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How one Devon farmer is succeeding with strip-till maize

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Devon grower James Lee is a eager advocate of minimal tillage on his heavy soils within the wetter West, however with regards to sowing maize it carries distinctive challenges.

Ideally, the crop wants a deep, friable seed-bed, which is why most farmers will plough or domesticate forward of it. However that entails having naked soil over the winter and spring, leaving it open to erosion and nutrient run-off after heavy rain.

See additionally: Maize trials present soil advantages of undersown grass mixes

Decided to discover a answer, Mr Lee has trialled numerous choices – and has now discovered one which actually works.

“I wished to ascertain the maize with much less cultivation,” he says. “Why domesticate the entire soil whenever you don’t have to?”

US trial

Six years in the past he tried a strip-till cultivator from the US, which did solely about half the job he wished. “It relied on the tine doing all of the work,” he says. “There was no secondary choice to domesticate the strip, so that you needed to do two passes.”

Though Mr Lee tried to get a wide range of producers to make what he wished, it wasn’t till he met Grange Equipment on the Groundswell occasion in 2019 that he discovered an acceptable associate. And this 12 months he obtained to make use of the second prototype model.

© Olivia Cooper

“It has a chopping disc earlier than the tine, which works by the trash and leaves any mulch between the rows. It’s adjustable, so that you get a greater seed-bed in a single move,” he says.

The strip until has a 50cm row width – though when it’s launched commercially it would even have a 75cm choice and auto-reset legs. With the tine reaching to as much as 30cm deep at 50cm width, that lifts the entire profile of the soil, guaranteeing an optimum seed-bed for the roots to get down. “The maize rows shut over higher, and we should always be capable to push yields extra.”

Cowl crops

Nevertheless, the strip until is simply a part of the story. The opposite component is introducing cowl crops to repair and scavenge nitrogen over the winter, enhance soil natural matter, and scale back the danger of damaging erosion and run-off.

Working with FABulous Farmers – a European mission to assist farmers transition to agro-ecological practices – Mr Lee approached the Westcountry Rivers Belief for assist.

Ross Cherrington, the belief’s senior farm adviser, explains: “James got here up with a canopy crop combine to scale back the danger of leaching nitrogen into the water. We funded the seed and institution – and if it really works we’d wish to see it rolled out additional throughout the catchment.”

Farm details: James Lee

  • About 170ha plus contracting service
  • Stoney medium clay loam
  • Cropping consists of oilseed rape, winter wheat, winter barley, maize and spring barley, with the odd crop of linseed, oats and beans

The combination includes winter beans to repair nitrogen and oats to scavenge it. “Should you simply have pink clover, this fixes nitrogen, however then releases it, and probably leaches it, when it dies again over the winter,” explains Mr Cherrington. “In distinction, the beans launch it slowly and the oats take it again up.”

Evaluation within the spring confirmed that the soil contained 30kg/ha extra nitrogen on account of the quilt crop. At about £385/t (on the time of writing) for ammonium nitrate, that’s a substantial saving, he provides. “It’s obtained to be financially viable.”

Final winter, Mr Lee planted a wide range of cowl crops; he had 3.6ha of berseem clover in a forage rape stubble, 5.3ha of the bean and oat combine, and 5.7ha of a various combined crop comprising oats, vetch, phacelia, fodder radish and stubble turnips.

Grazing

He completed Cheviot lambs on the oat and bean crop and grazed cattle on the various combine, unfold 25t/ha of farmyard manure within the spring, and sprayed every crop off a couple of days earlier than happening with the strip until.

He tilled the three.6ha on 5 Could and drilled maize the next day utilizing GPS and autosteer.

“Though we might until and drill in a single move I desire the flexibleness of a two-pass system,” he says. “It permits us a window for the soil to dry out if it’s too moist; at a price of £50/ha per move, it’s price establishing the crop proper. For me, it’s not about chopping corners; maize is so invaluable to us – that’s why it’s so vital to get an excellent crop.”

Mature maize plants

© Olivia Cooper

He then tilled the 5.3ha, after which it rained and rained. “We had 200mm of rain in Could, which made for ultimate circumstances to trial the system,” he says.

