Cover crop demo puts direct drills through their paces

With cover cropping and direct drilling becoming increasingly popular growers in Cheshire were given a unique insight into how machines compare when drilling wheat into a range of cover mixes...

When it comes to deciding which drill to buy, or cover crop to sow, there is clearly no one-size-fits-all answer. Every farm, field and soil is different, and everyone has their preferred brand, not to mention budget.

The Hutchinsons/ CAS drill demonstration at Aston Grange Farm, near Runcorn kindly hosted by Stephen & Andrew Shaw in September, was never designed to find the “best” direct drill, but to provide a view on the performance of different drills when drilling wheat into cover crops and the impact on the subsequent crop establishment.

The 10 ha field, previously in potatoes, was divided into sections of just under a hectare each with the three types of cover crop drilled with a range of different drill systems across each section.


Established in August these consisted of:
  1. Maxi Cover- Buckwheat, white mustard and berseem clover- Designed for rapid growth
  2. Maxi Veg- Linseed, buckwheat phacelia and crimson clover
  3. Maxi Impact- Sunflowers, linseed, buckwheat, phacelia, crimson clover and berseem clover


CAS agronomist Andrew Roberts responsible for the trials explains the reasoning behind the trial. “The high rainfall in the north-west is one of the biggest challenges to crop establishment and production. Up here we are looking at average rainfall of 900mm.”

“It all comes down to being able to get onto the fields to drill in the autumn. So we are looking at how cover or catch crops might help to pull moisture out of the ground and help dry up soils to widen the drilling window.”

Mr Roberts says: “Wet weather prior to drilling on the open day, created some challenging conditions for all machines on the medium-bodied soil, but we got all the wheat drilled. Crop assessments and plant counts will be taken through the autumn and spring and the plots will be taken to harvest.”

Drills on demo

  1. Kverneland 6m Udrill
  2. Weaving 6m GD
  3. Horsch Avatar 6m
  4. Sky Agriculture Easy drill 6m
  5. Claydon Hybrid disc 3m
  6. Mzuri Pro till 3m

S & A Shaw Aston Grange Farm, Aston, Runcorn

  • 364 ha’s wheat, barley, oats and oilseed rape
  • 120 ha’s potatoes – some owned & some rented
  • Sandy loam to silty clay loam

Mr Shaw is always looking at improving efficiency which this year has proved more important than ever.

“Costs are up and its been a challenging year for yields as a result of the dry spring and subsequent crop stress. Whilst these are issues beyond our control, there are areas that we can control in terms of improving soil health and cutting back on inputs.”

It was on this basis that Mr Shaw started to look at implementing precision farming technology and practices onto his farm.

Three years ago, the Shaw’s began using Omnia, Hutchinsons digital farming platform. Andrew Roberts worked closely with Mr Shaw to introduce the system incorporating as much farm data as possible.

He explains: “One of the first things we did was to have all of the fields scanned using TerraMap. Previously, standard core samples were taken and on the back of the results from this, we would expect to apply potash and occasionally lime.”

TerraMap is Hutchinsons revolutionary soil scanning service that provides greater definition and more accurate soil maps than any other system enabling growers and agronomists to make the most of precision technology.

It does this by providing high definition mapping of all common nutrient properties, pH, soil texture, organic matter and CEC as well as elevation and plant available water. It also measures the levels of P, K, Mg, pH and % of clay, sand, silt, texture and elevation as well as calcium, manganese, boron, copper, molybdenum, iron, zinc, sulphur, OM, CEC and plant available water.

The results from TerraMap are then used to create maps within Omnia.

“TerraMap allowed us to build up much more accurate data on the soils and has allowed us to create accurate variable rate drilling maps,” says Andrew.

“In doing so, we have been variably applying potash and lime and this spring we plan to use NDVI biomass maps to vary nitrogen content and scale back on liquid fertiliser use and target applications, particularly across milling wheat varieties.”

“It has meant that the sprayer has been updated, but this was a cost that was on the cards anyway.

“We are really pleased with Omnia and TerraMap as adopting this technology has helped us to ensure we are more efficient with our inputs without compromising output.”

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