Herbert Hindley

Herbert Hindley is a fourth generation farmer and first generation strip-tiller who’s ventured into the realms of increased yields, improved soil structure and reduced costs. Thanks to selective tillage, Mr Hindley now manages over 1,000ha across a combination of owner-occupied and tenanted estates with a whole range of soil types. The young farmer puts his recent success down to a change of thinking and adopting a more holistic approach to farming, backed by his forward-thinking agronomist Andy McLellan.

Read the full article below and find out how the one-pass Mzuri system helped Mr Hindley grow his business.

Farmers Guide reports.

John Joseph

For one Herefordshire farmer and contractor, switching to the striptill drill system has seen improved soil health and drought resistance.

Prior to Mzuri, soil erosion was horrendous and the farmer remembers having to use a 21-tonne digger in a potato field to put the top soil back where it should be. Five years into striptill drilling, and the soil has changed unrecognizably, with inceased worm activity, improvements to water infiltration and more of a loam-like texture to the previously sandy soils.

Guy Shelby

Location: Benningholme Grange, East Yorkshire

The Pro-Til drill is a brilliant piece of kit and we are very impressed with the way it establishes all of our crops. The small press wheel gives excellent seed to soil contact which is where this machine has the edge over its competitors. The drill is very effective in creating the perfect seedbed in one pass whilst improving the rooting structure under the growing crop. Soil structure and biodiversity have improved over the last few years and there are definitely more worms in the soil profile which helps to break down straw residue after harvest. Another huge benefit is time – my working hours have reduced considerably meaning I have more time for my family now.

Using the Mzuri drill has dramatically reduced our establishment costs from £220/ha to £120/ha for wheat and £74/ha for OSR before seed. Our crop yields are increasing year on year, with winter wheat averaging 12.5 t/ha and OSR at 5 t/ha. This gives us a massive saving in cost of production and in these uncertain times it is vital to remain profitable and sustainable. I would never go back to the old crop establishment method.

Tixall Heath and Brick House Farm

Location: Staffordshire
Farm manager / Farm owner: Tom Collier and Richard Clarke
Area: 1000 acres
Type of Farm: Arable Farming

Arable farming isn’t just about growing crops, believes Staffordshire farming partners Tom Collier and Richard Clarke.

Livestock plays a key part in the system they run on the 1,000 acres their families own land – and the additional land they contract farm – from Tixall Heath Farm and Brick House Farm in Staffordshire, where medium light soils are interspersed with heavy clay patches.

That acreage includes 865 acres of arable land run on a five year rotation, with some 145 acres of grassland, which supports 500 ewes and their progeny.

They run a five year rotation – winter wheat; winter oilseed rape, winter wheat, spring barley and spring beans – and switched to strip tillage three years ago.

While their previous system – based around a one pass cultivator and cultivator drill – was performing well, they felt they could achieve several benefits by moving to strip till drilling using a 3m Pro-Til drill from Mzuri.

This drill uses a leading tine to cultivate a vertical strip and restructure the immediate root zone, before placing the seed in a pocket of tilth while leaving most of the ground un-worked:

There were elements of labour and cost-saving in making the switch, but our main motivation was a desire to improve soil structure”, says Tom.

We ploughed everything until about eight years ago, but felt we were depleting the soil to such an extent that it was becoming hard, compacted and lifeless.

We moved to a non-inversion system based on one cultivation pass and a cultivator drill as a first step to improve soil structure.

That worked well, but we felt there was further room for improvement. In effect, we felt we could achieve more by working the soil less

Using strip tillage is showing several practical benefits, he says: “Our costs are definitely lower and labour greatly reduced, which is helping us achieve better timeliness of drilling.

Yields have remained consistent, even though we have been through some pretty extreme and difficult seasons. We have been very pleased with the drill, and with company which is very good to work with.

But the drill is just one component in the operation; it is the farming system around it that really makes the difference.

Mixing autumn and spring sown crops is a key element in that. Their rotation helps and ensures clean crops – important as they aim for milling markets with their wheat; malting markets for the barley and beans are grown for human consumption:

Growing two successive spring crops gives us the opportunity to deal with problem weeds. We plant winter oats as cover crops ahead of them, and let the sheep graze them off over the winter, after which they can rarely green up enough in the spring to survive.

Bromes have always been a bit of a problem and we have noticed groundsel becoming more of an issue recently.

