Precision placement sets OSR plants for high yield potential
Giving oilseed rape plants the room to grow and make best use of the improved soil conditions and agronomy inputs is integral to high yields for the latest Syngenta iOSR meeting host, Chris Eglington.
And at the heart of that is his own designed and farm-built precision drilling system (below), incorporating a sugar beet drill that delivers accurate seed placement. Working at 57 cm row spacing, that means a seed every 8.75 cm for 20 seeds per m2 or seven cm for a 25 seeds per m2.
The farm has been conductivity mapped for target establishment percentage, but from experience Chris calculates to achieve between 80 and 95%+ plants from seeds – adjusting rates according to seasonal conditions and looking to take 20 ppm2 into the winter.
“Initially we compared seed rates from 1 kg/ha to 3 kg/ha, achieving plant counts from 16 to 25+ per m2; the thicker crop looked bigger all season, but when it came to harvest they performed the same and gave us the real confidence to work lower plant counts,” he reported.
For him, a prime proviso is seed size, which is farm grown and gravity separated to achieve a consistent TGW of 5.5 g. Consistent plant size and building a strong root system by the winter (below) is the essential start, he says.
After several trial incarnations of the farm’s drill, the seed placement units are now at the back, behind a tillage train incorporating leg lifters, cultivation and disc press packers. The farm's Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF) system means that it has a relatively low power requirement as it looks to move as little soil as possible to create a good tilth and even seedbed or precision placement and plant establishment. The system can successfully drill up to of 20 hectares a day.”
“We have never yet experienced any problems with lack of moisture for establishment,” reported Chris. “The front subsoil tines have always pulled up sufficient soil moisture for the seed placement into good conditions. But the key has been to ensure sufficient consolidation to hold the available moisture for the seedling.
“With the CTF it is essential to get sufficient consolidation where the wheels are not running,” he advised. “We always double roll the OSR with a heavy set of 16 meter Cambridge rolls; making one pass then moving across eight meters for a second pass. That extra press really makes a difference.”
Lincolnshire iOSR grower, Andrew Ward, added: “The size, and most impressively the strength, of every plant in the row shows that precision placement is so important for oilseed rape establishment and its yield potential."
“The combination of Chris’ drilling, with the soil conditions created by the CTF system, has produced an incredibly consistent and extremely impressive even crop across the whole field.”
CTF on track
Strict adherence to a Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF) system is already paying dividends in improved soil structure for faster and stronger crop establishment for Syngenta iOSR meeting host, Chris Eglington.
One of the main challenges has been getting everyone involved, including straw contractors, harvest hauliers and livestock operators, to appreciate the need to stick to the tramlines at all times, he reported.
Chris pointed out that drone imagery can pick up every transgression from the tracks, which not only identifies the culprits, but ably demonstrates how one wayward pass with a tractor is having an impact on the soil structure that manifests in crop development and performance.
His selected system at North Hill, Letton, seven miles south of Dereham, works on an eight-meter track, with a four-meter one-pass precision OSR drill, including subsoiler tines to lift out wheelings within the CTF system, 16 m Cambridge rolls and 32 m sprayer and fertiliser application.
A sub-soiler is used to pull out wheelings each summer, with rotational ploughing one year in four. “Outside the tracks any soil compaction from cultivation is at a maximum of 10 to 12 cm, so ploughing at 18 to 20 cm will alleviate that. We’re set up for on-land ploughing, so the soil structure is well preserved.
“I am convinced that, even after just four seasons, CTF is having a really beneficial effect on the soil structure, and that it will continue to get better,” he said.
“Oilseed rape has been one of the biggest winners, with the improved soils enabling far more effective precision sowing and giving faster establishment with deeper rooting.”
There has been significant investment required to install GPS hardware with the reliability and accuracy to keep on track, along with new machinery to fit the system, including a larger combine and trailer capacity. “We’ve had the headaches and costs of being an early pioneer, but we’ve future-proofed for the coming years and, agronomically, should continue to get better over the coming years.”
Chris highlighted there have been some limitations, such as harvesting can be slower with longer journey time for trailers staying on the tramlines and clearing straw bales to the headland staying on the tracks. One field where the soil types were so variable, from light to heavy, the field did have to be spilt for cultivations. Installation of new drains - an ongoing project – also compromised the CTF pattern. But, overall, it’s been a real success.