Having a good understanding of soil and how it works, is becoming ever more essential if the best use is to be made of the tillage machinery which is now available from specialist manufacturers like Lemken.

This was highlighted at a recent demo day held by Farm Power Ltd. in conjunction with Lemken, at Middleton, Co. Cork.

In use on the day was a broad selection of machines produced by the German company.

These covered the process of crop establishment from primary tillage through to drilling and, thanks to the acquisition of Steketee three years ago, mechanical weed control.

Starting with the basics

The plough is still very much a tool to be appreciated in Ireland, according to Derek Delahunty, national sales manager for Lemken Ireland.

He contends that Ireland is a ploughing nation due, in the main, to the variable conditions on the island.

A cultivation system that is very likely to work, irrespective of whatever nature throws at the land, is naturally attractive to farmers when faced with so much annual variation in weather patterns.

Plough and combination drill system Lemken
The plough is still an essential tool in Ireland despite the alternatives on offer

Minimum tillage, on the other hand, requires a very precise husbandry throughout the season with narrow windows of opportunity in which to perform certain operations to obtain the best results.

While there may be farmers who succeed with minimal tillage, it is not for everyone and that, coupled with problems such as the appearance of blackgrass, means that the plough will be around for a long time yet, he feels.

Remote setting brings benefits

There were two ploughs on the field, a five-furrow Juwel and a seven-furrow Titan. The latter was of variable width and both had hydraulically operated depth control.

lemken five furrow titan plough
The five-furrow Titan plough featured Lemken’s latest reset system

The plough is the most fundamental of tillage tools and, it would be easy to assume, is the least likely to yield to modern digital complexities and control systems.

Yet this would be a mistake, for the standard of finish that could be quickly achieved and maintained with these models, was impressive.

With the ability to control the major plough functions from the cab, the effect of any corrections to the settings is immediately visible. This eliminates the requirement to be constantly jumping on and off the tractor to check and adjust.

With ISOBUS-equipped models (neither of these were), the settings are also shown in-cab which accelerates the learning curve of those getting to grips with ploughing.

Derek is a great fan of ISOBUS as a teaching aid, and finds that students can relate the finish being achieved to the plough’s settings far more easily, when the latter are displayed on the screen.

Following the plough

Once the primary cultivation is done, attention turns to final seedbed preparation and sowing.

There are several methods available, from separate passes with rotary cultivator, discs or tines, to an all-in-one approach, where a combination of either of these, along with a seed drill mounted on the implement(s), complete both tasks in one pass.

The company’s best selling implement in Ireland is the Heliodor range of sprung discs

Lemken has machines to cover all angles and naturally offers a range of combinations and options, which may appear quite bewildering until one gets to grips with the various design philosophies at play.

Hanging discs by Lemken

The simple disc harrow is one implement where the new thinking is evident.

It has been more or less reinvented over recent years with the company developing the idea of considering the supporting of the weight of the implement as a separate function to controlling its penetration.

The Rubin series of machines is designed to do just this.

Lemken iscs are designed to hang from the frame rather than take the weight of the implement
Lemken Rubin 10 disc sets are designed to hang from the frame rather than take the weight of the implement

All the disc sets, whether in isolation or part of a larger one pass machine, are shaped to encourage soil penetration and are set at a fixed angle.

The intention is that they ‘claw’ their way into the ground and are prevented from sinking right in by the support of the rear roller and front link arms.

Thus the discs are suspended above the ground and are only allowed to work at the depth set by the operator. They are not load bearing components, which was always the traditional concept of how they should work.

Universal system or dedicated tool?

This brings us to the next theme which is the choice between a modular system, that can be adapted to the immediate requirements, or a fixed combination of the various elements, which may be cheaper and lighter, but less flexible.

Lemken caters for both trains of thought and an example from each was being shown.

The modular system was based around a Solitair drill attached to a Zirkon 12 rotary cultivator. In between the two, and attached to the cultivator, was a roller which was set to consolidate the soil before the coulters placed the seed.

Solitair 25 rides wheels
The wheels of the Solitair 25 ride just above the ground when the implement is in use. All three elements can be disconnected from each other

All were held together by a beam with transport wheels at its end. The various elements are attached in one way or another to this structural unit, and so may be mixed and matched for different tasks and conditions.

This is obviously a well thought out and attractive system for those with large acreages and a variety of conditions and crops.

Once again, Lemken relies on the tractor link arms, and in this case, the coulters to carry the weight at the rear. The transport wheels ride a little above ground level when the unit is in use.

The compact Solitair 9
The Compact Solitair 9 has a series of offset tyres to consolidate the soil and act as transport wheels

As an alternative to a modular system, the company offers the Compact Solitair 9.

The example on display had a levelling board followed by discs and then a series of offset tyres for compaction.

Bringing up the rear were the coulters. Although it may be specified in different forms, the elements are integral to the whole, once assembled.

Lemken says goodbye to spraying

In October 2018 Lemken purchased the Dutch company Steketee, which specialises in inter-row cultivations and weeding.

Within two years it ceased production of sprayers and would now appear to be concentrating its weed control efforts on mechanical means rather than chemical.

Presently the machines are orientated towards field-scale vegetables and other broad-leaved crops, yet this may change as ever more pressure is put upon farmers to reduce pesticide inputs.

Derek certainly sees cereals becoming a target market for inter-row cultivations.

Dutch Steketee inter-row weeder
The basic Dutch built Steketee inter-row weeder is already operating in Ireland

Quite how this will fit in with tramlines systems of 24m or more is still an open question, yet the idea of a cultivation company expanding its expertise to encompass allied methods of weed control would appear logical.

The acquisition also brought weeding technology based on plant imaging to the parent company.

However, instead of identifying weed species and knocking them out, the system looks for the crop plant and removes anything of the wrong shape or colour, and in the wrong position.