’s Silver Lapwing Award for farming and conservation in 2009 and then Patrick and Brian were named Countryside Farmer of the Year by the Farmers Weekly in 2010.

Monday, 6 February 2012

The Kverneland Plough

Name:  6 Furrow Kverneland Plough
Operator: Nick Light
Visual Description: A fully mounted bit of equipment that attaches to the back of the tractor. It has a long beam extending away from the tractor, which has 12 (6 on the top and 6 on the bottom) moulded furrows which are large curved bits of metal held by a metal leg. There is a land wheel at the back which is used when in transport on the road, as well as in work. The plough is pulled through the surface of the field and the moulded metal breaks and rolls over the soil, totally inverting it so anything on the surface is buried below the surface left behind.
The Mould board
and smaller Skimmer
on the beam
Size: The length of the beam is about 12m but the beam is offset at an angle from the tractor, so that each of the 6 furrows pulled in the ground during work actually turns over the exactly the same amount of soil as its neighbour, therefore the working width is about 7ft wide. It has two rows of 6 furrows top and bottom to increase work rates because at the end of a pull up the field the tractor turns the plough over which reverses the plough 180 degrees and the furrows keep turning the soil in the same direction as the operation moves across the field. The furrow depth is set by the operator, depending on the soil conditions and the amount of unwanted, post harvest material that is left on the surface.   
Work rate: Ploughing is traditionally very slow but as the size of tractors has increased, the ploughs have followed suit with extra furrows being added, making them larger and larger. Some of the largest ploughs now have 20+ furrows but you need a huge tractor and a huge area to turn around in – and a huge area for it to cover each year. Our plough pulled by our Fendt 820 will cover on average 12-15ha a day depending on headlands and field size. 
Controls: The art is in setting the plough up correctly. Once this is done and the beam is level, the furrows are all level and being pulled at the correct depth, there is not much to alter or which can be altered from the seat of the tractor. The skimmers are a set of mini furrows that just scrap the soil surface before the main furrow, helping to turn over the stubble, so that it is buried deep down in the bottom of the main furrow following it. The trusted spanner is the chief way that this item is controlled or adjusted. Only one hydraulic spool valve is used to rotate the plough over to keep all the soil being moved in one direction. 
Cost: The costs for this machine are varied. We have the main outlay of about £15,000 for a new 6 furrow model but the real costs are in the wearing parts. Wearing parts are all the parts of any machine that are in contact with the soil as it is pulled through the ground. There is a lot of friction caused and this makes the metal wear away as the pressure builds up. The plough has been designed with replaceable points, shins and mould boards so that you have to replace minimal amounts of parts but the high pressure parts get replaced more frequently. Diesel and time are high costs as well; the fuel usage is expensive as you are moving all the soil on the field to a depth of 8-10inches, so the engine of the tractor burns a lot of diesel in this process. It is also a slow process, due to the speed you can pull and the width of the machine. The old saying of ‘the shallower you move the soil, the quicker and cheaper it is,’ comes to mind!
Jobs it does on the farm:  So what does it actually do and why has it been the farmer’s traditional implement to use straight after harvest for generations? It does two things really well. Firstly, it buries all the old stubble waste material left after harvest. This is what we call ‘trash’: unwanted plant material left by the combine. If left, it will allow pests like aphids and slugs to survive, which will attack the new crop to be grown. It also becomes damp and difficult to work in wet winters, of which we have not had one for a while but we are due one! So, by burying it, we turn over new soil which is easier to work in preparing a seed bed. Also, mixed in this plant material there maybe some weed seeds shed throughout the previous year. Grass weeds like Black Grass can shed 100 seeds from each of its 8-9 heads, so you could have 900 small unwanted seeds from each plant. Some may germinate before the plough turns them over, so will die covered in the depth of soil but if they have not germinated they get buried. The seed then sits deep down in the soil and will not have a chance to germinate, lying dormant, but as they do, the soil moisture starts to rot them and kills them before they ever have a chance to be brought up to the light by subsequent cultivations. Research shows that 60% of seed buried by the plough does not survive, so if 10% germinates before ploughing and another 60% dies in the soil we are starting to manage our 900 seeds quite well, as we only have 30% left. This is why it has been used for generations. It was the only cultural control for farmers against weeds before the development of agri chemicals such as our vast array of herbicides. So secondly, we use the plough for that reason today, giving us a cultural natural kill on unwanted weed seed. Because of new machinery, like the SL400 Cultivator, we do not have to keep turning the soil over each year and so the killing or rotting of seed is extended to two, three or even four years, reducing the pressure of needed success from herbicides. Some farmers love, and some farmers have discarded, the plough; we like a flexible approach between the plough and minimal soil movement techniques, so we are not relying on one system too much, in what might turn out to be the wrong year. 

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