14 April 2016, 09:45
Rod Smith farms 400ha of mainly heavy clay land overlooking Holy Island, about 10 miles south of the Scottish border, in Northumberland. He has spent much of the past 10 years or so striving to improve the soil structure at Beal Farm – wheelings and headlands, in particular – as part of a sustained strategy to boost crop yields.
His strategy more than paid off last year when he set a new world yield record for a hectare of winter wheat – 16.52 tonnes. So how did he do it?
“One of the first changes we made was to fit tracks on the combine – the worst offender in creating compaction because of its weight,” Rod recalls. “That convinced us that, because of the soil type, tracks would benefit the soil structure generally, so we invested in the Challenger 765B that we've been using as the farm's principal workhorse.
“One area we've been able to focus on is the headlands, which we calculated were yielding 40-45 per cent less than than the field averages, at below 11.0 tonnes per hectare”. In addition, Rod reports, the Challenger is used for rotational ploughing, subsoiling and top work. Reduced fuel consumption has also been a welcome feature of the switch to tracks, together with enhanced speed of operations.
Rod is convinced that attention to detail is the key to profitable cereal production, through careful management of the soil's productive capacity and by looking after the machinery that works it. “It's taken more than 10 years to get where we are in terms of crop yields and the Challenger has been central to us achieving it. You only get one chance and there are no short cuts.
“We bought the Challenger nine years ago and saw the benefit over the years, prompting us to fit tracks to the new combine three years ago,” Rod explains. “I would never go back to wheeled machines for primary cultivations, nor wheels on the combine, after all the evidence that the use of tracks contributed greatly to achieving the highest possible crop yield.”
“Soil is everything, so we need to take great care of it.”