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Crop establishment made

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An Introduction To CTF

Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF) is an excellent method for managing compaction created by heavy modern machinery. The Dale Drills range of low-draught seed drills works harmoniously within a CTF system.

By reducing the area of soil that is trafficked, overall field compaction is kept to a minimum, reducing the need for cultivations to a limited area of the field. The wider the track widths are apart, the greater the efficiency (and therefore savings) of the CTF system. Our range of Eco no-till drills is very easy to pull (minimum 25hp/m). This, combined with their lower weight construction, means wider working width drills can be pulled by relatively modest-sized tractors.

An example of a CTF system: A 9m Eco XL seed drill could be pulled by a 225hp tractor in a 9m CTF system. All combining, cultivating if required, and drilling are done at 9-meter widths. Wheels are set to the same track settings, and as a result, wheelings cover approximately 22% of the field area.

Without CTF, the soil that is traversed is expected to cover 80% to 90% of the field. Although modern tires and combine tracks can be set to exert less than 0.7 bar, during wet periods, soils may still become damaged. Employing a CTF system ensures that we know where the soil damage has occurred and that we only need to rectify the damage in that specific area.

Watch Edward Dale demonstrate how he uses the Controlled Traffic Farming system to increase his yield and fuel efficiency.

Crop Establishment Cost Comparisons

This bar chart shows the comparison in cost between the different establishment methods. More detailed prices are listed below.

The effect of CTF on machinery costs

Due to the absence of random wheelings across the field, there is no need for deeper cultivation, except on the headlands where machines have turned. The soil in CTF also becomes lighter and more easily workable, enabling a 225hp tractor to comfortably cultivate or drill 60 ha in an average day, pulling 9m wide equipment.

In the autumn, with 40 available days between 1st August and 31st October, 1200 ha could be cultivated once, and an additional 1200 ha could be drilled.

In the spring, with 30 available days between 1st February and 30th April, a further 900 ha can be cultivated, and 900 ha can be drilled.

Although there is a need to level, lift, and possibly roll down the headlands where machinery has turned, amounting to 15% of the total area, it would be possible for one 225hp tractor to handle all the land work on a 1000ha farm under controlled traffic farming conditions. In a wet season, another tractor may be required to repair damage in the controlled wheelings.

Cost Comparison Breakdown

Method 1: Ploughing

Ploughing£42 /ha
Cultipress£20 /ha
Cultipress£20 /ha
Power harrow£26.50 /ha
Roll£11 /ha
Drill£19 /ha
Roll£11 /ha
Total£149.50 /ha

Method 2: Min Till

Disc£27 /ha
Shallow level-lift£30 /ha
Cultipress£20 /ha
Roll£11 /ha
Drill£27 /ha
Roll£11 /ha
Total£126 /ha

Method 3: Direct Drilling

Cost of level-lifting and rolling headlands @ £41/ha on 15% of the area£6.15 /ha
Drilling£27 /ha
Rolling£11 /ha
One dose of slug pellets£13 /ha
Application of slug pellets£3 /ha
Total£60.15 /ha
If required, cost of level-lifting combine and grain cart wheelings
@ £41/ha on 40% of the area
£16.40 /ha
Total£76.55 /ha

Method 4: Controlled Traffic Farming

Capital cost of auto-trac, maintenance and license£3.75 /ha
Cost of level-lifting and rolling headlands @ £41/ha on 15% of the area£6.15 /ha
Shallow cultivations on 70% of land
e.g. cultipress or light disc and roll (@ £20 / ha)
£14 /ha
Drill (easier to pull on C. T. F.)£25 /ha
Roll£11 /ha
Total£60.90 /ha
The cost of an additional dose of slug pellets is included with the direct drilled crop as no cultivation is done.

At Dale Drills we have supported research and demonstrations carried out by CTF Europe and Unilever R + D Colworth at Sharnbrook Bedfordshire, into Controlled Traffic Farming. We supplied a specially adapted 8 meter Dale Zero Till drill with wheels at 3m centres to demonstrate the advantages which CTF delivers to British soils.

Further information can be seen at

General FAQ’s

What are the running costs of Dale direct drills?

Although the drills are working for much of the time in very hard abrasive conditions, the tungsten tipped coulters give a long wearing life. Running costs on earth wearing parts are generally less than £1/ac.

What is the output of the direct drills?

A 6m drill at 10kph will drill 6 ha/hr in a straight line. With a 30% reduction for filling the hopper and turning on headlands, an output of over 4 ha/hr can be achieved.

What is the row spacing and what effect does it have on yield?

The Eco-Drill has a unique adjustable row spacing. The drill can be adjusted to work at 5″ (12.5cm) or 10″ (25cm). A quick adjuster allows this to be done in a relatively short amount of time. The Eco-Drill is the only drill on the market to be able to direct drill at 5″ row spacing.

The MTD typically drills at 5″ row spacing although we are normally able to adjust this to suit users requirements.

