There are a number of elements that make up the formula for successful crop establishment, including good soil structure, nutrient accessibility, light intensity, the levels of organic matter and moisture availability.
However, arguably the most important condition for quick germination lies in the preparation of the perfect nursery seedbed. Seeds prefer friable, moist, yet well-draining soil to germinate in. Contact with air and straw will result in failed germination; therefore, the seeding strip must be well consolidated to remove air pockets and be free from contaminants for optimum seed to soil contact. Next, accurate planting depth is key as it ensures uniform emergence which is particularly important for effective crop management later on. Plants also benefit from fertiliser placement just below the seed to speed up root development.
Finally, optimum levels of light throughout the life of the plant reduce fungal disease and result in bushier, stockier plants.
The degree to which these conditions are met may often mean the difference between success and failure. Adapting correct crop management programmes which support the soil’s natural ecosystem and conserve moisture, as well as opting for reduced tillage machinery capable of preparing the best environment for the seed, are therefore essential.
5 Step Plan
At Mzuri we believe there are 5 key principles to consistent crops year on year:
Assessing the old way of establishment, identifying soil issues and being open to new management practices are the first steps towards successful crop production. Soil harbours a fascinating range of biodiversity which is essential to its health and strong crop development.
Intensive cultivation techniques cause compaction, have a detrimental effect on soil structure and destroy the habitat of many beneficial organisms. Whilst disc based zero tillage, on the other hand, preserves the soil, it introduces the risk of poor germination by failing to provide the seed with a friable nursery bed, rendering it unsuitable for some conditions.
Mzuri recommendation: Don’t blanket cultivate, use selective tillage.
Selective tillage is important because it:
- Restores soil structure and fertility.
- Improves aeration and drainage
- Supplies plants with natural nutrients
- Offers the ideal seeding environment
The need for crop rotation is an essential part of a successful crop management programme. Growing the same crops in succession can result in weed, pest and disease-prone crops and contribute towards soil exhaustion.
Mzuri recommendation: A minimum four-year rotation (cereals, green crop, cereals, green crop).
Crop Rotation is important because it:
- Allows a better spread of labour due to different crop timings
- Helps to control weeds and reduces their resistance to chemicals
- Reduces crop disease
- Assists with surface straw management
- Enables users to alternate between narrow and wide row spacings for optimum light interception
Most crops can be drilled with Mzuri direct drill range but more thought is required about the rotation. Some possible crop rotations include:
- Winter wheat, winter oilseed rape, winter wheat, spring beans
- Winter wheat, winter oilseed rape, winter wheat, winter beans
- Winter wheat, winter oilseed rape, winter wheat, spring linseed
When using a Mzuri to drill directly into stubble, a lot more rotation options are available which can also be effectively used to control grass weeds. Including a spring crop in the rotation may be crucial to knock grass weeds.
Although Mzuri drills can drill directly into surface straw, some farmers may prefer to create a stale seedbed prior to direct drilling. This is particularly pertinent for farms with a blackgrass or slug problem or for users who wish to accelerate straw decomposition. For these situations, Mzuri offers the Rezult – a low disturbance tilth generator which is highly effective at destroying slug populations and encouraging weed germination prior to chemical treatment.
Surface straw is widely recognised as one of the quickest ways to improve soil structure and fertility. Previous crop residue provides organic matter for the soil’s living ecosystem which breaks it down into nutrients and makes them instantly available to the plants. Without it, the valuable services provided by the soil’s microorganisms would greatly diminish or stop altogether.
Mzuri recommendation: Leave all straw and previous crop residue on the surface.
Leaving straw on the surface is important because it:
- Improves organic matter
- Supports the soil’s biodiverse ecosystem
- Retains moisture
- Stops water and wind erosion
We recommend stubble height of 150 – 250mm to ensure good trash flow through our range of direct drills. This optimum stubble height is sufficient to shelter the plants from cold temperatures and wind, whilst being short enough to allow adequate levels of light penetration. An even distribution of chopped straw and chaff is also desirable.
Wider row spacing allows more light in between the rows, enabling the plant to make the most out of light interception. This means that the entire surface area of the plant from top to bottom can be used to harvest the sunlight and convert it into energy. The result is a healthier, bushier crop with the potential to produce higher yields.
Mzuri recommendation: Wider row spacings.
Wider row spacing is important because it:
- Produces bushier, stockier plants
- Results in increased seed production
- Reduces fungal disease due to better air movement
The Mzuri drills are capable of drilling in a choice of row spacings including 33cm or 66cm with the Pro-Til 3T Select, 36cm or 72cm with the Pro-Til 4T and 6T Select or 25cm or 33cm with the iPass. Both the Pro-Til and the iPass are also available with a range of different coulter widths to further maximise the versatility and range of crop spacing available to the user. Wider spacings between crop rows particularly suits crops such as maize, oilseed rape and legumes whereas narrower settings are suited to wheat, barley and oats.
To ensure even and quick crop establishment, a strip of clean, friable and moist soil is required around the seed. The Mzuri system provides such a perfect nursery seedbed whereas other establishment techniques are not weatherproof and can have inconsistent success rates, introducing a risk of uneven or failed germination.
Mzuri recommendation: Opt for a drill that can cope with surface residue and offers a clean strip of tilth, accurate seeding depth and good reconsolidation.
The Mzuri system:
- Prepares the perfect nursery seedbed whilst leaving the rest of the soil undisturbed
- Retains moisture whilst providing excellent water infiltration at the same time
Mzuri direct drills offer an unparalleled combination of features which have been specifically designed to minimise the risks associated with crop establishment:
- Leading discs cut through the straw, clearing the strip of residue
- The leading leg creates tilth in which to place the seed, whilst also placing a band of fertiliser below seed level to ensure immediate accessibility of nutrients for active root development
- A high clearance seeding leg and staggered coulter design allow maximum trash flow
- Patented seeding leg pivots side to side which ensures that the coulter always places the seed central to the seeding zone
- The seeding leg also moves up and down which enables it to closely follow the ground contours
- The pressure ram on the coulter wheel delivers unparalleled reconsolidation for excellent seed to soil contact
- A choice of independent seeding coulters and planting widths create a perfect environment for all crop types
- The seeding coulter wheel provides accurate seed depth control
- Good quality pressure harrow ensures an even soil finish which is important for the effective application of pre-emergence chemicals