This will not be a very long post today (hooray). This afternoon I visited Ben Tait, a farmer and drilling contractor who lives near the town of Mayfield. He farms 370ha, all arable. 150ha of this is under a pivot irrigator, and here he grows silage maize, wheat, barley, potatoes, and of course ryegrass for seed. The dry land is not vastly different, with a rotation consisting of wheat, ryegrass, radish seed, oats for green animal feed, and various brassicas for dairy cows to graze in the winter.
Ben’s contracting business revolves around a twin disc maize planter, and a drill he has designed himself, using Bourgault disc openers imported from Canada. These openers are a fairly conventional single disc design, making use of a compound angle disc. This means that as well as being angled sideways 7 degrees, it is also tilted 10 degrees off the vertical.The double angle allows the disc to bite into the soil, creating a bit more tilth for the seed. I have also heard that it may provide a slight element of self sharpening for the edges, meaning the discs last longer. This drill is used in all situations, from mouldboard ploughed land through to true no-till. Because of potatoes in the rotation, plus some of the oddities of tetraploid ryegrass seed production, Ben does not feel it is possible to have a full no-till regime. Of course, being New Zealand, there are several thousand lambs around during the winter who no doubt compensate for the sins of the potato growers to some degree!
Before the Bourgault was created, Ben used a John Deere 750a. Over the course of 15,000ha he got a fairly good idea of the pros and cons. Overall he seemed to like the concept, and how it worked agronomically, but there were though three main drawbacks.
- No option for placing fertiliser. This is a pretty obvious one, and something that many people have flagged up as an issue in the past.
- Durability. The ground can be pretty stony in some places around here, but even without that Ben found that the openers just did not last long enough. There were several specific problem areas which all added up and meant that he had to replace large portions of the assembly twice a season.
- General usability. Calibrating these drills is not an ergonomic pleasure, and as his was a 6m it had to be done twice on each occasion. Not so bad if you have 100ha to do on your own farm, but if you move around to 3 different farms in a day, and have to empty the seed and recalibrate each time, I can imagine the pleasure wears off pretty soon – probably on about day 2.
I don’t know how much of this would be a problem back on our farm, mainly because we do not have the stones. Interesting all the same.How much do you trust your neighbours? The farmers here are members of a fertiliser cooperative that works on an honesty basis. There is yard in the town which contains open sheds divided into different compartments for different fertilisers. When you need some DAP, urea, MOP etc, then drive down here, tare your trailer, jump in the loader, fill the trailer up, complete the docket, and drive out. All done on trust, no cameras, locks or anything.