Power saving technologies

Many regions of Russia have grown a good harvest of grain crops. The producers are willing to sell at a profitable price. However, the latest forecast of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) put the 2014 global wheat harvest at 705.2 million tonnes, triggering the price fall on the world market. How can the competitiveness of the Russian grain increase under such circumstances? 

Willy Drews, doctor of agronomy, EkoNiva adviser

The answer seems to be simple – build up the productivity of grain crops and control spending on their production. Is this possible when on most Russian farms such means of intensification as mineral fertilisers, fungicides, insecticides and herbicides have been minimized? Each climatic and soil-specific zone must have its optimum technology for growing winter wheat.

For instance, in Germany, according to the Land Management Directorate of North Rhine-Westphalia, the highest results from the use of nitrogenous fertilizers are obtained at the dosage of 173 kg/ha in the active ingredient (a.i.) at a price of 43.9 rubles per kilo. In the case of such dosage of fertilisers the output of winter wheat on an area of 277 thousand hectares reached 9.15 t/ha in 2013. Such high spending on fertilisers paid off with an increased harvest and improved quality.

In Russia, it’s too early to speak about such high fertiliser dosages. Due to frequent droughts, they may prove to be economically unfeasible. Here even the most advanced farms introduce 70 to 100 kg of a.i. per hectare for the winter wheat at the cost of 1 kg being close to 35 rubles. The productivity in this case often reaches 7 tonnes per hectare due to using the rich resources of the black earth and resorting to a complete fallow as a predecessor (humus dwindles and black earth qualities deteriorate). 

An essential factor in optimising expenses is the use of modern power saving technology in soil treatment, sowing and stalk management.

By nature, winter wheat does not need a loose soil structure. Deep autumn ploughing before sowing winter wheat in dry conditions results in the seeds’ insufficient contact with soil, root system sagging, and drying of the soil upper layer. Power consuming ploughing can be substituted with less costly soil treatment by disc or cultivator type of implements.

The first soil treatment after harvesting a predecessor crop (stubble shelling) is performed at a very small depth of 5 to 7 cm in order to embed the weed seeds and fallen fruit of the preceding crop and to improve the contact between plant residues and soil micro flora. Here it is very important to thoroughly distribute all of the plant residues. The most economical tool is the Strawmaster 700 spike tooth harrow from Degelman. Five rows of powerful 16 mm teeth crush and distribute the straw, embed weed seeds in the soil and promote their fast sprouting. At the operating width of 25 m, these are the most productive machines, with the smallest diesel consumption, on an area of 1 ha for primary soil treatment.

The even distribution of straw during the first shallow treatment is also obtained in using the Carrier disc harrow from Väderstad. An adjustable row of teeth in the front part of the Carrier copes with any kind of straw (even in swathes), which makes it advantageously different from other disc headers. Due to the small disc diameter of 450 mm, it is possible to intensely rip the soil and effectively crush the plant residues, thus significantly improving treatment quality.

After the primary soil treatment, in some cases it is possible to sow using combined seeders. However, if the soil has a plough sole and a rich germination of weeds, the soil undergoes a basic treatment. Many farmers prefer to perform this operation by the TopDown multi-role machine from Väderstad. The machine not only shells the stubble by two rows of discs and continuously loosens the soil to the depth of 25 to 27 cm by three rows of headstocks, but also levels the soil with daisy-form discs and rolls it down by heavy steel rollers. After a single passage of TopDown the field is ready for sowing winter wheat.

For the new season the Väderstad Company is preparing the Opus system. This new product differs from TopDown in that it has no 450 mm discs in front (stubble must be shelled with the help of Carrier right after the combines leaves the field). The system width for John Deere series 8 tractors can be 5.75 and 6.75 m. Such a design reduces its cost compared to TopDown and cuts spending on soil treatment.

Less costly is the basic soil treatment at a large depth to break soil compaction with the John Deere 2720 disc ripper. Two rows of whole spherical discs, 610 cm in diameter, solidly treat to a depth of 15 cm. The powerful C-shaped headstocks mounted at an interval of 76 cm in the middle of the system, help rip the soil to a depth of 40 cm. A new hydraulic compacting roller helps the disc ripper 2720 to effectively break earth clods and root clusters, ensuring regular treatment and precise levelling.

Before sowing winter wheat, it is advisable to choose a combined seeder, which treats the soil and sows, simultaneously, introducing the fertilizers and compacting the soil. These operations are best performed by the Rapid seeder from Väderstad.  It has rightly won the The Best Seeder 2013 prize. Its special feature is the very precise planting of seeds onto a solid bed, which improves and regularises sprouting. The second feature is the two-circuit design of the seeder. In the first circuit, main crop seeds are planted out with a between-row space of 12.5 cm, while in the second circuit a complete dosage of fertilisers is introduced at a distance of 6.25 cm from the crop. Despite the high initial cost of the seeder, it is very economical in that it performs 4 technological operations at a time (tilling, seeding, fertiliser introduction and compacting). The efficiency of the Rapid seeder manifests itself also in that due to the increased field sprouting, the seed introduction dosage can be reduced by 10%, while the local fertiliser introduction into the rows improves their accessibility to the plant’s root system.

The John Deere 730 pneumatic seeder is also a combined system, which provides pre-seeding treatment by a cultivator type of implement with simultaneous introduction of fertilisers under the blade, while the seeds are planted out by the two-disc coulter with a precise seed placement. The seeder’s advantage is that the cultivating blade cuts perennial weeds better than the disc operating devices. The John Deere 730 seeder is manufactured with an operating width of 8.7, 11 and 13.4 m and between-row spaces of 15 and 19 cm.

The use of new multi-role systems performing 3 to 4 operations in a single passage essentially reduces the number of passages across the field, cutting the amount of tractors, implements and personnel on the field. The performance of all technological operations in a single passage not only reduces power consumption, but also significantly increases the grain crop harvest.