Cover Crops – the next step

My first year of zero-til with the 750a has given me great confidence in its ability to cope with extreme trash residue from previous crops.

The success I saw drilling on the green WOSR volunteer crops has encouraged me to push the idea further and invest in my soils planting cover crops that will hopefully capture sunlight and water in a period when land would otherwise be bare,  sustain and improve soil biology and fertility

Crops were established as soon as practical behind the combine at harvest and the results so far encouraging

this was  home brew mix that has produced very impressive biomass very quickly – Mustard, linseed, oats, sunflower and some peas – very cheap and I think rather successful



I planted “pedder #1″ mix on a lot of acres – the level of bio mass achieved being pretty much directly proportionate to establishment date,  lesson is these crops need to go in early as possible,  higher seed rates for better ground cover or maybe even a low rate of N to promote rapid growth

There is a lot going on below the surface,  roots doing the subsoiling job for me !

along with these guys who seem to love and really appreciate the cover crops

the multi species mixes all seem to bring different things to the party !  hopefully nutrition improvements  will reduce fertiliser costs in the next crop

looking forward to spring and getting the drill direct into these cover crops


Companion Cropping – Peas and SOSR


After WW – stubbles 1 pass with carrier last week, I would have drilled direct but stubble needed levelling after harvest damage and I also felt that soil might warm faster if I turned it brown !  I guess if nothi g else this does prove that the &%0a is just as happy in a cultivated situation as it is direct –  versatility is important in anyone’s system

drilled April 21st 2103 soil temp 9 deg c

Crackerjack spring blue peas tgw 275 seed rates 180-250kg /ha

Earlybird SOSR 3.5tgw seed rate 2 – 3.5kg/ha



The idea is that the N fixing of the Peas will help fertilise the SOSR the and the SOSR. Will support the peas making combining easier, The harvested mixture to be separated by rotary cleaner at store

50% of total N will be applied tomorrow as DAP and Centium will be used pre-em tomorrow

Will either be a complete nightmare or work well !!





Showing in rows



Update – peas dominating so far. Centium has worked a bit well and checked sosr a bit I think leaving some bleached leaf

looks like the peas are about to start contributing some N though now







Quick update – spring rape just starting to flower now




harvest time ! – SOSR doing its job supporting peas,  where we didn’t drill osr the peas are VERY flat

Sample pre separation






Sample cleaned out well over a rotary cleaner - variable costs were £175/ac
Gross output /ac was 1.6t peas – not sold yet but offered £330 (£528) last week plus 279kg OSR £320 ?? = (£89.28) = £617

GM about £ 442/ac which is respectable for the year

Seed (both pea and sosr) was expensive last year as everyone wanted spring crops – home saving will knock a good chunk of the VC’s next year

Drill Modifications for 2014

Quite a lot of work been done to the 750a in anticipation of the 2014 cropping season.  We bought the machine used knowing it had quite a lot of wear that would soon need sorting out,  the drills computer shows 9999ha work done when we bought it so its certainly covered in excess of that area over the last few seasons !

Hopper extension ready for paint


Drawbar strenghtened to cope with the extra weight


Rear frame – axle strengthened (we have had cracking in this area)


Also a pretty extensive rebuild of the coulters has been done – most pins and bushes have been replaced to eliminate free play,  some were JD parts and others we had made at a local machine shop at much lower cost


Unable to buy new tyres for the 60 series depth it was more economic to replace complete wheels with newer 90 series units,  Coulters and seed boots were also upgraded to 90 series for better seed placement.

750a rebuild.JPG

Seed firming wheels changed for the slimer profile V8 wheel from Needham AgUSA

Needham AG Wheel

and seed tabs changed for Bonilla seed tabs

Heavy Duty Bonilla Seed Tabs

Not a cheap and a lot of man hours involved but a very comprehensive rebuild with improvements that take the drill to currently 90 series 750a spec and beyond,  Ready for the next 9999ha of work now !


So how did it all work out then ?

A few pictures that will be familiar from earlier in this blog vs how they looked the first week of June

Wheat into WOSR volunteer green cover


June 7th taken from as close to the same position as I could get




June 15th – same place



Wheat after oats – the day it was drilled



And the 7th June (very light land not enjoying the heat wave !)


Considering what a difficult season 2012 has been for combinable crop I think the results are very pleasing.  In summary, lots to learn but an encouraging start


Time on my hands over the Christmas break and chance to take a look at the cost implications between our old mi- till and this seasons direct drilling systems. Although saving money is not my primary motivation for the system change the lower power requirement and one pass nature of direct drilling will inevitably bring financial savings. The differences in fuel use are an obvious place to start.

