Goff achieves control
Many claims have been made for the benefits of controlled traffic systems. For William Goff, who is currently introducing the system across three farms totalling 6,000 acres in Norfolk, some benefits are apparent quickly, but others may take longer to accrue. Having converted the home farm last year, he can already see huge improvements in the pace and cost of cultivations. And while the expected yield rises have yet to accrue, he is confident they will in time. He is using a 10m system because he feels it is best suited to the area of Norfolk, and because it is costing much less than moving to the other option – a 12m system.
They have already used a 10m combine for several years, and have added a 10m Bednar Swifterdisc cultivator to their armoury to prepare seedbeds for their 10m tined drill.
The home-farm of 3,000 acres at North Elmham is already converted to the system, and a second unit of 1,800 acres some 20 miles away at Massingham is in transition.
The 1,200 acres they farm 15 miles away at Marham supports more varied cropping including potatoes, onions and leeks, and isn’t being converted yet as much of the land is ploughed.
William in the emerging crop of oilseeds; this picture does deliberately show the thinner crop on the tramline behind, because William admits that they’re still discovering things they need to do – such as more work restoring headlands and tramlines when they convert!
Introducing the system is a logical ‘next step’, he says: “When we came to North Elmham the cropping included free range pigs and potatoes. The soil was in dire condition, with little life and few earthworms”.
“Our first decision was to move away from ploughing and use non-inversion tillage to work crop residues into the soil and start building up some organic matter”.
“Ploughing is very efficient at burying the stubble, but the trash tended to form an anaerobic layer below the seedbed. The fields would look beautiful and everything looked right for sowing. But when plant roots got eight inches down they ran into this sour layer and stopped”.
They did a remedial restructuring pass across the whole acreage before introducing non-inversion tillage: “It worked really well for us and began to bring the soils back to better health and yields began to rise”.
“We may switch to no-till systems in the future but we don’t want to run before we can walk. After a decade of non-inversion tillage we decided that controlled traffic was a more logical step”.
“Having got the soils back to better health, we feel we can improve them by ensuring they don’t receive any wheelings at all”.
Any land going into the controlled traffic system receives a remedial sub-soiling pass to open it up and enable it to restructure.
Their new cultivation system starts with either one or two passes with the 10m Bednar Swifterdisc, which they aim to complete as soon after harvest as possible.
“We only work the top few inches because we do not want to go too deep and bury the weed and volunteer seeds”.
“Our old 6m cultivator did 100 acres in 10 hours and used six or seven litres of diesel an acre. The Swifterdisc can cover 250 to 300 acres in the same time behind the same tractor and uses less than three litres of diesel an acre - double the output from man and machine for under half the fuel”.
“I don’t think I could use any more cost effective cultivator than the Swifterdisc”.
If they are doing one pass the machine will typically work around three inches deep to achieve a good mix of weed and volunteer seeds. Where they use two passes, the first will just tickle the surface to encourage the chit, with a second, deeper pass making the seedbed.
They first saw it working at a Tillage event and were impressed by its simplicity and the effectiveness of the job it did – a first impression that was confirmed when the machine spent some time on demonstration on their farm last autumn:
“It did a cracking job in the field, working the weed and volunteer seeds into the tilth and getting a really effective chit. It left an excellent seedbed”.
“It is also well designed and built. The folding mechanism is simple and effective; there are very few wearing parts and it travels very well on the road, all of which are really important for us. In addition, it is very competitively prices against the other machines we considered”.
“This autumn it has done an excellent job. We have just drilled wheat into cultivated oilseed rape stubbles and it went very well; the fields look excellent”.
“It also has a genuine 10m working width. Some manufacturers don’t offer a machine of that width – and some machines that claim to be 10m have only got a 9.50m working width in reality!”
This crop is oilseeds sown on August 1st through a seedbed which had one Swifterdisc pass; the plants look very healthy and well-rooted.
They already move harvested grain with chaser bins: “I know they are a bit of a ‘marmite’ issue. Some people can’t see the point of them and think they are ‘white elephants’, and other people would not be without them”.
They plan to streamline the system further in future by switching from tractors and trailers to transport crops to the stores to lorries:
“Lorries can take 30 tonnes each, whereas we are limited to 15 tonnes a load with tractors and trailers, so the system will halve the number of vehicle movements and ensure we are completely road legal”.
14th October 2015