Today I spent the day with John Baker, the mastermind behind the Cross Slot. Their headquarters are in Feilding.
If you’ve been reading this blog you will know I am skeptical about the Cross Slot. My main problem has been the cost. There is a lot of mystery surrounding the price, which puzzles the guys here, as they say “all they need to do is ask us and we will give them a quote”. Fair enough, it is not a secret, but it does seem like it sometimes. Basically, I think it will cost £25-30k per meter, depending on options. Sorry if me writing this upsets anyone…
As is obvious from the picture above, some of the extra cost goes into the construction. This one will not even have any seed boxes on top, it is just a tool bar. Is it over engineered? I don’t know, but it makes any other bit of farm machinery I’ve seen look like a toy.
Let’s do a back of the fag packet calculation compared to a 750a.
- Drill – 6m 750a £70k : 6m CS £150k
- Tractor – Fendt 718 £110k : Fendt 930 £180k
- Total capital – £180k : £330k
- Extra cost of CS over 10 years – £15k per year
We farm 800ha, so that is £18.75/ha/year. Add another £5/ha for extra diesel and we get a cost of £23.75/ha/year. With wheat at £150/t, we would need an extra 0.158t/ha yield to break even. Our average wheat yield is 9.3t/ha. So, yields would need to increase 1.7% to pay for the drill. I know this is not a scientific analysis, the difference may be 2.5%, or maybe 1.5%, but I think we are in the ballpark.
So the question is, does using a CS increase yield? Several people have said to me “it does not matter how the seed gets in the ground, it just needs to be at the right depth and covered with soil”. I do not buy this. It is a bit like me telling David Moyes that being a football manager is easy, all you need to do is get your team to score more goals than the opposition. Just because a statement is simple, it does not mean accomplishing it is easy.
I’ve spent the day with a very passionate, but let’s be honest, not entirely impartial, advocate for the drill. He has some numbers for yield trials, which are very positive (see below). None of these compare with a single disc drill though. John claims that all trials ever done (aside from one), place the CS at the top for yield. I can’t say what a 750a would have done in these trials. I’ve never seen data or claims that it would out yield conventional tillage by 10%+, but that is not to say that it wouldn’t.
I saw the CS working today in the field, and I am still not convinced that it is as low disturbance as a 750a – CS devotees would not agree with me though. Look at the picture above, that is still a fairly wide bit of metal to be pulling through the soil. I would like to see both drills working side by side, and also drilling at depth, rather than very shallow grass seed.
I am sure that the CS has a big advantage with hair pinning, and having one drill for everything is appealing. The fertiliser option could also potentially be useful for spring cropping. People here in NZ are amazed that we do not find yield increases from starter fertiliser. More data please scientists! (and in no-till situations please)
So after all the waffling, I’m still a floating voter. Next week I have some appointments with people who are huge CS fans, and also people who are the opposite.
I’ve also been given some data on how soil structure correlates to yield, but that will have to go in my final report, otherwise no one will bother reading it.