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Drilling is probably the most important day in the life of any crop. Prompt, consistent germination means the crop gets away with its potential intact. Good crop vigour alongside seed treatments help it to deal with pest, weed and disease threats.

Good seed to soil contact and consistent drilling depth is essential for effective establishment. Part of this is down good seedbed preparation but drill set up and operation is also vital.

Read the following tips to help you set your crop up for a good start and a good harvest.

Drill Choice

All drills have pros and cons. Changing drills often is part of a change of system on the farm but it is neither simple or cheap to do this. Adjusting and modifying the existing drill can also be an effective way to improve establishment and black-grass control.If weeds, particularly black-grass, are a problem, minimising the level of disturbance at drilling is essential. The general rule is that drilling should disturb less soil and to a shallower depth than any preceding cultivations to reduce the level of black-grass germination.Most drill types can be adjusted to reduce disturbance as well as simple steps like reducing speed. Agricultural Engineer Philip Wright shared his thoughts on drill set up at Cereals 2017, although a few years old, the fundamental principles haven’t changed

Drill options:


  • More surface disturbance and structing than a disc drill
  • Can work properly in wetter conditions that a disc drill
  • Rolling important to ensure seed to soil contact


  • Good option for low disturbance drilling
  • High work rate means they can drill large areas in tight drilling windows
  • Not suitable for wet conditions as they smear soil leading to poor seed to soil contact


  • Openers disturb ground a minimal amount
  • Doesn’t mix seeds between soil horizons
  • Soil condition vital to ensure seed to soil contact


  • Set up needs to be modified to suit the situation
  • Most machines can usually be set up to fairly low level of disturbance if required
  • Full cultivation drilling, disturbs lots of soil prompting weed germination.

Find out how one farmer in the Black-Grass Task Force project adjusted his drill to reduce disturbance and minimise black-grass germination here.

Tyre pressure at drilling

Compaction caused by the drill tractor can lead to strips of poor establishment across the field. Tyre pressure of less than 1bar ideally 0.7–0.8bar will reduce compaction allowing crop roots to penetrate to depth. At higher pressures, the compaction is more severe preventing good rooting in the drill tyre track. This is  Resolve surface issues in the seedbed particularly important with low disturbance drills on wetter, and/or looser ground.

Cover seed

Seed needs to be covered with a good fine tilth, ideally rolled for better consolidation which will improve emergence, pre-em, performance and slug control.

Seed Rates

Increasing seed rates in high weed pressure areas and on headlands are both proven ways to boost crop performance. Increases of 30-50% are generally recommend but some farmers report better results from even higher rates. The industry is still learning how to achieve the best results with variable rates and mapping, find out more in the Black-Grass Task Force.


Watch out for long, immature straw, especially on softer soils that don't have the resistance for disc drills to cut against. Residues can provide a hiding place for slugs, straw can also get pushed into slots and drill channels, inhibiting seed to soil contact.


Drilling treated seeds checklist

Seed treatments are an effective to protect the crop but like all crop protection effective and safe usage is essential

✔️ Wear appropriate personal equipment (PPE) including gloves and coverall

✔️ Always read the seed tag

✖️ Don't broadcast or autocast any treated seed

✔️ Handle bags of seeds with care – abrasion results in dust; damage many result in spilt seed

✔️ Check that the drill has been properly maintained, calibrated and cultivators set up properly

✔️ Critically assess the prepared seedbed; does it have stony, cloddy or trashy areas which might limit the coverage of the seed?

✖️ Don't tip the dust into the drill – leave it in the seed bag

✔️ Keep bags secure, and dispose of waste seed bags and their contents safely

✔️ Clean up spills immediately – do not fill drills on grassy areas as spills will be harder to clear up

✔️ Ensure the drill will not drop seed when transported or when lifting in and out of work at headlands

✔️ Ensure the drill (especially if precision vacuum drill) does not vent into the air – if necessary fit an air deflector system

✔️ After you've finished drilling, check fields carefully – particularly headlands and turning areas to ensure seed is well covered. If any seed is exposed, cover it