Combi drills on the way back

Vaderstad's combination drill which allows farmers to combine fertiliser application in the same pass as sowing
Vaderstad's combination drill which allows farmers to combine fertiliser application in the same pass as sowing

It appears that combined grain and fertiliser drills are making something of a comeback these days, but they haven't always been popular.

Back in the eighties, the advent of more accurate fertiliser spreaders and the higher work rates of grain only drills were two of the key sticking points opponents of combined drills loved to talk about.

Moreover, the desire for greater capacity between drilling refills and problems with rust on drills led many farmers to abandon the combine drill in favour of simpler seed only drills.

But it seems things are now changing again, with industry sources suggesting that as many as 50pc of drills sold these days are combined drills. At the height of the popularity of grain only drills only about 1 in 5 drills sold were of the combined type.

There are a number of factors at play. First we have increased fertiliser prices that are making farmers ever more careful with their application methods. Farmers want to ensure that any fertiliser that is put out is used to maximum effect. With combined drilling the fertiliser is right beside the seed where it is needed and there is tight control of application rates so farmers can stay within the Nitrates rules. Accurate placement restricts the amount of nutrient available to weeds between the rows as well.

Secondly, we now have machinery design advances that mean guaranteed delivery of fertiliser alongside the seed, such as separate placement systems that mean the fertiliser doesn't get mixed with the seed until it is actually in the soil. This eliminates the chances of dust contamination and improves germination rates.

Those designs weren't there or weren't as efficient back in the eighties. And thirdly, with the weather being so unpredictable many growers want to get in and do both jobs in one pass because you just don't know when you will get the next chance to spread fertiliser. If the weather breaks after sowing with a combined drill at least there is the peace of mind of knowing that the crop still has everything it needs for a good start.

A good way to gauge the popularity of any type of machine is to look for second hand models for sale on websites or in the farming newspapers. A lack of them suggests they are in demand despite the fact that they are aging machines - always a good sign. That is now the case with second hand grain and fertiliser drills. They hold their value well and are hard to come by.

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