Lamma 2011 - Dale drill proves its varied merits

The Eco-Drill from John Dale was judged best new implement at Lamma 2010, and JANE CARLEY discovers that it is also winning accolades from one of the first farmers to purchase this flexible establishment tool.

WITH 650 hectares (1,600 acres) in hand and a further 480ha (1,200 acres) worked on contract, John Neesham Farms of Lincoln, is managed by Matthew Neesham. With his father Gerald and one other member of staff to work the acreage, productive machinery is a must.

The farm moved on to a controlled traffic system this season, necessitating the replacement of the existing 6m min-till drill.

“We were already aiming to increase accuracy and cut costs by drilling with GPS guidance, but I realised I could make further economies by using controlled traffic to reduce compaction,” says Matthew Neesham.

With the system comprising a 36m sprayer, 9m Vaderstad TopDown and 9m header on the farm’s John Deere S690 combine, the requirement was for a 9m drill, but Mr Neesham was surprised at how few manufacturers could offer this width.

Competitive price

He looked at a number of makes, but the competitive price of the Dale Eco-Drill and the Market Rasen-based company’s willingness to adapt it to the farm’s requirements, won the day.

“I could see it was a good design, and it is nice to be able to buy British, especially from such a local manufacturer,” he says.

“The drill wheels are at the rear and set at 2.5m centres, but otherwise it is pretty much a standard model.”

The drill was delivered in July, and Mr Neesham decided to trial direct seeding, making use of the Eco-Drill’s tungsten carbide tipped tines, generous clearance between the legs and adjustable hydraulic downforce.

“I have always been interested in direct drilling and the savings on offer, and it was so successful, we ended up establishing 60 per cent of the 800 hectares under autumn crops in this way.”

With a wide variety of soil types on the farm and cropping including wheat, barley, rape and linseed, with a proportion of spring crops, the drill needs to be versatile. “We will aim to direct drill in the spring too, if it is dry enough, but we have the option to cultivate if necessary,” says Mr Neesham.

“It was good to have that flexibility this autumn too, but in reality, the output of a 9m drill means that you can afford to wait for drier conditions.”

Tine spacing can be adjusted from 25cm down to 12.5cm and the hopper – which has a substantial five-tonne capacity – is split to accommodate both grain and fertiliser.

Mr Neesham praises the individually sprung tines which follow ground contours well, and the ability to adjust seed rates on the move using the drill’s RDS controller.

Guttler wheels follow the tines, which he says close the slot well and avoid smearing on wet soils.

The drill has handled seed rates from 2kg/ha (0.8kg/acre) for rape to 220kg/ha (89kg/acre) on the wheat, and has proved to be very accurate, enhanced by using RTK guidance.

The design of the tines means a low power requirement and the 9m unit can be pulled ‘comfortably’ by a 180hp JD7530, using just 5l/ha diesel.

Tractor sale

“We used a 220hp JD7930 on the previous 6m drill, but we have now been able to sell this tractor, which is another saving.”

Mr Neesham says a controlled traffic system lends itself to direct drilling, as it cuts out the compaction which can threaten yields.

“Managing the whole process will be the key to success, and this includes minimising travel on the field and even the headlands.

“The process starts with the combine – the S690 is on tracks, and can spread residues across the full 9m width.”

Other aspects include monitoring slugs, although he believes weed pressure may actually decrease in the future, cutting spray costs.

“Avoiding disturbing the soil other than in the slots created by the tines should discourage weed germination.

“We have always taken a rather robust approach to weed control, but have already seen improvements - in one field, where we would normally spray in the autumn as well as before drilling, we have not needed the second application.”

Emergence has been even and consistent, and Mr Neesham says he is very pleased with the drill’s performance in its first season. Cutting out a second roll and the cultivation pass saved £50/ha (£20/acre) in operating costs too.

“I was comfortably covering 60ha/day this autumn, and it should be possible to drill 80ha/day, so there are possibilities to increase the acreage if we were offered another local contract.

“I stick to 10kph rather than going too fast, because this can cause ridging and the aim is to minimise soil disturbance.

“Farmers have a certain view of how a field should look when it has been drilled, so direct drilling is a leap of faith. It is a bit nerve-racking until the crop grows above the trash, but I am very happy so far,” he adds

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