Direct Drilling - Clay soils

richheady

Member
Direct drilling on heavy clay soils is tricky. There is a lot of great advice out there, but from those on many different soil types. As direct drilling hinges on soil I thought it would be useful to have a thread based on heavy-ish clay soils alone.

just to kick it of; we have a Weaving GD which is great in dryer conditions, but I have not had great success in wet Autumns. Should I be looking at a tine option for wetter scenarios?
 

Kiwi Pete

Member
Livestock Farmer
Yes, if budget allows. Tine drills definitely have their uses.
Not trying to sell you anything!! but even the simple kiwi-style tine drills with shuddering Baker-boots can be pretty handy in wet clay
The downside is they move quite some soil, the big upside is more tilth, and less smear in the furrow.

I'd be pretty happy with any drill 🤣
 

l'ordinary bonville

Member
BASE UK Member
Location
N Yorks
First season with a Dale direct on heavy clay.
compaction on headlands is going to need a different approach though

A couple of wetter poorly drained fields are swimming now. Funny how water is sitting on the surface. Different approach also needed on 2 neighbours farms as they haven’t had the 10 years reducing tillage pre the big jump
 
no till on heavy land since 2012 bigdisc now a gd
did some direct drilling before that with a moore drill

mole drain regularly use gps to add new moles between the old ones (ahdb has a very good webenar )
heaviest fields are always dryer after mole draining

controlled traffic with grain trailers on tramlines only
use wider drill at slower speeds

i do it in the spring after drilling a spring barley or spring bean crop or before a late april planted crop

drill autumn crops early last week of september

but most important do not drill when it is too wet the drill may go but it is not right to drill
dont worry about the neighbours notill never looks a good from the road
remember the grass is always greener over the fence
 

Badshot

Member
Location
Kent
My "compacted" headlands have now got to the stage of taking whatever traffic I can throw at them.
But keeping trailers in tramlines wherever possible is very important.
They emerge faster, and more evenly than the middle of the fields generally.
There are a couple of exceptions, both on the north side of woods.
These never established well under any cultivation regime, they still don't, but it's cost me a lot less to get to the same point.
 
My "compacted" headlands have now got to the stage of taking whatever traffic I can throw at them.
But keeping trailers in tramlines wherever possible is very important.
They emerge faster, and more evenly than the middle of the fields generally.
There are a couple of exceptions, both on the north side of woods.
These never established well under any cultivation regime, they still don't, but it's cost me a lot less to get to the same point.
stewardship pays on the difficut awkward bits and north sides of woods
 

teslacoils

Member
Location
Lincolnshire
Would it be worth a 6m, non stewardship grass strip along the top and bottom of a field, to allow machinery to turn, trailers to travel etc off the actual cropped field? No headlands then.
 

cows r us

Member
BASE UK Member
Location
Buckinghamshire
The last two autumn's have been terrible for heavy land around here. We have got very little winter crop in the ground. Some of what we have drilled rotted out.
We are using no till on our ground. The difference between me and my neighbours is that I haven't spent anything until the drill goes in, they have fully cultivated. I can make a decent return from spring cropping using no till, I can't imagine they can. My land is mostly covered in a cover crop keeping the soil alive and sequesting carbon, they are losing nutrients and top soil.
Two years of spring cropping will mean that we can get on top of our black grass. We are also getting our ditches and drainage sorted. It was neglected when cultivating. I think you can get away with poor drainage when moving soil. Not so much under no till.
 

GeorgeK

Member
Location
Leicestershire
I along with many others have been paying attention to @ajd132 who seems to be getting good results on heavy soils. He has some very nice looking crops drilled early 'on the green'. The green cover means the drill can ride over sticky soil and doesn't damage the structure. It can be drilled early because of reduced weed pressure from minimal disturbance. Slugs eat the cover rather than the crop.
I must admit I was sceptical of the photos drilling into waist height cover crops that clearly had a few slugs residing in them, and whether the decomposing plant matter would cause problems, but it seems like this approach may be worth a look for those who are brave enough.
Hopefully he will be along in a bit to give more details
 

l'ordinary bonville

Member
BASE UK Member
Location
N Yorks
I have cover crops drilled early after winter barley that have masses of green cover, but oats and volunteers. Vetch, buckwheat and phacelia are disappointing within the mix though.
Later sown covers after wheat or spring barley are so far behind you woud think we are 200 miles further north.
I believe we need to target getting the covers in sooner than currently managed and spread slurry afterwards rather than fit in after the tanker.
Similarly the cereals need to be started 2 weeks earlier than we tried this year. Compounding problems were late harvest, straw clearance, slurry and a large building job that interfered with land work.

Next year

Bale even less straw (lots of breeding pig accommodation being converted to slatted rather than bedded)
Sow covers the morning after harvest if possible and put slurry on after
Sow slightly shallower with the direct tine drill (went too deep this year)
Either cultivate the headlands or purchase low disturbance subsoiler
Dont have staff doing other things, employ harvest labour if necessary
Possibly sow a cheap cover before 2nd wheats in case i don't get to drill them

I grew some black oats this year for seed but that had its challenges. Spring oats may be just as easy. Fine seed cover crops only before a spring crop
 

ajd132

Member
Arable Farmer
Location
Suffolk
I along with many others have been paying attention to @ajd132 who seems to be getting good results on heavy soils. He has some very nice looking crops drilled early 'on the green'. The green cover means the drill can ride over sticky soil and doesn't damage the structure. It can be drilled early because of reduced weed pressure from minimal disturbance. Slugs eat the cover rather than the crop.
I must admit I was sceptical of the photos drilling into waist height cover crops that clearly had a few slugs residing in them, and whether the decomposing plant matter would cause problems, but it seems like this approach may be worth a look for those who are brave enough.
Hopefully he will be along in a bit to give more details
It’s gone well this year, we learnt masses last season.
Winter barley and wheat after cereals straight into stubble look as good as anything in the area.
Lots of wheat after osr into covers after it got wet. Slugs were an issue for abit when it wouldn’t stop raining but everything is now up in the row looking good.
We havnt caused soil damage, the plants look healthy. Roots are going deep.
Yellow belly is the best person to listen to on heavy land no till.
Obviously still getting comments from people about it looking a ‘mess’ but these are generally from people who will never change their ways no matter how often it is proven to them.
The no till is really just the tip of the iceberg of a system that needs less synthetic fert and chemical inputs.
we have always been good on ditches and drainage so this won’t change apart from maybe more often moling, deep cultivation can hide a drainage problem for a few years.
I have to make this system work. There is no way I could carry on with heavy tillage and abit of ploughing overhead wise, especially now rotations are wider for agronomic reasons. We cannot rely on a farming system that needs so much fertiliser and pesticide either. Bps Going and likely future legislation input wise, aswell as the ever continuing treadmill of resistance suggests to me that the 20th century farming system is no longer fit for purpose. Many seem to have their heads in the sand about this, or don’t actually realise what costs are.
if we can make it work this well in a season like this on our clay then it can work in any season. Our min till cultivator is now for sale aswell as a big subsoiler.
 
The trick of direct drilling in heavy soils is to totally and utterly avoid sowing in the wet. You need that critical soil:seed contact. Although your drill will probably be able to drill in most conditions if it turns wet you need to try to avoid using it. Either opt for a different establishment route, wait and see if conditions improve or opt for a spring crop.

Wet soils smear and leave a solid slot that becomes a hotel for slugs. The soil to seed contact goes out the window and you will get a variable emergence that is a recipe for grief.

In time the use of non-inversion methods will mean the uppermost layers of soil become more friable and richer in organic matter which should ease your issues. Large amounts of manure, straw and possibly cover crops may also help. It will take a time though.
 

Clive

Staff Member
BASE UK Member
Location
Lichfield
The last 2 years have reminded me even on our lighter soils how important cover crops are - we can drill on the green in almost any conditions, bare stubble we can not

for what is costs a and despite not being the best cover crop agronomically a few kgs of mustard/sunflower and linseed can make a hell of a difference to how you can get on

The beans being drilled in this video were autumn 2019, not heavy soil but it was WET, nothing else was being drilled ploughed or cultivated locally that day under any establishment system, the coulters and the tyres run clean through on the green cover and the seed was going in well

 

ajd132

Member
Arable Farmer
Location
Suffolk
The last 2 years have reminded me even on our lighter soils how important cover crops are - we can drill on the green in almost any conditions, bare stubble we can not

for what is costs a and despite not being the best cover crop agronomically a few kgs of mustard/sunflower and linseed can make a hell of a difference to how you can get on

The beans being drilled in this video were autumn 2019, not heavy soil but it was WET, nothing else was being drilled ploughed or cultivated locally that day under any establishment system, the coulters and the tyres run clean through on the green cover and the seed was going in well

I’ve been drilling when no one else could Into covers. I think many have caught up now but far from ideal conditions and probably caused damage that will need sorting next year, just like they had to after last year. The treadmill continues.
 

AHDB winding down horticulture and potatoes operations as Ministerial decision awaited

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AHDB has announced yesterday it is winding down significant activities on behalf of the horticulture and potatoes sectors.

While still awaiting a decision on the future by Ministers in England, Scotland and Wales, AHDB wants to reassure levy payers their views have been heard following recent ballots in the two sectors.

AHDB is now stopping programmes of work that could be restarted in the future by grower associations, individual growers or the supply chain. This work includes for example, export market access and promotional international trade event work, consumer marketing campaigns and market pricing and insight information. AHDB will continue to deliver limited emergency work on pests and diseases, including the Extension of Authorisation for Minor Use (EAMU)’s and some...
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