A new system of dealing with salad crop residues has enabled J E Piccaver & Co to speed up the operation dramatically, whilst at the same time improving soil structure.

This season will be the third for the OPICO/HE-VA one-pass system used by the company.

Previously the practice was to use a 3.5m rotary cultivator to trash in any loose product.

“We grow salad lettuce which is double cropped in the same season,” explained production director Phillip Hubbert.  “At the end of the first harvest we used to rotary cultivate all the product before we ploughed, prepared and planted the second crop.

“However, the problem with the traditional rotary cultivator is that it’s very slow.  We were also concerned that it creates more of a smear and a very fine tilth after rotavating the crop in.

“We wanted something that would get across the ground very quickly and would adequately trash the product into the soil mixture to prevent disease and pest transfer to the adjacent growing crop.

“Also, we needed a system that would allow us to get on to plough again for replanting.”

Following demonstrations of various makes of equipment, they opted for a HE-VA Cultipakker front press and OPICO Vari-Disc cultivator combination as the one they felt would do the best job.

The OPICO Vari-Disc Quad cultivator, with its heavy-duty frame and four rows of discs, is designed to cope with heavy soils and high crop residues.

The unit has a working width of 3 metres and cultivates the soil to an even depth whilst aggressively mixing in the trash.  Behind the Vari-Disc Quad is a crumbler roller.

At the front of the tractor is mounted a HE-VA 3 metre Cultipakker front press, a toothed packing roller with a diameter of 750mm.  This unit provides low rolling resistance, has individually welded teeth for improved cleaning in sticky conditions and adjustable scrapers.

“In the event, the set-up did all the things we wanted it to do, plus it was a lot quicker than we were expecting,” said Phillip.

The combination requires a tractor with not less than 120 hp, such as a John Deere 6920.  “We learned to put an extra bit of horsepower on to get extra speed – the quicker it goes the better job it does,” said Phillip.

The outfit kicks into operation late May and is used  through to October on a minimum of 300 ha of salads.

“I think we are getting a better agronomic finish than what we were doing previously, says Phillip.  “I think there is an improvement in the soil.

“It wouldn’t work as well if we hadn’t got the Cultipacker on the front.  You must have this to crunch down the product before you actually disc.

“What this means is that we are levelling out the ground – we don’t get any clumping of trash which potentially we could do with other pieces of equipment.

“We tried various pieces of stubble cultivation equipment but all they did was just bung up the product.  This one has reasonable leg clearance through the frame and the discs aren’t too close together – the formulation of the disc angles allows for the flow through it.

“There’s not a lot more to it.  It’s the simple nature of the thing that makes it so good.”