Claydon Straw Rake to Improve Weed and Slug Control?

August 7, 2012

The past five years have been a great learning curve for us in how to direct drill crops and avoid moving too much soil.  In fact it is the complete opposite of the previous farming system where the plough was used to move top 6-9 inches of soil across the whole field.  Some farmers refer to direct drilling as ‘zero tilling’ though it does depend on the drill used.  The following two links are useful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No-till_farming and http://no-tillalliance.co.uk/#.

The decision not to invert the soil does lead to problems with what to do with the crop residue left after combining, particularly in Oil Seed Rape where the straw was baled.

Crop residue after harvest

Crop residue after harvest

In wet years slugs can rapidly multiply under the straw and stubble left behind.  Slugs can cause massive damage to young plants or even crop failure.  Control is mainly achieved through using slug pellets though rolling the seedbed after drilling will help. A second problem is trying to get weed seed to chit so that they can be controlled.

Slug in crop residue

Slug in crop residue

Straw harrowing is a fast and very low cost operation that can be used just once or a number of times to create a micro-tilth for fast weed germination, hoe out weeds and kill slugs before drilling whilst retaining the moisture, organic matter and structure in the soil.  The picture below is the first time the rake is used on the farm.

New rake being used on Oil Seed Rape Stubble after baling

New rake being used on Oil Seed Rape Stubble after baling

The aim is to move the residue, and create enough tilth for weed seeds to germinate. The harrow levels straw and damages slug nests and their eggs, moving straw trash and drying out the slug nests

The harrow encourages weed seeds to germinate at the top of the soil, giving fast & even germination and a great kill strike rate from re-harrowing or spraying.  Below shows the split in the field where the rake has been used and has still to pass.

Rake pass moves the crop residue

Rake pass moves the crop residue

We hope the rake will result in a relatively cheap way of reducing the cost of slug and weed control.

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