How to adapt cut
Aug 19, 2023
When Michael and Will Scholey decided it was time to stop damaging their ground with high horsepower tracked crawlers and deep, intensive cultivation, they drafted in some expert help.
This came from Philip Wright of Wright Resolutions, who visited their farm near York and devised a plan for improving the health of its soils.
See also: 10 single-pass cultivator options for heavy land
Previously, they’d been regularly working their 1,000ha arable area to depths of 30-35cm (12-14in) using McConnel Shakaerators fitted with a range of different points.
A power harrow combination drill was then used to put seeds into a fine, even seed bed.
It was a reliable method of getting the crop established, but they had no idea how much damage they were doing to the structure.
“We started to realise when the sprayer and combine would get stuck in the wet and they always seemed to sink to the depth we’d worked the soil to,” says Michael.
Rather than suggest jettisoning their kit and starting afresh, Philip walked around the yard with them and made some suggestions as to how they could adapt the equipment they already had and slowly transition to a less intensive system.
One of their 3m McConnel Shakaerators was first to be targeted.
“The beauty of the Shakaerator is that it has a tough 100mm box section frame that’s easy to adapt to running different legs, and because they’re staggered, there’s plenty of space between them,” says Michael.
Once the original seven deep-working legs were removed, they were sent to local firm JJ Metcalfe and Son for modification.
Owner Mike Metcalfe and his team cut the original legs in half and welded their own slimmer NG versions on the bottom, which were set up so that they would move all soil when working at depths of around 20-25cm (8-10in).
To prevent trash build up and stop the legs busting up the surface, Michael and Will also approached Agriweld and asked them to produce a set of straight discs on a frame that would fit between the tractor and cultivator.
The finishing touch was a 560mm packer roller which they sourced from Andrew Guest. This came with mounting points for seed distribution plates between it and the legs, allowing it to double up as a cover crop drill.
Soon after the conversion, they saw a noticeable improvement in soil structure and workability, lower blackgrass pressure, and crops were yielding just as well, if not better, than the old regime.
Added to that, they were able to sell their two 320hp Challengers and do all jobs on the farm with a trio of John Deere 6Rs around the 200hp mark.
Agriweld discs and Metcalfe NG legs © James Andrews
Keen to take the reduced cultivations idea further, Michael and Will had a conversation with Mike Metcalfe, who suggested they try moving to his even lower disturbance CS150 leg.
This led them to adapt two more second-hand Shakaerators, both of which were set up so that they can run five or seven CS150 legs across the 3m working width.
The spacing they choose depends on the soil conditions and the surface finish they’re after.
Together, these cultivators prepare most of the ground for autumn establishment, with the legs set to work at about 15cm (6in) deep.
Typically, they are deployed into a stubble that has either been straw raked or had a pass with Vaderstad Crosscutter discs to encourage weed seeds to germinate.
As the original Shakaerator with NG legs works deeper and creates more soil movement, this now tends to get used for loosening ground in the autumn ready for drilling spring cereals.
Steve Garnett, left, with Will and Michael Scholey © James Andrews
The farm first tried direct drilling with a Bettinson DD in the mid ’90s and a Moore Unidrill in the early 2000s, but both failed as the soil wasn’t in the right condition.
Now, after some six years of the reduced tillage system, incorporating chopped straw and growing a few cover crops, they’re in a far more suitable state.
That said, as much of the ground is heavy, a good portion still gets lifted before the drills come in, providing the conditions are favourable.
“We’ve learnt that it’s no good buying a direct drill, scrapping all the other kit and hoping it will do the job on its own – you’ve got to get the soil right first and you need to have the right tools to do that,” says Michael.
In addition to the custom cultivators, the farm has three primary cereal drills: a pair of 6m Weaving GDs and a 7.2m Weaving Sabre Tine with front mounted hopper.
The GD angled disc drills cover the bulk of the area and will work directly into stubbles when the conditions are right.
However, if it’s too dry the soil can crack and open up after drilling, and when it’s too wet they can struggle to effectively close the slot.
This is where the Sabre Tine comes in, as it can establish seeds effectively in a wide range of conditions.
It does move more soil though and is more likely to hook straw around the tines.
For emergencies, they’ve also got a 3m Weaving Tine Drill power harrow combination which can almost always get a crop in.
A power harrow might seem a poor fit for a farm that’s moving away from heavy cultivation, but no tool is off limits – even the plough.
In fact, the father-and-son team purchased a new six-furrow Kuhn Varimaster five years ago when they took on a new block of land near Doncaster that needed a fresh start.
It also came into its own for two fields at the home farm which hadn’t been ploughed for 30 years and were returning disappointing yields.
“Ploughing instantly transformed those fields and they are now yielding as well as our best ground,” says Michael. “We would be happy to do the same on any block of land if we thought it would do it some good.”
The fourth Shakaerator on the farm has been modified into a single-pass oilseed rape drill, with a power harrow and a set of Weaving double-disc coulters hooked behind.
Like the farm’s primary cultivators, ground is lifted with seven JJ Metcalfe CS150 legs which they set to work at about 15cm (6in) deep.
There’s no rear packer, so working depth is controlled by the cultivator’s original adjustable front steel wheels.
The power harrow is attached via a three-point linkage that they purchased second hand and gets its drive from a pto shaft running through the cultivator’s headstock, which originally powered the trademark vibrating weight.
In work, the power harrow is only set to work the top couple of inches, so that it breaks up any clods on the surface and creates a fine tilth, without affecting the soil structure.
The aim of getting this fine seed-bed is to achieve better seed-to-soil contact, consistent seeding depth and to discourage flea beetle activity. The harrow’s packer also plays an important role in consolidating the ground.
Behind this, the pair fitted a set of Weaving double-disc coulters carried on a bar from an old Vicon Suffolk coulter drill.
This attaches to the power harrow using another three-point linkage and runs on ATV wheels with screw jacks for depth adjustment.
To close the slot, they also added large tyre press wheels from a GD drill.
Seed distribution is handled by a Techneat Terracast V2 applicator and liquid fertiliser is piped to the rear of the coulters from a front-mounted tank.
The tool has given them some consistent results and, as most parts were sourced second-hand, it only cost about £7,500 to put together.
Agriweld discs and NG legs © James Andrews
Low disturbance: Seven NG legs work at 20-25cm (8-10in), front-mounted Agricast straight discs, Andrew Guest rear spiked packer roller
Low disturbance CS150 legs © James Andrews
Ultra-low disturbance: Five or seven CS150 legs designed to work at 15-20cm (6-8in) with Andrew Guest spiked rear packer roller
© James Andrews
Oilseed rape drill: Seven CS150 legs designed to work at 150-200mm (6-8in), central power harrow, Weaving double-disc coulters, Techneat Terracast V2 seeder and liquid fertiliser applicator.
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