It’s not about the machinery. But we still want a drill that will do the right job; low soil disturbance is critical, as is the ability to work in non-perfect conditions. We also like contour following, fertiliser placement and being able to cut through a lot of residue. From a non-agronomic viewpoint, build quality, simplicity and price are also important.
I’ve seen quite a few no-till drills working, and they are always a bit underwhelming. Not bad, just not quite doing what I would like. This is the first time I’ve come away more optimistic than when I arrived. Is it the answer? Maybe.
It occurs to me that I never took a plain picture of the opener, which was very stupid. However, you can see it rather well in this video.
It has two discs, one bigger than the other, tilted over a very long way. The bottom disc in significantly bigger, and it does the trash cutting. The top disc is what actually lifts the soil up and out of the way.
The first bit of work I saw was drilling a bit of HLS cover into a grassy strip. It was clear that there was absolutely no problem with trash clearance. It was fairly challenging conditions, because the seed was going in quite shallow, but across the 3m width was thick grass cover in parts, and bare crumbly soil in others. There was a little bit of seed left on top, but not much.
There were two things that impressed me particularly. One was the level of disturbance. I would be fairly confident in saying this drill is significantly lower disturbance than any I’ve seen before, 750a, Cross Slot etc etc. But what makes it good is the severe angle of the discs. This seems to mean that the slot can be closed much more easily, as it doesn’t exist in the conventional sense, as with a 750a or a tine drill. Instead, the soil is already on top of the seed, it just needs to be pushed down a bit. Thus even when the ground is sticky and the slot does not close fully, it’s not a problem as the seed is still underground, and firmed in.
The effect seems to be broadly similar to what the Cross Slot claims is very important. Unlike the Cross Slot, I’m not sure if hair-pinning will be a problem. Dwayne Beck says that having two different sized discs makes residue cutting much more effective, but I don’t know if that is relevant in this case. There is 100mm of up and down coulter travel, which is not masses, but should easily be sufficient for our conditions. It’s certainly better than our current drill, which has 0mm.
One last key point is again due to how the discs are angled. They run with a bit of rake, which means they dig themselves in to the ground as they are pulled forward. They claim this means it needs half the down pressure compared to a conventional disc drill. An added benefit is that the weight comes off the bearings, and increases their life.
It really is very impressive, and is seems to be quite a leap on from what we have now. I might try and see it working somewhere else later in the week, and then this autumn we will have to get a demo here. I’m looking forward to it.