Day 30

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A last minute logistics change meant an early start this morning so that I could get to Chris Thorson’s farm near Holdfast by early afternoon. He farms with his Dad and brother, over an area of 6800ac. The main crops are here are canola, wheat and linseed, but Chris also grows green peas fairly similar to the ones we farm.

I always thought canola and oilseed rape were the same thing, but it turns out that for once I was wrong. Canola was developed from rape in the ’70s, and is lower in glucosinolates and erucic acid – I think we call it 00 rapeseed in the UK.IMG_3227The big problem they have here at the moment is too WET. Every field has standing water in it, and some of the roads are impassable. Chris had been trying to get some spraying done in the morning, but had to pull the sprayer out with a Quadtrak; after this he gave up for the day. The soil was so saturated that even on the dry sections I could hear water squelching under the surface when I walked around.

Another plan had been to drill hemp in the afternoon, but unsurprisingly it was too wet for that as well. He hasn’t grown hemp before, but thinks it could be a lucrative crop in the future. They’ve grown quite a few exotics over the years, like coriander, camelina and caraway. Caraway was the most profitable crop they ever grew, but there was one problem. After harvest the price dropped and dropped, so they decided to wait it out. Eventually it rebounded, but by then it had spent quite a long time in their storage bin: 10 years!

Horse tail

Horse tail

Some of the neighbour’s fields were infested with a weed called Horse Tail, which I’ve not come across before. It’s a living fossil, with a different physiology to normal plants. Glyphosate does not have any effect at all, and nothing else is very effective either. If you chop it up then every piece will form a new plant. I’ve tried to make sure none stuck to my shoes.

Pillar Laser openers

Pillar Laser openers

The main reason I came to visit this farm was to see some machinery. A Canadian company called Pillar make a drill opener that they call the Laser, and the claim is that it combines the best bits between a tine (or hoe) and a disc unit. It is a pretty simple concept with few moving parts and no gizmos.

The opener is made up of a double angle disc – that means it is tilted on both the horizontal and the vertical plane. All disc drills are angled horizontally, that is how the move soil out of the way to place the seed. The benefit to having it angled vertically is that it digs in by itself, and much less weight is needed to get the machine to work in hard ground. It also means that the discs self-sharpens a bit, and therefore lasts longer. On one side of the disc is a rubber wheel. This does not actually go on the ground like on a John Deere single disc opener, it is just for cleaning dirt of the outside of the disc, and making sure it doesn’t get thrown too far. On the other side of the disc is what makes the Laser different. There is a cast iron wing that sticks out a little bit from the disc’s shadow. In the back of the wing is a hole where the seed comes out.


Seed comes out of the hole at the back of the hoe’s wing. Fertiliser drops down the gap between the disc and the hoe

The end result is that the disc cuts a deep furrow, and fertiliser is placed at the bottom of this, in the same place that seed would be with a conventional disc drill. There will be some hairpinning here, but that’s of no consequence for the fertiliser. The seed is then placed on a little ledge that has been formed by the wing, and is clear of any residue. Behind this is a rubber packer wheel, which also sets the depth.


So in theory, it accomplishes fertiliser and seed separation, no hairpinning, and relatively little disturbance. There is a guy in the UK with one, and I need to try and visit him in the autumn to see it in action. Pillar say that they are developing a lower disturbance hoe that would effectively turn it into a normal single disc drill (like the Bourgault 3710) when no fertiliser placement was needed. Could this maybe make it the ideal all round drill?

I wonder how well it would work as a single disc because there is no real slot closing mechanism, nor is there a seed-fiming wheel. It would also be difficult/impossible to drill deeper than about 5omm with the hoe section – the disc does go deeper however. I don’t think it is the answer (nothing ever will be), but it’s interesting and worthy of further investigation.


There won’t be much field work here for a while longer, it’s hammering down again! Sooner them than us…


One thought on “Day 30

  1. Pingback: Days 38 & 39 | Improving yields & profits by improving soils

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