Min-till system autumn 2011

6m Simba solo r plus 609hp challenger mt875c tractor – 80 l/hr covering ave 4ha per hr = 20 l/ ha

6m vaderstad rapid cultivator drill plus 330hp JD8530 tractor – 60 l/hr ave covering 4ha per hr = 15 l/ha

12m Simba Cambridge rolls plus 160hp tractor – 15 l/hr ave covering 10ha per hr = 1.5 l/ha

Total min-till system fuel use – 36.5 l/ha

Direct Drilling system autumn 2012

4m JD 750a drill plus 160hp JD6930 tractor – 14 l/hr covering 3ha/ hr = 4.6 l/ha

No need for a totalling up here as that’s it ! 4.6 l/ha total to direct drill

the saving between the 2 systems is some 32.5 l/ha of diesel – at 67ppl that a massive £21.78 saving in fuel use alone !  if those savings were applied over a 2000ac of farm that’s not far short of a £17,500 saving !  significant i’m sure you will agree and I don’t see the diesel price getting cheaper anytime soon either

Maybe someone brighter than me can calculate reduction in carbon footprint that has provided ? certainly step closer to a more sustainable future


Drilling on a frost

Couple of good frosts over the last couple of days have hardened ground enough to travel so, although unconventional, we thought we have nothing to loose taking the drill out to see if it could do a job in these conditions.

The fields in question today are just a couple of small bits that are parts of blocks of land already drilled that we didn’t get done before wet weather beat us, if this works or not it will be no great loss so surely worth a try !


this is the field, it was winter oats and had sewage sludge applied back in September therefore it did get a cultivation from a set of discs as is legally required when applying sewage sludge. This cultivation was probably the reason it didn’t get drilled when the rest of the block did !

so here it is after the drill has been through – slot closing and most seed covered well, seed rate is 200kg/ha here variety Cordiale with a TGW of 42, no slug pellets being applied as I reckon pressure should be much lower now frosty weather is here




Short video of the drill at work

I think it’s going quite well so the plan is to get set up latter today to put a 100ac block in tomorrow early morning

November Rain

Over the last few days we have had a total of over 80mm of rainfall. This on top of what has been to date the wettest year for over 100 years here has left land sodden, local roads flooded and thousands of acres underwater

After lunch today I decided to take a look at a few blocks of our wheat to see how badly they had been affected, honestly I feared the worst and that much of it would probably be underwater but what I did see is truly remarkable.

The picture below shows one of our fields of wheat that has been pictured before elsewhere in this blog, I couldn’t believe how well it has taken this latest deluge of water, In previous dryer years this is a field that does suffer from some wet areas – but today it looks just fine !


turning around 180 deg and looking through the hedge to neighbors land which is of identical soil type, the same elevation and was established within a week of our crop using a plough and power harrow combo this is what I could see !……………I don’t fancy it’s chances at all


even our headlands seem to have escaped water logging which was something we regularly saw when we used the vaderstad drill


and here is what my boot looked like after walking over about 100ac didn’t even bother to change to my wellies ! incidentally this was one of the fields that was maybe 1ft tall with volunteer OSR when drilled 7 weeks ago, trash has mostly gone now as the worms pull it into the ground


I really am finding this remarkable now, I expected soil structure to improve over time but really had no expectations to see changes like this so soon, it would travel with a sprayer if we needed to.

Mid November Update

A quick look around crops today I had chance to take a few pictures – things not looking bad really despite the constant wet weather and high slug pressure this season. Certainly looking over hedgerows at neighbours crops established via more conventional methods I would not want to swap positions with them right now !

Wheat after OSR looking down the rows


After oats



We have kept well on top of slug problems so far despite vast numbers present pre drilling. I think that drilling crops with minimal soil disturbance has kept the problem on top and therefore much easier to target with pellet applications.

We have used exclusively Ferric Phosphate based pellets this year, this natural product is certified for use in organic farming systems and is less harmful to soil organisms and biology which I hope over time will help the build up of natural predators to slugs and other pests.

The presence of volunteers plants from the previous crop has many advantages. It has given the slugs something other than wheat to feed on reducing pressure, helped to dry and cultivate soil through it’s rooting and ultimately as it dies back will return valuable organic matter and nutrients to the soil. We plan to use mixed species cover crops to further improve the soils ahead of spring crops and “harvest” as much sunlight and water as possible, we are working towards a situation where we never have a bare field with the cover crops or volunteers filling in the gaps between our cash crops.

Second Wheat

Ok so this was never part of the plan but needs must in a difficult weather year ! so drilling some second wheat today


slot closing very well really considering less than ideal conditions


Hire 6930 has gone back now so using our only tractor – plenty of power not that it’s needed but just looking at fuel use still only 3.5l/ha being used despite this obscene use of HP ! We have removed all weight from the tractor getting it down to just under 11t allowing the Michelins to be run at 6psi – i’t not ideal though and the tractor is a hang over from our old mintill system that will hopefully be swapped for something lighter, cheaper and lower powered for next year



It will get 3l/ha of glyphosate within the next 7 days – hopefully slugs will be less of an issue here after wheat rather than the OSR – there are some sticky headlands that might not look so pretty but I think with 30% of our wheat still to get in we have to push things a little now

Wheat Update

Bit of an update from a look around today



starting to look more like a sown crop now, pleased with how headlands have come

slugs are grazing though in places and we might loose a few patches yet

overall very happy, it would not have looked like this had we established with our old routine