The Zero Till drills a band of seed 77mm (3″) wide, which is firmed down by the press wheel. There is a gap of 173mm (6″) between bands. Wider row spacing than current ‘close spaced’ drills is essential to allow trash to pass through the drill. In trials, yields have been the same until row spacing exceeds 355mm (14″).

Why is the drill so easy to pull?

As Dale Drills are only cultivating and rolling the part of the ground where the seed is planted, with a 12mm wide tungsten carbide tip, and leaving the rest of the ground untouched, they only require 20hp/metre width to pull them.

Are slugs a problem with reduced cultivations?

Yes, the less cultivation of the soil, the fewer slugs are squashed. The trash on the surface also harbours slugs. Slug problems can be reduced by baling and removing straw, harrowing stubble to evenly distribute remaining straw and trash, and rolling after drilling. Slug pellets will probably need to be applied, especially at the crop emergence stage.

How do you deal with compaction when direct drilling?

If you have a compaction problem, then remove that problem before drilling. Dale direct drills work well on level lifted ground, especially if it is rolled down before drilling.

A Controlled Traffic Farming system can be used to reduce the amount of compaction and therefore the need to cultivate. See our Controlled Traffic page for more information.

What advice can you give on preparation of land for direct drilling?

Direct drilling has the potential to save money on establishment costs, save moisture (we might need it one day!) and improve soil structure, by keeping the organic matter on the surface and increasing the population of earthworms. It is therefore well worth taking the trouble to make sure it works well.

We have put together these guidelines:

  1. Fields that don’t have any compaction problems are in the correct state to direct drill. If the land does have compaction then level lift and roll prior to drilling.
  2. Choose fields that don’t have severe grass weed problems. Grass weed seeds are better ploughed down and then the blackgrass can be sprayed out in the years before direct drilling.

Stubble Management

  1. Use a chaff spreader on the combine.
  2. Combine the field using wide headlands, to prevent thick deposits of  straw when turning.
  3. Cut cereal stubble 150mm (6”) high or less, and if not baling, finely chop the straw and spread it as well as possible. Longer stubble tends to cause blockages in the drill and also shades the growing crop.

If the chopped straw has not been evenly spread then straight tooth harrow or use a straw rake on the stubble at an angle to the direction of combining, which spreads the straw evenly across the field, helps to break it up further, and may provide a very shallow surface tilth. It should also squash a proportion of the slug population, if present.

Drill Early
Have the direct drilling done as early as reasonably possible. Give the plants time to establish while the soil is warm so that they can grow through any straw mulch and away from slug pressure.

Increase the seed rates by 5-10%. We are after all doing much less to create an ideal seedbed, so it is understandable that slightly less seedlings will survive.

Put slug bait points down prior to drilling. If there is a slug problem, spread slug pellets at the same time as drilling, or mix pellets with the seed. I would only advise mixing pellets with the seed if the land is cloddy, and the drill has not completely firmed soil around the seed.

Roll after drilling, to put down any stones and firm the surface to help against slugs.

Check for slug activity approximately 1 week after drilling when the seedlings are just emerging. If required, apply half rate minislug pellets. The plants are at their most vulnerable at the seedling stage.

Weed Control
Spray off with Roundup pre drilling if you have weeds and volunteers emerged.
Alternatively use Roundup after drilling if you intend using a
pre-emerge spray, as many will mix satisfactorily.

Use this year’s tramlines for next year’s crop. They will still be visible, and provided they are not deeply rutted will be ideal for carrying the sprayer, as they tend to remain firm right through the autumn.

You should see far less weeds emerging in direct drilled crops, especially if you have chopped and spread the straw prior to drilling.

If you wish to use a soil acting herbicide, don’t be too concerned about straw residue on the surface. Most of the chemical will wash through the straw to the soil, and if the straw is very thick, the weeds cannot grow through it anyway.

You should expect a small yield increase from direct drilling, because of moisture conservation, better soil structure and a lower weed pressure, and on all but the very lightest soils you should save over £30/ac (110 euro/ha) on establishment costs. It is therefore well worth making sure direct drilling has every chance of succeeding.

What are the ideal conditions for 'Zero Till' or 'Direct' drilling?

Conditions for direct drilling need to be as follows:

  1. Soil needs to be dry enough to crumble and form some tilth when tines pass through it.
  2. Soil structure needs to be good.
  3. Direct drilled crops are generally slower to grow; so direct drilling should be done early to give the crop more time.
  4. Fertilizer applied at drilling will significantly improve crop establishment by promoting more rapid growth, and better root development.

Will the Dale direct drills work on conventional seedbeds?

The drill works on min-till or conventional seedbeds. Rolling the seedbed to make it firm before drilling is advisable to enable the drill to perform well. Adjustable pressure to the assembly rams on our drills allow for an appropriate amount of pressure to be set for the conditions.

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