He managed to get the remainder of the maize sown on the finish of Could, and was delighted with the outcomes. “Even on our poorer discipline the crop jumped out the bottom. It was actually vigorous.”

 

Utilizing a brand new Kvernland precision maize drill, Mr Lee sowed the maize at 105,000 seeds/ha. Root progress was excellent, there was no soil erosion, and the additional nitrogen fastened by the quilt crops meant he might scale back his fertiliser prices, too.

“We utilized 123kg/ha of urea down the strip until leg at 6in deep after which 80-95kg/ha of di-ammonium phosphate with the drill, so the seed had all the things it wanted proper subsequent to it.” Two fields then had 20 litres/ha of foliar nitrogen to push yields.

“I’m actually happy with the way it all regarded, from crop to crop and hedge to hedge,” Mr Lee says. “It’s been nice enjoyable working with Grange Equipment, and I’m simply so happy with what we’ve obtained now – it’s bang-on what we would like.”

Subsequent 12 months

Having grown a variety of sorts together with favourites LG30207 and Asgaard, subsequent 12 months Mr Lee hopes to trial totally different varieties at various fertiliser charges. “As we’re boosting soil nitrogen, we might maybe scale back inputs additional.”

And there are institution financial savings too. “We’ve had a 50% value saving in establishing the crop: The bean and oat combine value £50/ha to ascertain, however we obtained not less than that again from grazing the sheep. The collaboration with Grange Equipment has yielded vital advantages in lowering the potential for soil erosion; with the fee financial savings and remaining outcomes, it’s simply been good.”

Creating the strip-till system

One in all Grange Equipment’s hottest bits of apparatus is a low-disturbance toolbar which could be connected to totally different machines, enabling one-pass strip tilling and drilling.

So when James Lee approached the agency to develop a bespoke strip until, the bottom work was already there.

Initially, they designed a modular system utilizing the close-coupled toolbar – which Mr Lee trialled in 2019. Working collectively, they then improved the system, shifting to a 3m fastened body to get extra even stress throughout the width of the machine.

“It wasn’t firming down between the rows to create a platform for harvesting equipment,” explains managing director Rhun Jones. “Foragers aren’t gentle, and we need to assist farmers get the crop off the sphere, not simply into it.”

The second prototype, which Mr Lee used this 12 months, included the flexibility so as to add fertiliser whereas tilling, and further discs to domesticate the tilth within the strip.

“If there’s a tough crust on the floor the leg naturally desires to burst it left and proper, so we’ve designed two wavy discs which could be hydraulically adjusted ahead and backwards both aspect of the leg, to convey the tilth again into the 150mm strip,” says Mr Jones.

“The rear double staggered discs could be hydraulically adjusted to go well with soil circumstances, and shatter any clod which stays, to create a finer seed-bed.”

Lastly, the Guttler Prism 560mm ring curler options excessive stress factors to interrupt down the final of the clods and consolidate the strip correctly.

“All maize drills use disc coulters and want a agency floor to chew into and journey,” he provides. “Higher consolidation additionally offers a weather-proof end so you may drill into it everytime you need.”

Grange is at present utilizing the second prototype on farms across the nation and might be bringing the ultimate model to market this winter.

“It may be used on any row crops; greens, brassicas, sugar beet, oilseed rape and maize,” says Mr Jones.

“It’s been a giant studying curve for us however we’re over the moon with the way it’s developed. Farmers are being tasked to maneuver much less soil whereas specializing in yield and efficiency – in comparison with ploughing and energy harrowing, it is a rather more refined course of.”

Maize: The outcomes

Having harvested the maize in early October, James Lee is delighted with the outcomes.

“It was a really, very pleasing crop,” he says. “You couldn’t fault it for evenness – and though it was moist on the finish of September the harvester glided over the soil floor – it left no mess and the circumstances had been ultimate for direct drilling the next wheat crop.

“Within the conventionally sown fields the wheelings prompted noticeable compaction which we would have liked to domesticate out, however the strip-tilled fields had been much more degree with a stunning friable soil construction.”

  • James Lee has been tweeting in regards to the progress of the mission all through the season. To seek out out extra comply with @leefarming on Twitter. He will even be talking, with Rhun Jones, in regards to the mission on the Midlands Equipment Present on 9 November.

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