It's not uncommon for farms to be a family affair, but the Drumm family at Mullingar, Co Westmeath, Ireland, have taken this to new heights with their own agritech invention.
Whether it’s on a 0.2ha match plot or a 20ha paddock, the principles are the same: cut all the roots with your opening split and bury everything thereafter, leaving a level finish that will facilitate subsequent operations, he says.
“It comes down to the quality of weed control and seedbed produced. If you do a good job it will save you one or two passes in follow-up cultivations.”
It also reduces the number of weeds herbicides have to control. That reduction in weed pressure is seeing the plough make a comeback in many cropping systems around the world as growers attempt to prevent herbicide resistant weed populations developing, or battle already resistant populations by burying seed.
“The chemistry’s not been able to keep up with the grassweed control,” notes Styles.
In such situations making a good job with the plough is more important than ever, as every weed and, perhaps more importantly, every weed seed, needs to be buried so deep it won’t grow.
Once seed has been ploughed down, typically best practice is to leave it there for two or three years by using non-inversion tillage, or direct-drilling, until the seed becomes non-viable. Then the plough might be used again to bury another potentially resistant population of weeds that may have built up on the surface, safe in the knowledge that little if any old seed brought to the surface will grow.
But Styles doesn’t plough an inch of his 400ha farm about 20km inland from Timaru and with good reason.
“I don’t plough here because of the nature of the terrain. By direct drilling we cut the erosion in bad weather so if it pours we know the soil is going to stay on the hillside. Basically I stopped ploughing on the farm when we moved here,” he explains.
He also has a diverse rotation of crops – cereals, peas, and grass and clover seeds – integrated with pasture to make herbicide resistance less of a risk.
So if he doesn’t plough, how did he become president of the New Zealand association? A neighbour noted his neat furrow work on a previous farm on flats near Timaru and suggested he try match ploughing. In due course he qualified for half a dozen national finals.
“My last was in 2006. Mainly I’m involved with judging now and administration with the local championship and with the national [Ploughing Association] executive.”
He’s also judged at a World Championship, in Canada in 2013. “You’ve got to be on top of the job at the ‘worlds’ because there are so many plots.”
This year’s world championship is in Denmark, October 3-4, with Ian Woolley of Blenheim representing New Zealand in the conventional, and Malcolm Taylor of Putaruru, Waikato, the reversible representative. Styles is team manager and Bruce Redmond, a former NZ and world champion, coach.
Woolley will be among competitors at this year’s NZ national championship which is at Palmerston, Otago, April 18-19, (see panel) having qualified at Rakaia. The nationals will be his first competition using a new John Deere 5720 tractor.
“With the help of Gordon Handy Machinery we’re altering the wheel spacing and getting the rims refitted, then we’ll start practicing. It’ll be a bit of a learning curve.”
In June, the tractor and his Kverneland plough will go in a container for the 6-8 week trip to Denmark. The team will follow by plane to arrive early September.
“It’s a huge expense but we want to give ourselves a good chance. We’re not just going to make up the numbers.”
As for this year’s NZ championships at Palmerston, the winners of the conventional and reversible classes there will qualify for the World Championships to be held in Yorkshire, England, September 2016.
60th New Zealand Ploughing Championships
When: Sat April 18 (stubble) and Sunday April 19 (grass)
Where: Sheat family’s Harpsdale Farm, Palmerston, Otago
Host association : East Otago Vintage Ploughing Committee
Site: Flat, river silt soil.
Major sponsors: Case IH; Famlands Fuel; Mainland Minerals; Rural News.