6th February 2007


A high-output single pass establishment system for 1700 acres of oil seed rape has slashed costs and achieved a near perfect crop in its first season on a large-scale farming operation in Notts.

Single Pass Establishment ImageFarmeco Ltd is a joint venture farming group with four farmers pooling their resources.  Based at Starnhill Farm, Granby Lane, Bingham, the company farms approximately 1400 hectares (3500 acres). Cropping is split 50/50 between winter wheat (Gladiator and Alchemy) and oil seed rape (mainly NK Bravour plus some Winner) with a little bit of setaside.

“Historically, we have tried most rape establishment systems,” explains Keith Challen, Farmeco’s managing director.  “We’ve direct drilled, and we’ve cultivated and then gone in with a direct drill.  More recently, we’ve autocast with the combine with limited success.

“But some of the more intense establishment systems were just too expensive.

“Now we have a single pass establishment system where one man and one tractor can effectively cultivate and drill the whole 3,500 acres, and that’s worked very well.”

Single pass establishment system

All the rape has been established using two OPICO Variocast 8 hydraulic seeders mounted on a 6 metre Simba Solo ST shallow tine cultivator.

“One pass behind the combine with the two seeders, one applying rape seed in front of the rear press and the other applying slug pellets behind it. That effectively is our rape single pass establishment system,” says Mr Challen.

They started drilling rape on August 12 as soon as the combine moved into the wheat, and finished on September 2. Average output was 100 acres a day with one man driving a 450hp John Deere tractor.

Key advantages, says Mr Challen, are being able to establish the rape in one pass with the advantage of deep loosening to avoid suffering from any compaction or waterlogging issues.  “With the design of the cultivator we are able to get good consolidation as well for good soil-seed contact and germination levels.

“So on the whole it’s given us the best of both worlds. I wanted to get a single pass establishment operation we had with the combine but with the benefits of the cultivation we had with the two-pass system. 

“We had changed our cultivation system prior to this autumn from a two pass to a one pass establishment system so putting the seeders on the cultivator was the obvious way to do it.”

When they looked at what seeders to put on, they felt that OPICO offered them more precision.

“We wanted the bigger hoppers, plus the flexibility of on-the-move rape adjustment. Also, a system that could be automated and work from radar irrespective of the forward speed so that we would always get an accurate application rate.  There was nothing else on the market.”

Establishment “very good”

Not surprisingly, because the system is so simple, it has proved extremely reliable. “We’ve seen no problems at all,” says Mr Challen.

Single Pass Established osr“The single pass stablishment looks very good and more even than what we’ve achieved in the past, possibly because we’ve maintained the soil moisture by doing the job in one pass.  Historically we’ve cultivated in mid August, the seedbeds have dried out and germination has been patchy in relation to the soil moisture.  This year it’s noticeably more even.”

Most important, the cost of establishment has dropped dramatically. “Our current system’s costing about £24 a hectare whereas in the past it has cost up to £40 per hectare.

“So I’ve no hesitation in establishing all our rape with this method next year.”

Most of the company’s land is heavy clay although there is some sandy loam. Keith Challen, who has been with the group since its establishment in 1998, is a keen advocate of minimum tillage.

“We have been min tilling for 15 years and at Farmeco for eight,” he says.  “Our soils are in good condition.  We’ve spent time and money doing remedial work to get compaction nearer to the surface.  We haven’t ploughed for 15 years and we are really reaping the benefits of min tillage now.”

Part of the company’s philosophy is to manage compaction to tramlines and headlands. The combine runs on tracks, trailers and tractors run on flotation tyres.

Straw chopping and spreading is one of the key aspects of this method of rape establishment, says Mr Challen. “You need to chop the straw finely then spread it as evenly as possible.  It incorporates in the aerobic zone so you get quite rapid breakdown.”

For re-establishment should the rape fail for any reason, the Group can fall back on their set of 9.3 metre OPICO rolls equipped with a front ShattaBoard and Variocast seeder. “We haven’t needed to do that yet but it is another option open to us,” says Mr Challen.

Please click on a picture to enlarge.