Farmer Focus – Tom Sewell

Well first things first! I just re-read my last article and how things have changed in just a few months! In many ways the whole world has changed. Since writing my last article on the 25th February the whole country has entered lockdown, the rain has stopped falling from the sky (although its been wet here today on 10th June!) and the memory of Caroline Flack calling the world to “be kind’ is a long distant memory in the year like no other.

I’m not sure we have ever had two completely contrasting periods of weather back to back as we have done this past 8 months. From wet and flooded to baked-out, rock hard fields this season has been difficult and challenging. Once the weather did start to dry the fields we made a start with spring planting beginning with some winter beans that we sowed in the spring to finish a block where the weather stopped us last November. We have treated these as a cover crop that we may harvest. Having something growing is certainly better than bare stubbles and although only short, the recent rains may help them see the combine rather than the drill next into the field!

We moved onto a block of spring barley next that we planted into a cover crop that had been grazed by sheep over the winter. In hindsight we were probably a few days too early as the soil was still a little tacky and we can see far better establishment and crop development where the tractor tyres mineralised some nitrogen and the crop got away quicker. Perhaps a year for a low disturbance tine drill over a very low disturbance disc?!

We also drilled spring oats, spring wheat, spring barley and spring beans for contracting clients which has generally worked well. The Novag drill that we have here for demonstration and evaluation arrived a week after we finished drilling so has just been hitched up to the tractor and parked in the shed since. I did get it out alongside the crossslot today to compare the two machines. Having not used the Novag yet I obviously can’t comment on its performance but I can make some observations about build quality, spec and initial thoughts.

You can see from some of the photos here that there are many similarities and a few subtle differences between the two machines. The cross slot was built on the farm 7 years ago, with the help of Paul and James Alexander at Primewest, and has been faultless since then with wearing metal being the only thing we’ve had to change in that time. It’s a 21 opener machine running at 225mm/9” rows giving an operating width of 4.8m. We generally operate at around 10kph and its pulled with a 300hp JD8520. One of the real benefits of the Cross Slot is that it folds to 2.5m for transport so it’s the same width as a grain trailer! When folded it has all of the openers on the vertical, so maintenance is both safe and very easy, particularly when changing discs and blades. Our drill has a seed only hopper that holds 2 ton of wheat seed. The build quality is superb, very heavy duty, well made and will last for many years.

Initial impressions of the Novag are that it is a superbly finished and presented drill. The machine we have been sent is a 25 opener drill on 250mm/10” rows with both seed and solid fertiliser tanks which will drill at 6.25m. There are also 2 other hoppers. One for slug pellets that are spread behind the drill from 4 outlets and another hopper for small seeds which can be metered into the Venturi and planted with seeds in the large seed tank.

At 3m wide the drill is wider and more imposing. Some of the openers remain in the horizontal position when the drill is folded but the hydraulic wing hooks that automatically secure the wing sections as the drill is folded are a thing of beauty! There is also a function on the drill which enables some of the openers to be lifted to reduce the operating width. This could be useful for steep fields and where tractor horsepower and traction is limited and is a very good feature in what looks like a superb machine. It will be very interesting to see it perform in the field after this harvest. The machine will be available for demonstrations around the country, organised by Clive Bailye, so please contact him if you’re interested in seeing it at work.

Speaking of drills we have also added a low disturbance tine drill to our fleet! A 4m Horsch sprinter on Dutch openers will give us another option and some back-up with more land and more contracting coming up. As we all know timeliness and good planting conditions are essential with no-till and I’m not sure any of us have too much capacity?

With the farm looking the most variable I’ve ever seen it the coming harvest will be one to forget I think. We do have some lovely looking Extase as a first wheat and a few November sown winter beans but oilseed rape has been an expensive disaster this year and a crop that we wont be growing next year. Coming up with a balanced rotation going forward will be a challenge and I’m sure I’m not alone in that?!

Can I wish you all a very safe harvest both for you, your families and your staff.

I wonder how things will have changed the next time I write?!