We mow a 3m strip around the crop and the headland several times during the year so we don’t move grass and weed seeds into the crop. It is time consuming but it works.

Black-grass is not a major problem. It tends to build up slowly over time. It only really builds up if you fail to do anything effective about it

Strip tillage is also having the expected benefits on soils: “We certainly have better worm populations and soil structure is much better. The drill is becoming easier to pull each year, and we don’t have to run the leading tines as deep as we did at first

Philip Wright

Role: Independent Crop Establishment Consultant

Any farmer who expects a switch to direct drilling to sort out soil structure problems by itself needs to re-think their approach, and make sure they give this potentially valuable technique a go says independent consultant Philip Wright.

“Point number one: plan to start direct drilling where soil structure is already good. The biggest mistake you can make is trying to direct drill ropey fields.

“But if soil structure is not in good condition then you are relying on nature and plant roots to put it right, and that will take a number of years, during which time yields and margins will be lower than optimum”.

Rushing to judgement on the potential benefits of the technique on the basis of a trial in unsuitable conditions could lead to farmers rejecting it without giving it a chance: “Sometimes you may need to make a mechanical intervention. That may seem a little counter-intuitive, but if there is a problem that needs resolving then the right operation should help direct drilling work. Additionally there are other ways of giving nature a hand”.

He warns against starting to direct drill just because the technique seems to offer a low-cost option for establishing crops: “There is a real danger that if you don’t try the technique on soils that are already well structured then you may dismiss it on a false premise. If you do want to assess direct drilling on your own farm, choose a field that you know is well structured with no physical problems that may inhibit crop development, and give it fair trial.

“Ultimately nature will correct your soil structure problems, providing you don’t carry on creating them. Employing cover crops of the appropriate mix to help structure the soil also accelerates the move to good yields. Also, never miss the opportunity to build roots, as these ultimately provide resilience in all soils”.

South Lodge

Location: Ecton, Northamptonshire
Farm manager / Farm owner: David Beesley
Area: 500 acres, 430 acres of arable crops
Type of Farm: ARABLE plus runs other non-farming business

The hardest part of direct drilling is getting used to doing very little cultivating after harvest while neighbours are working hard, says Northamptonshire farmer David Beesley.

Last autumn he was able to utilise this time by concentrating on other parts of his business, and leaving his new Mzuri drill parked up until it was needed at South Lodge, Ecton, Northampton. Once the drill – a mounted Pro Til3 – did get working a number of valuable benefits were quickly apparent: “We halved the time taken to establish crops, and halved the volume of diesel used. When we were using both conventional and non-inversion tillage we had to hire casual labour to start cultivating as we were still busy with harvest; last year we didn’t have to do that, which was a major financial saving”.

They have moved to direct drilling in two stages. Their original system was to plough and press, before leaving the land – predominantly relatively easy-working ironstone – to weather and then drilling. Their first non-inversion system typically might take four passes, with one or two passes of discs; then running a Guttler press to finish the seedbed ahead of a combination drill.

Now he uses Mzuri’s Pro-Til 3 mounted drill to establish all crops, and the only pre-drilling decision he has to make is whether to use a straw rake ahead of drilling: “It can be a benefit to spread the trash and stubble about and leave it more even. It is a different mind-set to normal tillage. You have to be able to walk away when everybody else is flying about”.

Last year oilseeds were sown in the last week of August: “They are looking well and – if anything – probably a bit too tall. We sowed at 2kgs/ha and could probably have used a lower seed rate”.

After that they waited until the last week of September to start drilling cereals from which they still finished by the end of the second week in October. “We started with the barley which is grown for seed with a seedrate of 90kg/ha and the crop looks fantastic. I have never drilled anything at quite so low a seed rate”.

They moved on to the wheat and finished with the oats in the second week of October: “We completed drilling on a Sunday which was fortunate, because almost immediately after we finished it started raining and never stopped”.

They drilled a break crop of mustard in late spring and drilled wheat straight through it after spraying it off: “We drilled wheat straight through the mustard which must have been 60cm high. The mustard soaks up the available nitrogen and locks it up so it can be released when the crop breaks down after being sprayed just ahead of planting the crop. As a result the straw does not compete with the crop because it is not breaking down as the wheat crop gets established.

“The drill follows the ground contours very well thanks to the oscillation of the individual seed tines, and the crops look much more even. We drill the headlands last to avoid compaction – as recommended by Mzuri – and the fields are wall to wall crops”.