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4 th April 2005


Cheaper establishment, coupled with improved germination and cropping are among the benefits recorded during the past two seasons by a Northants family farming enterprise after introducing Till-Seeding on 250-300 acres of winter oil seed rape.

This autumn the plan is to extend the system to 600 of the 1000 plus acres of the crop, with the remaining acreage being direct drilled.

With a further 700 acres acquired last harvest, John Hilsdon and his son Fred of Harrowden Farms Ltd, Wentworth Farm, Great Harrowden, Wellingborough, are now responsible for a total of 3200 acres, the main block lying between Wellingborough and Kettering.

Crops are Winter wheat – Claire and Robigus for first wheats, Einstein and Malacca for second wheats - and 414 ha (1030/40 acres) of oil seed rape, principally Winner with some Castile and Expert. The land varies from limestone brash at Barton Seagrave to a lot of heavier clays mixed with ironstone in the Wellingborough direction, often in the same field.

The Hilsdons have been growing oil seed rape for over twenty years and have been using a min-till disc and press based system for much of that time.

“We always disked and pressed for rape and then we’d use either a spring tine or power harrow in front of the air drill and then the rolls,” explained Fred Hillsdon. “Frequently, we were having to disc and press twice, at very high speeds, with a Challenger and big Simba,

“We found the down side was the compaction. We felt that the rape really needed to be lifted and sometimes we would run though with a shallow subsoiler at about a foot deep at relatively high speeds.

“Then we decided to go down the one pass route and found with oil seed rape, if we cut the number of passes down to keep the moisture, it was a lot better. That was one of the reasons for the disc and press system: we were finding double pressing behind the discs was keeping the moisture, which is critical at that time of the year.

“We reasoned that if we could use the OPICO seeder as well, we could still Cambridge roll behind and have a slug pelleter mounted on the rolls to allow us to put the pellets where they were needed,” said Fred. “So in two passes we had got a crop which had been disked and shallow tined, pressed, drilled, rolled and slug pelleted.”

The system would also ease the pressure on manpower at a busy time. “There’s just myself and two full time chaps plus students at harvest, so we are a bit tight on labour,” says Fred.

Obviously with such a big acreage and the weather, there was also a requirement to be as flexible as possible. “We felt for the cost it would add another option for our oilseed rape establishment because we’d still got the Vaderstad drill. So if the timing wasn’t quite right we could run through with the Discordon, pack it down, then drill and roll a couple of weeks later.”

Current practice is to combine the first wheats and rape, then cultivate for the first wheats after oilseed rape with the 4.7 metre wide Gregoire-Besson Discordon disc and tine combination, perhaps mole drain some land in front of it, then double press the worst areas afterwards. The ground is then left for the best part of 6/7 weeks until early September when it is sprayed and drilled with a Vaderstad Rapide, followed by the Cambridge rolls. Discordon

Second wheats are treated in much the same way, while for oil seed rape they usually use the Discordon with the OPICO Variocast electronic seeder mounted on the back, blowing the seed in between the back set of discs and the rear packer roller.

“The Discordon has nine lifting tines and most of the time we are tining the ground down to 8 inches plus,” says Fred. “But we can alter the tines on the move and can go down a foot if we need to.”

Oilseed RapeOn the experience of operating the Till-Seeding system for two seasons – albeit on relatively small acreages - Fred is confident enough to say that “with the right weather conditions we would have no qualms about doing the entire rape acreage that way.

“Labour saving is the big factor. Also, it’s so important to get the establishment right and to get the crop up and away. We don’t do seed dressing any more because establishment is a lot quicker, the slug problem tends to be less when you have such a vigorous crop and if you put Nitrogen on early, it smothers the weeds.

oilseed rape“Root structure has improved”, adds Fred, “and we are getting a higher percentage of plants growing so we will be looking at reducing seed rates with the Variocast system.”

Direct drilling will continue on lighter land or where the land is in good structure.

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