Improving precision can often involve investing in costly new equipment, but a new retrofit drill kit could bring variable rate seeding within reach of more farms. Jane Carley reports.
Interest in variable rate drilling continues to grow, with benefits including improved yield, a more even plant stand and enhanced black-grass control by boosting plant populations to outcompete weeds in vulnerable areas.
Site specific control of seeding output requires electronic metering drive to alter seed rates on the move and activate the instructions of seeding maps devised to plant more or less seed, according to field conditions and/or yield map data.
Most new drills can be specified with electronic metering, but what if the desire for greater precision does not coincide with machinery replacement plans? Through its precision farming arm Omnia, Hutchinsons has developed a retrofit kit to offer electronic metering on an existing land wheel driven drill to meet this need, says precision technology manager Oliver Wood.
“It may not be the right time to replace a drill which fits well into your current production system, or you may already have a main drill which has electronic drive, but would like to add variable rate capability for a second machine. We have seen the latter more in recent years as farms need to utilise an older, more lightweight drill when conditions deteriorate in autumn.”
The Omnia E-Seed kit consists of a controller, electronic motor for the drive and wiring harness, plus sensors for tank level, fan speed and drill on/off, all of which can be fitted to any drill, regardless of age, says the company. The land wheel is removed from the drill and the motor bolted on in its place. A choice of brackets offers adaption to a range of drills and conversion is said to take about half a day.
Data from seeding maps generated by Omnia’s precision farming software or third-party systems are sent via the Omnia Connect iPad app in the cab to the controller on the drill, activating the site specific metering of seed to drill more or less seed per hectare. The iPad also supplies the GPS signal for positioning. As-applied maps can then be added to the Omnia field diary module for comparison with future harvest results to aid ongoing planning. At present, there are no immediate plans to offer an Android-compatible version.
“Variable rate drilling trials at Saltby Farms, Leicestershire, with E-Seed produced yields of 8.11 tonnes/hectare compared with the farm’s standard of 6.66t/ha, an increase of 1.4t/ha, which is worth £231/ha,” says Mr Wood.
E-Seed is available this spring for about £4,800.
Jonathan Roberts of Morley Farm, Warboys, trialled the system on his Moore UniDrill.
He says: “The kit was simple to install – we just fitted the motor onto the back to replace the land wheel, the sensors went in virtually the same holes as the previous ones, we set up the app and away we went.
“The iPad app is also really straightforward to use, you do not have to be technically minded to operate it. It has given us more flexibility with drilling as it is easier to calibrate by taking the iPad out of the cab and using it alongside the drill. We can also set our own rate and adapt it from the cab without a variable rate plan if required and it is also just as easy to turn off variable rate functionality as it is to switch it on.
“Walking the fields, there has definitely been an improvement in the crops. We have had a very wet winter and even in some areas of our wheat that traditionally would have struggled, the crops look really good.”
Harry Horrell of Pode Farm, Thorney, Cambridgeshire, grows 485 hectares of crops, with oilseed rape, spring beans, maize for anaerobic digestion and spring linseed in the rotation, in a regime that has moved to direct drilling in recent years.
He fitted E-Seed to his Horsch C06 drill and says it has proved simple to set up and use. Working with his agronomist, he uses Omnia Connect to upload variable rate maps, incorporating several levels of information for each field encompassing factors such as soil type, weeds and slug pressure.
“It has been a cost-effective way of converting our existing drill to give variable rate capacity,” says Mr Horrell.
“We have definitely seen an improvement in crop establishment. The stand across the fields is more even as we have been able to battle black-grass spots and areas of high slug pressure by increasing the seed rate in those areas.”