Investment in a wide Amazone tine drill for timely late autumn and spring drilling has provided a host of additional benefits for a large Hampshire arable farm.
“We are definitely not a typical Hampshire chalkland farm,” explains Neatham Farms Ltd Manager Matthew Ashton. “Most of our 1,000ha is a heavy silty clay which yields well, but it’s unforgiving and we must get everything right to ensure crops establish and perform well. “Approximately one third of the farm is Greensand over Malmstone which allows us to create an onion quality seedbed when conditions are right, but when it becomes wet after planting then it’s prone to slumping and capping so we have to be careful. We also have a smaller area of heavy red clay with flint, so with our range of soils it doesn’t take a lot to stop us drilling.”
The farming operation consists of three farms under single ownership, and as well as the arable cropping enterprise there are large areas of permanent pasture and woodland – much of it within environmental Stewardship schemes. There is a large, syndicated shoot, and simulated game shooting days are sold.
Herbicide-resistant grass weeds were a major problem in the past, but a zero-tolerance management regime which started five years ago is proving successful. Cultural strategies include a wider rotation and a change to late autumn and spring drilling, and hand rogueing is used when required.
“We farm for a long-term gross margin rather than with an eye on next harvest,” explained Matthew. “Considering the enterprise that way means we take a long-term view of the black-grass problem too.”
The crop rotation varies field by field, with the emphasis on keeping the farms clean of grass weeds. Crops include winter wheat, winter oilseed rape, winter barley, winter and spring beans, spring oats and peas.
Late autumn challenges
Drilling later in the autumn created challenges, as cultivating the heavy land when the weather had turned wet created large clay lumps which had to be broken down to create an acceptable seed bed, often resulting in reduced plant establishment.
A 4m disc drill was used in the past, but the discs smeared the heavy soils and Matthew invested in a 6m tine drill instead. “We considered various tine drills, all with a 6m working width and because we were part direct-drilling and part pre-cultivating we needed something flexible. The drill we chose had narrow tines in two 3m sections and on our undulating ground it struggled to maintain a constant seeding depth and uneven establishment made crops harder to manage.”
Matthew requested a demonstration of an Amazone Condor drill from Crawfords which proved successful and resulted in him placing an order for his own machine which arrived in time to establish all his spring cropping. The 12m drill was trialled in October 2021 in challenging wet conditions and it proved surprisingly easy to pull. “On a steep slope in wet conditions we cautiously put one tonne of seed in the hopper unsure whether we would be able to pull the drill up the hill, and our 300hp Fendt tractor pulled it easily with the engine operating at only 1,500rpm. Our own 6m drill behind the same tractor required 2,000rpm and there was noticeably more wheelslip.”
The Condor’s ConTeC pro coulters are individually mounted and move up to 65cm to accurately follow ground undulations while maintaining a constant seeding depth. Coulter pressures up to 120kg ensure effective penetration even in hard, dry ground. The coulters are spaced at 25cm and there is 80cm of frame clearance which allows large volumes of trash to flow through easily and helps avoid blocking. Matthew said the design works well, and the only time blockages have been experienced was drilling into laid pea stubble in damp conditions. However, the drill copes easily in standing cover crops.
High work rate
The Condor achieves average work rates of 50– 70ha per day. This is considerably more than the previous drill, despite a slower 8kph drilling speed compared to 12kph before.
“It requires a completely different mindset,” confirmed Matthew. “We get the output we need with so much less stress.”
Matthew is impressed by the service from the Crawfords team at the Ropley depot which supplied the drill. “Crawfords are relatively new in this area, but the team was keen to demonstrate the Condor and ensure it met our requirements,” he explained. “We use other Amazone machinery which was supplied by the previous dealer for the area so we had confidence in the brand, but knowing there is reliable back-up from a dealer like Crawfords is equally important.”
Since using the Condor drilling accuracy has improved. “We share field boundaries across the machinery fleet through our Gatekeeper farm management software, and the drill is controlled direct from the tractor through Isobus with GPS guidance through a Topcon system. Previously we increased the seed rate by 7–10 per cent to compensate for overlap, but now we are working on just 2 percent. Amazone AutoPoint measures the time taken for the seed to travel from the metering units to the sowing coulter, increasing the precision of the automatic part-width section control. It’s exceptionally accurate and avoids overlaps or misses where the working bouts meet the headlands.”
Three pressurised hoppers have a total capacity of 7,800 litres. They allow accurate rate control of complex cover crop mixes, and Matthew also intends to drill multiple wheat varieties simultaneously at different rates by utilising three hoppers with their separate metering systems.
The Condor has 25.0cm row spacing, whereas the farm’s previous drills were 12.5 and 15.0cm, but Matthew said yields have remained constant. Using the 12m drill rather than the previous 6m machine has halved the number of passes, with an associated reduction in wheelings and compaction.
Apart from a very shallow pass with a set of discs if sewage sludge is incorporated, no additional cultivations are needed ahead of drilling on the light Greensand. Direct drilling with the Condor into the firm surface layer and cover crop residues creates perfect conditions for crop establishment and reduces the risk of slumping and capping.
No pre-cultivations are used on the heavier clay soils either. The drill copes well in dry and wetter conditions and achieves an even seeding depth whether it is drilling direct into cover crops or stubble residues.
Since starting the move to reduced tillage five years ago, Nitrogen applications for wheat have been reduced by an average of 30 per cent. “Our goal is to become less reliant on artificial fertilisers and pesticides, and we have found that bringing in livestock to graze the cover crops removes a large mass of vegetation and reduces the amount of glyphosate required by one application while we also benefit from nutrients provided by the organic manure. Then we just make one application of herbicide pre-drilling with the Condor,” Matthew explained.
“Although we have benefitted from significant fuel savings since changing to the Condor drill, that wasn’t why it was chosen. We needed it because we struggled to achieve reliable establishment using other drills in the autumn, and because we seldom had the conditions required to create a decent seedbed in the spring.
“It’s proving ideal for autumn and spring drilling direct into stubbles and cover crops or into pre-cultivated land, and with three hoppers each with individual metering systems there is potential for us to experiment with complex seed mixes of cover crops and cereals in the future,” Matthew concluded.
The investment in the Amazone Condor drill has proven to be a game-changer for Neatham Farms Ltd.
The challenges of drilling in heavy clay soils and the need for reliable crop establishment have been successfully addressed with the Amazone Condor drill’s advanced features and capabilities. With its ability to maintain a constant seeding depth, accurately follow ground undulations, and handle varying field conditions, the Condor has significantly improved drilling accuracy and reduced tillage requirements.
Moreover, the Condor’s high work rate and impressive performance have boosted productivity on the farm, allowing for increased output with less stress. The support and service provided by Crawfords, the trusted dealer of Amazone machinery, have further contributed to the success of implementing the Condor drill. Their dedication to understanding the farm’s requirements and providing reliable backup and assistance have made the transition smooth and rewarding.
If you’re looking to enhance your drilling process and achieve optimal crop establishment, reach out to us for more information on the Amazone Condor drill. Experience the benefits firsthand and join the growing number of farmers who have embraced this innovative solution.
Contact Crawfords today to explore how the Condor can transform your farming operation.