Controlled traffic farming – which uses the same tramlines for machinery throughout the growing season to cut compaction from trafficking – has been shown to help improve soil quality and boost yields.
But for many farms the initial outlay on machinery and lack of suitability for particular crops or conditions can be a limiting factor.
Dry Drayton-based James Peck, who completed a Nuffield Scholarship on CTF in 2010, has challenged these limitations on his family’s 5,000-hectare PX Farms business, which operates on owned land, farm business tenancies (FBT) and contract farmed land in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedford shire.
To exploit the benefits of CTF more widely, operations have ranged from engaging a contractor who uses an adapted Transtacker to collect straw bales from the permanent wheelways to specifying and managing machinery to plant, grow and harvest potatoes and sugar beet in the system.
Disturbance Mr Peck has now tackled another ‘taboo’ – the use of a plough; seemingly anathema to the minimal disturbance, minimal passes culture of the CTF movement.
He says: “In some circumstances, such as when cultivating after later harvested crops, to offer a ‘reset’ where weeds are an issue or where land is coming out of fallow or in wet corners, the plough is the best option.
“We wouldn’t have the time or manpower to plough our entire acreage, but it’s useful to have the flexibility to do it if necessary – there’s a time and place for it.”
Plough set-up is key to maintaining the accuracy needed.PX Farms’ CTF system is based on 12 metres, so implements are divisions or multiples of this: 12m headers on the four Claas Lexion combines, a 12m Horsch Terrano tined cultivator, 36m Horsch sprayer, 24m rolls, 3m subsoiler, etc.
Tractors are set at 1.8m internal track width.
A seven-furrow mounted Dowdeswell MA plough with hydraulic variable width is set to work on-land at 2.975m wide, with 42cm furrow width.
The fourth furrow lines up precisely with the centre of the tractor.
Ploughing depth is generally set at 30-35cm but can be as deep as 48cm for potatoes.
Farm assistant Tom Eve says: “All fields are RTK mapped and the headland or A-B line is selected on the Trimble GPS display in the Fendt 939.
“Ploughing with 900 tyres on the rear and 720s on the front of the tractor keeps it very level and central and the headlands all match up neatly.
Versatile “We use the Fendt for this rather than a crawler due to the distances travelled to some of the land we farm and it is also a versatile tractor for other jobs, such as cultivating or pulling the chaser bin.”
Operator Ryan Phillips adds: “It’s very straightforward to work land using the RTK – I simply position the plough according to whether I’m working on the headland or the A-B line.
You could also plough in the furrow over winter.
At 42cm furrow width, the mouldboards have to throw the soil further so you don’t always get as clean a furrow as you’d like with standard plough bodies; we may look at longer designs when the existing mouldboards are replaced.”
Mr Peck says that while it would be uneconomical to plough large areas, with a commodity price of £200/ tonne, the cost saving of £36/ha offered by min-tilling is a small factor compared to the benefits offered by ploughing an area that needs it.
“We wouldn’t plough land that had been in oilseed rape or beans as those crops create their own tilth, but in some circumstances it’s useful to be able to do so.
We can now put ploughing into our armoury while still operating in a CTF pattern,” he says.
“If our experiences help other farms see that CTF can be an option for them, especially if they have root or vegetable crops so they will need to plough, that’s highly positive.”