Drilling an even maize crop from an uneven start

Good even establishment is fundamental to achieving an evenly grown and uniformly matured maize crop. Seedbed conditions, drilling and starter fertiliser are key success factors.

Hampshire contracting brothers Edward and Morris Emery drill and harvest around 1000 acres of maize each year. Although they offer the full stubble to stubble package, some farmers still prefer to do the groundwork themselves.

Edward says: “When we’re in control of the whole job, we’ll power-harrow after ploughing to create a seedbed that is fine and firm. However, when our customers do their own groundwork it is often not worked down as well as we would like. So we need a drill design that can cope with lumpier trashier seedbeds.

“Also, it’s only a 4-5 week window, and in wet springs, there is even less time for drilling conditions to come good.”

The brothers are advocates of Gaspardo drills appreciating their ability to run in wetter soils and liking their mechanical simplicity.

The MTR seed units on Gaspardo drills are heavy duty with an adjustable spring tension so that down-pressure can be maximised, to better cope with cloddy wet soils.

Edward also appreciates the lack of ‘shoes’ on the drills, he says: “The large discs open the ground up for both fertiliser and seed, giving even placement even in wet soils.”

Maize plants have long tap roots and any compaction needs to be avoided. “The rubber press wheels run on an angle alongside the seed row – rather than directly over it – so this prevents compaction and capping and firms up the ground in the right place,” he says.

The Emery brothers run two precision drills: last year their 6-row Monica drill was replaced with a second 8-row Mirka drill. The heavier framed Mirka has 36-hole metering discs (compared to the Monica’s 26-hole disc) enabling faster workrates without seed-rate dropping.

With the previous 6-row drill, a narrow wheel tractor would be hired in to prevent compaction down the rows. But although the heavier Mirka drill needs the bigger tractor, its track eradicators ensure surface compaction is removed. “There’s no delay in emergence or stunting of plants in those rows,” says Edward.

The contracting business (NJ Emery and Sons) is based south of Winchester and employs three full-time drivers in addition to the two brothers, with more drafted in at peak times. The main services offered are: silaging (2,500 acres of grass, 1000 acres of maize and 300 acres of wholecrop), drilling around 100 acres of game cover, baling and muckspreading. In addition, the brothers milk a 220-cow dairy herd and finish around 100 beef cattle each year.

Whilst some contractors have lost maize work over the past few years, as dairy farmers have turned to wholecrop or sold their cows, the Emery brothers have maintained their acreage – losing some work to AD plant owners who have invested in their own kit, but gaining new customers thanks in part to their reputation for drills which can reliably keep going even in mintill seedbeds.