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A new approach to seedbed preparation has been a great success on a Norfolk farm. It has achieved good germination and significant savings on slug control.

Richard Holden farms 700 acres of mainly cereals and rape at Priory Farm, Bedingham, Bungay. Prior to 2001, seedbed preparation relied on furrow press followed by a combination drill.

"But after 2000 when things went hard and last year when conditions were too wet to use the furrow press we thought we ought to have an alternative," said Mr Holden. Last August he took delivery of a 7.3 metre set of OPICO Vari-Flex Rolls equipped with a ShattaBoard levelling board and large 24-inch rings.

Mounted in front of the rolling assembly to give extra levelling and consolidation of the ploughed ground, the levelling board can be lifted out of the way when not required. They did not need to use a furrow press on the heavy land last year.

"When the OPICO equipment arrived we went into a 30-acre field that had been ploughed about three weeks and was very hard. We started with the rolls but when we put the ShattaBoard down we couldn't believe what it did. It is one of the few machines I have had on the farm that made my jaw drop. It just did exactly what I wanted it to do, without a lot of setting up."

Mr Holden said that price considerations have made him a late convert to folding rolls. "The advantage of the sprung ShattaBoard mounted in front of the rolls is that it isn't going to wear out because the soil is acting on itself. It's pushing a lot of soil in front. This is why, on our heavy land, we use a 170hp tractor and even with duals sometimes get 20 per cent wheel slip."

" The difference between the OPICO system and a normal harrow is that because you've got four tons of rolls behind the levelling board, the machine can't jump about. Obviously there is an optimum time to use it, which is before the ploughed ground gets too hard."

It was effective on 12 acres of parkland that Mr Holden's next-door neighbour needed to drill with a spring tine drill - "not the best tool for the job." "As soon as we drove on to this field it was so soft that the tractor dropped in about nine inches," said Mr Holden, "so we put the ShattaBoard down with 170hp on the front. We finished the field and rolled it down and now there is a superb crop of wheat on it."

Despite wet weather he finished autumn drilling on schedule. "In fact, we rolled some barley twice and against the advice of my agronomist I didn't buy any slug pellets. If I had gone along with the recommendations, which in some places was to put slug pellets down before we drilled, I would have spent about £3000. This saving has gone a long way towards paying for the rolls," he added.

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