Since the early 2000’s, Richard Budd, an arable farmer on the Kent and Sussex border, has been moving away from the plough in a bid to improve the quality of his soils. However, in recent years he has adopted a direct drilling approach which has delivered a number of benefits.
In this blog, he discusses how he changed his system and his advice to others interested in doing the same.
Richard has been reducing tillage on his land for many years. Drainage had always been a challenging issue for the farm, and it would often have negative impacts on seed establishment, but after a period of poor weather in 2012 exacerbated the issue further, Richard realised a change was needed.
Prior to 2013, the farm used minimum tillage/non inversion techniques which included a trio, tined press, Horsch sprinter drill followed by rolling. However, when he decided to move reduce tillage even further to improve drainage, Richard purchased a direct drill.
Last autumn, following many years of trial and error, he switched to a different approach. He now uses a direct disc drill (4m DD mounted) on the better quality soil, but where soils are poorer he still uses the 6m DTS Strip Drill.
His approach when it comes to cultivation and drilling is to follow these three crucial rules:
As well as the drainage challenges, there were many other reasons Richard had for moving towards a direct drilling system and adopting the approach he uses currently.
As the farm got bigger, the demand for labour was increasing which brought about added costs for Richard.
By moving towards a direct drilling system, there are less passes needed and therefore reduced need for any additional labour around drilling which helps bring down costs.
Reducing tillage also means machinery is used at a minimum which helps to cut down on fuel costs, fixed costs per hectare and reduce wear and tear on the machinery.
As the farm expanded, it became difficult to find the time to prepare every field and get the seed in the ground at the ideal timing using the traditional cultivation practices.
Direct drilling, does what it says on the tin, reducing the amount of tillage needed which has a knock-on effect of less time pressure so your window for drilling is maximised.
Blackgrass has been a challenging issue for the farm for a number of years, but by moving towards a direct drill system, Richard was able to drill later which helps to combat the blackgrass problem.
Richard explains that even the best direct drill is not a silver bullet. If your soils have poor structure, low organic matter and are depleted from years of traditional cultivation, a whole farm approach needs to be taken to help improve soil health.
A crucial aspect in improving soil structure is boosting soil organic matter. Richard explains an important part of this is managing straw residue.
Richard has always chopped and spread the straw behind the combine rather than bailing it up. By doing this, straw can be incorporated into the soil and will help to increase the organic matter content. He explains that it can be tempting to bale straw when the price is good, but this comes at a real cost to soil health and structure.
Since changing these practices, the organic matter content in Richard’s soil has increased each year by 0.3%. Increasing organic matter can be hard to do and can take many years but Richard explains it’s not impossible if you are patient.
Cover cropping is another tool that many regenerative farmers use to help improve their soil structure and organic matter. However, Richard isn’t quite convinced by commercial cover crops and has his own way of doing things.
Instead of purchasing premium cover crop mixtures he follows the combine with a light cultivation, allowing weeds and volunteers to germinate. This provides a free cover crop between harvest and drilling which also helps to improve soil structure. This can then be sprayed off 24 hours before drilling.
Richard explains that when trying bought in cover crops in the past it hasn’t worked for him, however, he recognises that cover crops are a vital aspect of improving soils for many farms.
Along this long journey of moving towards direct drilling, Richard has picked up some great tips for farmers interested in doing the same.
For more advice on how Sumo machinery can support your journey moving away from the plough, contact the Sumo team here.