Hutchinsons Direct Drill Demonstration

Written by Mark Hatton

East Yorkshire is a part of the world I’ve always enjoyed spending time in, I wasn’t expecting a North sea breeze to be
quite as cold as it was when I visited the Hutchinsons Direct Drill demonstration at the beginning of March.

The event was put on by Hutchinsons North team with the kind permission of M.Meadley and Sons, Grange Farm, Driffield. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the day, with a lineup of speakers discussing everything from soil health to the transition from BPS to environmental schemes and everything in between.

With well over 100 visitors throughout the day, the group was split into two for the opening presentation. Dick Neale (Hutchinsons Technical Manager) took the audience through a very interesting discussion on Healthy Soils, soil structure and the benefits of cover crops.

The switch from conventional plough based or minimum till systems over to Direct Drill is not overnight, the most successful transitions seem to be 3-5 years, with current input costs now becoming a much bigger consideration the temptation to go ‘cold turkey’ and put the whole farm under direct drill, would need some very careful consideration.

Cover crop selection is also a topic that also requires careful consideration, farmers that have tried cover cropping with little success and dismissed it as not worthwhile, have possibly chosen the wrong mix for their soil type. Oats for example, often used as being a cheap cover, lock in moisture near the surface, as seen on site at the demo. 

Brassica and Legume choices should be matched with soil types to help improve soil structure. A soil structure assessment pit had been dug along with trial boxes of the same soil with different seed mixes to demonstrate the effects of correct mix choice. As well we know, worms are critical to soil health and soil structure, trials have shown that worms take material from the surface, even distribution of chopped straw is critical, with straw rakes becoming much more widely used to ensure much better coverage.

One of the biggest questions was the choice of drill. With a selection of machines in the field, spanning both tine and disc, there is no simple answer. The die hard direct drillers will advocate discs, purely down to less disturbance, however many would argue the case for tines, both have their benefits, both will depend on soil types. Before we got to see the drills in action, the Hutchinson team presented the benefits of the Omnia Precision mapping services and Terramap. Omnia Precision is an unrivalled precision agronomy system that analyses information from a variety of sources, to enable intelligent and informed decision making for the full range of variable applications. It enables grower and agronomist to work at sub-field level.

It highlighted the savings on farm inputs in today’s uncharted world of costs at an all time high. Directly linking the ability of many of todays drills to place both seed, fertiliser and companion crops accurately. TerraMap produces the highest resolution soil mapping layers in the world at over 800 data reference points per hectare.

The in-field process of collecting the data is carried out in two very simple steps; scanning and collecting reference soil samples. The raw scan, soil data and soil samples are then combined and processed to produce up to 28 high-definition soil property layers. With representation from eight drill manufacturers, a mixture of tine and disc systems, there was plenty of variation of drill designs to compare. Given the amount of rain prior to the event, the conditions were surprisingly good. Drilling into a variety of sprayed off cover crops, both types of drill worked surprisingly well. In my opinion the disc drills had the advantage over the tine based machines, the amount of moisture seemed to ball the soil up leaving more seed visible than the disc drills.

The disc drills appeared to leave a much more even, consistent seed placement, less smearing of the surface and better seed coverage as the pictures below show. After what seemed like a long winter it was good to be back out seeing live demonstrations. The biggest take away from the event for me, was the amount of interest in changing how we farm, not just today but in a constantly changing world of ever increasing costs.