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A Northamptonshire arable farmer has is using his autocaster to establish legume mix fallow after moving into countryside stewardship.

• Simple to autocast legume mixes

• Cost-effective crop establishment

• Option offers good financial return

A Northamptonshire arable farmer has is using his autocaster to establish legume mix fallow after moving into countryside stewardship.

Michael Gent purchased the Autocast V2 Applicator in 2021 to reduce the cost of establishing oilseed rape at GL Gent & Son, Oundle. He has now used it to establish a two-year grass-free legume fallow under higher level stewardship.

Mr Gent says the idea is proving cost-effective at improving wildlife habitats and soil health on the 500ha mixed enterprise farm he runs alongside his father John. It also meets all stewardship requirements.

He says: “Having successfully switched to autocasting in 2021 to get the rape away early and reduce some of our upfront costs, we were subsequently rewarded this summer with average yields of just over 3t/ha.

“Based on our light land, the final yield was easily in line with our historical average together with improved net profit margins based on reduced passes and lower fuel costs via the Techneat autocasting system.

The next logical step wasto use the Autocast V2 to apply an AB15 two-year legume mix of vetch, red clover, lucerne, alsike clover, yellow and birdsfoot trefoil to improve soil health and provide a good entry for a first wheat planned for 2024, says Mr Gent.

“In my opinion, autocasting is the best application method for establishing most combinations of cover crops, given that they are best applied on the soil surface, rather than being drilled into the soil.

“Altering the set up on the Autocast V2 was quick and easy. It just needed a minor adjustment to the width of the seed rolls to allow for the larger legume seeds and then we simply increased the Techneat rate controller to 18kg/ha for the new mix.”

Seed from the Autocast’s 200L hopper is metered into an air-stream and accurately placed on the soil surface via twin-headed spreader plates spaced equally along the full width of the combine header, says Mr Gent.

Soil moisture

“Once we’d autocasted the new legume, chopped straw covered the seed ready to conserve the moisture as we waited for the long overdue mid-August rain. After the rain had given us the required moisture, we rolled down tight.”

Mr Gent says this sealed in the moisture beneath the straw, helping the new seedlings to quickly establish. “Autocasting is a low cost, zero till, zero carbon application system and ticks all the key boxes,” he adds.

“When combining our spring wheat, we also intend to use the Autocast V2 to establish an over-wintered cover crop mix of linseed, phacelia and clover – again fulfilling the criteria within our new higher tier scheme.”

The new cover crop mix will improve soil health and fix more nitrogen before it is desiccated to make way for a low-input spring cereal crop in 2023, says Mr Gent.

“Our SW6 over-wintered cover crop option followed by an AB14 low input spring cereal option offers a good financial return of £362/ha before grain is even taken into account creating a healthy overall profit margin.”