Gaspardo Mirka Precision Drill: Capacity, compactness and coulter strength

A compact design, coulters suiting tough soils and capacity to maximise the periods between refills.  Those are the key considerations when buying a maize drill, one Isle of Wight contractor tells Martin Rickatson, Tillage Magazine.

Mirka Precision Drill

With the benefit of some of the highest sunshine hours of any area in the UK, the Isle of Wight has the ideal climate for growing maize, and with a number of dairy units plus two AD plants seeking supplies, the crop represents a viable break for rotations on the island’s arable farms. But a soil map that’s a microcosm of the country’s, with the island containing almost every key type seen across the UK, means some areas can be tough on tackle when it comes to tillage and drilling.

It’s this that makes the robustness of a drill design one of the most important criteria when selecting a machine for Isle of Wight business Westover Farm Contractors. In order to operate at the high workrates of which modern drills are capable, high forward speeds are necessary, and this is where strength comes into play. While a high-tech drill isn’t necessary to maximise outputs, high capacity and high strength are, suggests Westover’s Rob Chapman.

Westover farm contractor Rob Chapman“We have everything from sand and chalk loam to heavy clay, some with a high stone content. On ground like this, it’s important a drill can stand up not just to abrasive soil and stones, but also to ground which, because it has sometimes been cultivated by the customer, might not be worked down to the ideal drilling depth. 

“At the same time, because of our narrow country lanes, while we need a drill with which we can also apply fertiliser, we need a rear-mounted hopper rather than a front one. And we also want to be able to keep  refills to a minimum, to minimise downtime.”

Alongside Westover Farm Contractors, Mr Chapman runs his family’s 220ha (550ac) farm, which began growing maize in 2002, at that point for grain rather than forage.

“We were looking for new break crop alternatives on our arable acreage, and demand for grain maize was developing at the time. As a spring crop it fitted well with the rest of our rotation of winter wheat, winter barley and oilseed rape. As we wanted to put down around 100 acres to the crop, and had the opportunity to also drill some for a neighbour, we decided to invest in our own drill, and after looking at what was available bought a used four-row Gaspardo, based on strength, simplicity and a good dealer.”

Five years later, with a local contractor deciding to retire, Robert and his brother Richard were able to take on his work, and create a full-time contracting arm for their business. The move and gradual expansion that followed led to them becoming one of two main agricultural contractors on the island, and expanded considerably the acreage of maize they were planting, by now mostly for forage. Richard has now left the contracting operation to farm 500ha with his wife Olivia on her family farm.

“After a couple of years we upgraded to a new six-row Gaspardo, which helped us cover a fair bit more ground in a day, and that did seven seasons. But as the area of maize on the island kept growing, with the building of two new AD plants, the work kept increasing. Last year we needed to either spend a fair bit refurbishing our existing drill, or invest in a new one.

“We decided to go down the latter route. Of the drills on the market, the Gaspardo Mirka was technologically fairly simple, operated through a Müller Precimat controller. More importantly, it also didn’t require the fertiliser hopper to be frontmounted – we’re asked by only a small number of farmers to plant maize without starter fertiliser. With a front tank, moving between fields would be very awkward on our narrow lanes, as well as adding to removal and installation time – with the Mirka, this only takes ten minutes. We can also more easily work in small fields and on game cover strips – we drill 250 acres (100ha) of sunflower and maize cover annually, and being able to use the Mirka for this means we don’t have to run a smaller second drill. And although it’s rear-mounted, the Mirka’s tank is also twice as big as that on our old Gaspardo drill.”

Mr Chapman says this has helped halve refilling intervals, but believes this isn’t the only contributory factor to increased output.

“The price difference between a six- and an eight-row model wasn’t that big, so we went for the latter. We’ve subsequently been able to take on an extra 500 acres of work, which has helped make up that additional cost.

“As we’ve moved from six rows to eight, we’ve halved our drilling times, largely because we’re doing only four headland rounds rather than five, and then making fewer passes within the body of the field.

“Field sizes on the island range from four to one hundred acres. On the largest of those, one of our drivers completed drilling in less than 10 hours last season using the new drill. With our old six-row, the job would have taken a half to a whole day longer.”Mirka Precision drill rear view

Built around a heavy-duty frame to allow fertiliser, microgranules and seed to all be carried on the machine itself rather than a separate hopper, the Mirka incorporates Gaspardo’s ‘wing lift’ feature, allowing the wings to be partially lifted at the headland to prevent the outer units catching the ground when turning. Capacities comprise 1,400 litres of fertiliser and 480 litres of seed in eight hoppers to feed the large-diameter disc-based coulter units, which are set at 75cm centres. Microgranule hoppers of 30 litres are optional.

A maize drill needs to be built well to cope with high workrates, believes Mr Chapman, and although Gaspardo says the Mirka is suited to tractors of 170hp-plus, he operates it behind a 240hp Fendt 724.

“That means we get sufficient speed to make the most of its potential output. We can work at 12km/hr and average 10ac/hr, depending on field size. The drill’s general build and heavy-duty coulters seem tough enough to handle that sort of speed, and placement accuracy isn’t affected, even where we’re working on stony or heavy ground, or where the customer hasn’t perhaps worked the ground quite deeply enough. Evenness of emergence is very good.”

Maize drilling typically takes place between mid-April and mid-May – although last year’s wet spring saw work only commence at the end of that period.

“That meant the additional capacity from a drill with two more units was very welcome, and last year we drilled 2,000 acres (800ha), split fairly equally between forage maize and crop grown for one of the two AD plants on the island. Bar an issue with stones jamming between coulters – which has now been addressed – it proved very capable in a spring when we were under pressure because of the weather. Maize makes an excellent break crop for many arable farmers here, and a drill with the capacity and ability to cover ground quickly in difficult soils during a short weather window helps us get it in on time and in the best conditions.”

Article reproduced with kind permission from   summer 2107 magazine