Fashionista farming

17 September 2014

On a Friday night I can be found having a social tipple down the local with selection of friends and villagers. With the local builder, carpenter, lorry driver, farmer, contractor, car salesman, gamekeeper, school teacher and, in this area, RAF personnel, so the topic of conversation can lead anywhere.

Pint in hand, the local builder asks, “where’ve you been today?”  “Well,” I said. “I’ve been walking behind a strip-till drill at an on-farm demo”. “Strip-till drill? What’s that? Is it like strip-jack poker?” chortled the builder. “No,” I said rolling my eyes and went on to describe the concept of strip-till drilling and the idea that it will help control black-grass by disturbing less soil and therefore leaving more weed seeds buried deep enough where they will not germinate.

“Wow,” said the builder, “and how much will one of them set you back?” “Depending on what options you have between, £60,000 and £70,000 for a 4-metre wide machine” I said.  “Cor!” said the builder, “and how many years must it last for?”  At that point the farmer leant in and said dismissively, “until the next drilling fad comes into vogue!”

He had a point. Up until then I was answering every question the builder had with sensible replies. In other countries around the world a seed drill would be used on-farm until completely worn out. But the likelihood is that strip-till drilling will be the next buzz word in drilling technology and every grower will feel peer pressure to ‘upgrade’. But to be fair to the manufactures, they will tell you that to get the best from your new drill it must be used as part of a programme of straw and stubble management, consolidation after drilling and, most important of all, a longer rotation including spring cropping, or your all new strip-till drilling regime isn’t going to work on black-grass. It’s a little like a weight loss programme that starts with eating less.

So, what’s it going to be? New strip-till on farm soon? Is it a silver bullet with no need to look at anything else or is it just one part of your total weed-management plan? If you go for the first option, your local machinery salesman may happily trade in the strip till drill you’ve written off as ‘useless’ for the next latest thing in just a couple of seasons from now.

If you are undecided at this point you could follow the AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Monitor Farms, some of whom are going down the strip-till route as part of a wider arable management programme. Will it work in poor conditions? How much power do these drills take to pull? What about the profit margin of crops now in the extended rotation? Can I use cover crops to improve soil condition? And can yields be maintained and establishment costs reduced?

All these questions I for one am aiming to answer, and will let you know any developmentsin the course of these blogs, so you can view your long term decisions on farm with a little more independent information, and I can get back to my builder in the pub!

Better still, get involved: join an Arable Business Group, contact us to start one or if you are close to a Monitor Farm, come along for a look at one of the meetings listed over the winter. Happy fashionable drilling!

Oilseed Rape On 5 Sept

Oilseed rape going in at the Driffield Monitor Farm on Friday 5 September.

(Using a John Deere 6170R and Sumo DTS 4 meter strip-till drill on wheat subble)



Based at Ashkam Bryan near York, Harry grew up on a beef farm in his native north Wales. Subsequently, Harry developed an interest in farm machinery that took him around the world working in agriculture. Having managed a plant breeding farm near Cambridge for Monsanto, in 2005 Harry joined John Deere as Crop Systems Specialist, from where he was recruited by AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds.