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In June this year, cultivation and soils specialist Philip Wright visited the Abbots Ripton Farming Company to provide advice as part of the Black-Grass task Force Project. In September, farm manager Paul Drinkwater invited him back to spend the day with the farm’s machinery operators to focus on equipment set up for cultivation and establishment.

“Mr Drinkwater invited me back to speak to the machinery operators to help them with their operations across the whole farm. There are a range of soil types and cropping on farm plus he has three main cultivation machines and three drills to choose from so there are plenty of nuances we needed to consider,” says Mr Wright

The Black-Grass Task Force in Action is focusing on one field of Hanslope boulder clay soil. This soil type covers about 70% of the farm and is prone to black-grass problems but also has great yield potential for cereals. The field has just come out of wheat and will be sown with barley next spring. For this field, Mr Wright wanted to ensure that everything possible was done to set up the land to drill easily in spring.

According to Mr Wright, there were three priorities for cultivation this autumn;

  1. Maintain horizons in the soil. Any cultivation must prevent significant mixing of weed seeds between layers and also retain as much as possible of the natural structuring.
  2. Loosen soil at the relevant depth to remove the effects of harvest wheelings. Rainfall during summer meant that some harvest related compaction is likely to be a problem on the majority of farms this year, so remedial work is necessary.
  3. Create disturbance at the surface to stimulate germination of grassweeds to spray off ahead of drilling. Such levels of surface disturbance need to be greater than those used when drilling the following crop.

Of the three cultivators, Mr Drinkwater and Mr Wright opted to use the Gregoire Besson Discordon with a low disturbance set up.

The Discordon can move and mix a large amount of soil unless it is adjusted. The biggest factor was to take advantage of the low-disturbance tines used currently, these gently lifted soil at depth to remove compaction but didn’t mix the horizons. Surface cultivation was provided by shallow discing from the Discordon. The operator was crucial for this operation because lots of fine tuning was needed to ensure the discs ran consistently at the right depth.

Setting up the Discordon like this meant that only one pass was required rather than two – one to remove compaction at depth and probably a Horsch Joker pass to disc the surface. This was important this season because going over the soil twice – potentially in wet conditions - may have caused further problems.

The other discussions focussed on low soil disturbance at drilling – a further essential element of the weed management process. The recently acquired Borgault VOS openers for the farm’s Horsch Sprinter drill are planned to be put to further use following the recent excellent establishment of WOSR this autumn.

“The most important thing for operators is to have an awareness of what the aim is for each operation. Promoting crop competitiveness and reducing weed pressure is always the fundamental aim but how you get there is where attention to detail on machine set up comes in,” says Mr Wright. “Mr Drinkwater is also keen to move soil when it is as dry as possible – the right philosophy, albeit a challenge with the recent conditions.”