TopDown replaces plough to boost yield and reduce costs

Switching from a plough based to a minimum tillage based system has helped to increase oilseed rape yields, reduce cereal establishment costs and increase speed of operation on a 1 800 hectares Suffolk arable farming enterprise.  

Seven years ago, Matthew Baker and his father David who farm at Boundary Farm, Ilketshall St Margaret near Bungay, replaced a 14-furrow plough and an 8 m disc and packer for a 7 m TopDown with BioDrill. This has enabled the farm to sell one of three Challenger tractors.

Matthew Baker
Matthew Baker with their TopDown 700 

“We still subsoil the headlands to remove wheelings and compaction and then go round with the TopDown to level the land,” says Mr Baker. “We will continue to plough for establishing vining peas.

“The TopDown has smaller discs which is advantageous because it means more cuts per metre run,” he says. “It’s faster too which improves soil flow across the full working width of the machine.”

The Bakers bale all their straw so there is less trash to deal with after harvest. Good clearance under the TopDown helps soil movement and improves the soil and trash mixing process. Consequently, Matthew says that there is more organic matter in the land now and consequently a higher worm count.

TopDown with BioDrill

Oilseed rape is established using the TopDown and BioDrill in one pass whether it is wet or dry.

“Establishment in one pass helps retain moisture compared to using a plough when we found ourselves often drilling into dust,” says Mr Baker.

For cereals, he makes one pass with the TopDown followed with the RexiusTwin if necessary, and then the drill.

When cultivating with a 14 furrow plough we could achieve 20 hectares a day, but with the TopDown it’s over 50 hectares. Drilling is all completed now by the first week in September and takes about three weeks.”

Because of the switch from plough to minimum tillage, oilseed rape yields have gone up by 85 percent and although wheat yields have not changed, the cost of establishment has been reduced and the speed of establishment has increased.

“We used to have a plough man going all night to keep ahead of the drill,” says Mr Baker. “For our current cultivation system to work properly it has to be carried out at speed. Legs on the TopDown are set to a depth of eight inches, which is the same as the plough.

“The TopDown doesn’t appear to move all the soil in the profile when you watch it working, but on closer inspection it is easy to see that it has all been shattered. We are aiming for a friable tilth to 5 cm depth but so long as the soil profile has been cracked then its fine. The advantage of the TopDown is that it is possible to drill straight into most seedbeds.”

Väderstad tines have a hydraulic break back system in case of hard obstacles, but Mr Baker says he does not have any on his land to hurt the machine so the pressure is set to maximum to take out compaction.

“A set of points should easily do 100 hectares depending on conditions and they are straight forward to change. It takes about half an hour to change 26 points and each point costs about 21 €.  We always use genuine parts because it’s a false economy in the long run not to do so.” 

Product image RexiusTwin 700x360

Mr Baker uses the RexiusTwin in front of the drill where land has gone dry and hard after the TopDown. He says the steel packer on the TopDown helps consolidate the soil while the scrapers are set lower than on many implements to keep the packer free of soil.

A 540 hp Challenger was used to pull the TopDown initially, but a larger 600 hp Challenger proved to be much more effective because it could work at 2 kph faster. Fuel consumption is about 89 l/hr. By comparison, the ploughs used 60 l/hr each.
“Our fuel cost is now a lot lower plus we need one man less to complete the job,” says Mr Baker. 

Mr Bakers fleet:
2 Challengers (875, Class 75E)
3 John Deere tractors
2 Combines (Class Lexion 580, New Holland 980)
1 Bateman sprayer 32 m
1 Rapid drill 8 m
1 RexiusTwin 8 m
1 TopDown 7 m