OSR Harvest at Springfield Farm

July 25, 2017 3:57 pm

By Martin Lole
Arable farmer and owner of Springfield Farm, a Mzuri Trial Farm in Pershore, Worcestershire, UK

A few weeks early this year, harvest is now under way. We first rolled out the combine into rape on 14th July. Less than a week later, it’s all wrapped up and I’ve got a wide smile on my face. We’ve broken our yield record this season – here’s how we did it.

Three methods of establishment

We planted three different field size trials in Autumn 2016 to see which method returned the best yield:

Rape into wheat stubble in full striptill mode

We inter-row drilled the first two fields (16ha) straight into standing wheat stubble. The area was drilled with the Pro-Til 3T in full striptill mode. The crop went into nice friable soil prepared by the drill’s breaker leg and straight into moisture preserved by the surface residue. The front coulter leg did a great job of placing a band of fertiliser below the seed to get the roots going quickly.

These fields have averaged a very respectable 5.2t/ha which has helped us to maintain our high long-term average. I put it down to good seedbed preparation and improving soil health.

Rape into wheat stubble in direct drill mode

Next, we’ve got 8ha drilled with the Pro-Til 3T minus the front legs to replicate zero tillage as closely as we could. This means the machine hadn’t generated the mini tilth zone you’d normally get with the breaker leg, although it still applied the same rate of banded fertiliser on the surface.

Despite it being one of our best fields in terms of organic matter, the crop struggled throughout the year but we took the decision to treat it the same as any other field to ensure a fair comparison. The trouble with the no-till method was that it produced hardly any soil disturbance – way too little, if you ask me – which left it vulnerable to slug attack. The crop was slower to get going and fell victim not only to slugs, but pigeons and weeds too.

Having said that, we were surprised that it did pull through and we managed to take off 3.4t/ha which is still more than what we used to get when ploughing – all thanks to good soil structure supporting the crop. I do think that zero tillage can work in the right conditions but it sure in not up for the job on my heavy soils. The lack of nursery seedbed has stunted the growth and I see it as an unnecessary gamble. Not only it hasn’t paid off, the experiment has cost me well over 1t/ha compared to the first trial in identical conditions with the added advantage of the front leg working that seedbed. I joked I could have put some of that money towards more bangers to fend off the pigeons; Mrs Lole wasn’t amused as she thought “bang goes another holiday”.

Rape into bean haulm in full striptill mode

The last field was seeded in full striptill mode straight into bean haulm (that’s right!).

Unconventional, I know, but here, we were running two new experiments. Firstly, we were putting the new coulters to the test on different row spacings. Secondly, we were trialling the feasibility of profitable two-year break cropping.

We do believe rape after beans makes the best use of available chemistry for controlling blackgrass but what’s equally attractive is the prospect of it giving me an even higher return than wheat.

My Pro-Til 3T made light work of the thick residue.

It transpires, friable seedbed, booster fertiliser plus stacks of fixed nitrogen sets oilseed rape on fire (figuratively speaking, of course!). The plants were off to a quick start and soon developed into strong plants with stalks that would put sprouts to shame.

The 10-hectare field was divided into three trials plots with different coulter set ups: the Mzuri standard spacing of 330mm, double row spacing of 660mm and a narrow 165mm spacing achieved with a dual coulter kit.

All configurations have done very well, looking pretty healthy throughout the year.

The narrow spacing showed most promise throughout the winter but as spring came along, the extra wide 660mm spacing took the lead thanks to better light interception. By harvest time, it was apparent that the wider spacing had produced a much stronger plant that stayed upright. In comparison, patches of the narrower spaced plots were buckling under the weight of the promising yield that the thinner stalks could no longer hold.

Across the field, we broke our farm record and harvested close on a whopping 5.7t/ha by trailer weight! While I’m very pleased, I’m quietly not surprised. I always swore by strip tillage, and it’s proven its worth.

The secret to profitable farming

As someone who’s been there and done it all (that includes ploughing, zero till and strip tillage, of course), I think I’ve perfected the recipe for record-breaking yield down to a tee. Want to know my magic ingredients?

Read the next article here.

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The start of the rape harvest going well.


A pleasing weedfree sample coming off at 8% moisture!


The best part of the direct drilled field.


The worst part of the direct drilled field looking patchy. We had problems with slugs, pigeons and weeds as no front was leg used to prepare the seedbed. Why gamble?


Left part of the field: the crop buckling under the weight on narrow row spacing. On the right, rape standing tall on wide spacing. A field had been drilled with Pro-Til 3T in full striptill mode.


Extra light interception produced thick stems and strong roots. The tap root snapped off but the lateral roots still visible. What’s interesting is that they always reach for the natural goodness of the untilled soil.