Tag Archives: Bill Butterworth

Zero till – less cost, more yield

Zero till with a Moore Unidrill; note the independent discs and seed coulters (right) and press wheels on the rear (left) giving even depth of placement and good seed-soil contact. (Photo courtesy Agri-Linc.)

Direct drilling comes in two guises; drilling after a little cultivation (“min till” really), and what in the USA would be called “zero till”.  Each has its own consequence in terms of weed control. Maybe I learned, years ago, most from a farms manager called Richard Noyce, he always had clean bottoms to his crops simply because, after harvest, he cultivated the surface several times to get weeds seeds to germinate, before putting the next crop in. The alternative of one pass to put the crop in does imply more work to do with selective herbicide – but that is probably going to happen anyway, so it is not an extra cost. Generally, in the hands of a sensitive husbandry man, zero till costs less and gives higher yields.

Good husbandry and using the right machinery is aiming at even depth of placement, good seed-soil contact, giving even emergence.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 20 August ‘18

JCB 520 Loadall

This machine changed farm handling forever.

I came across this beauty a few days ago at the premises of Windsmere Stone & Granite Ltd on the Melksham Road out of Devizes.  (These lovely and knowledgeable people have a really good selection of granite and marble worktops.)  It was bought back in the late 1970’s and is now worth twice what they paid for it.  It has lifted granite slabs daily for 40 years.   Telescopic loaders changed materials handling, globally, for ever, and saved many a man’s back as well as speeded up so much in farming, construction and manufacturing. I met Jim Harrison, the first MD of JCB Handling Ltd back before this machine was born, at the initial launch,  Well done Jim and JCB.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 19 August @18


When not to direct drill

Conventional, plough-based cultivations certainly have a place but with a high time and energy cost.

When not to direct drill?  Some years, it is wet but the harvest still has to be got in and the result is ruts.  They may have to be cultivated out but it is as well to remember that direct drilled soils are less likely to rut because of the resilience of organic matter and a “blocky” structure which distorts less under load, even when wet. Also, some soils naturally form pans which may need to be cultivated out. Last reason is to bury weed seeds – but try not to plough them up next year. Rotational cultivations may be the answer with a progression to long term direct drilling.

Persist with direct drilling next year wherever possible to help build up organic matter. (Actually it is more a question of  avoiding the oxidation of organic matter from conventional cultivations which could be 35% pa while direct drilling will be as little as 10% or less.)

Bill Butterworth,  Land Research Ltd.  August 18

3D’s- Direct drilling and drought

In direst drilling, getting even depth of placement and good seed-soil contact is important.


Some will be old enough to remember the Bettinson 3D drill.  Direct drilling went out of fashion in the early 1990’s but it is back and what a year in 2018 to start direct drilling! Drought is a killer in the seedbed and cultivations drive off water. So, this year will take a bit of managing and some luck, too. Harrow to get the weed seeds to chit.  Shower of rain, please. Green up. Spay off with glyphosate. Direct drill. Showers of rain please.  Roll if useful. Would that it were as easy as that.  However, it is still much easier than trying to get a wider range of conventional cultivations through. Direct drilling is lower cost, faster and therefore there is a timeliness gain, conserves soil moisture, over-all does give a little better yields, certainly at lower cost.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, August 18

drought and crop yields

A lot of this, this year. Yields down too. It is largely avoidable.

A sandy soil will hold about its own weight in water.  A clay 2 or 3 times. A typical natural peat around 16 times!

A compost made from urban green waste will hold up to 10 times its own weight in water, maybe only 5 times if it is made from woody cuttings in winter (and it would have less N).  However, compost made from urban green waste plus industrial wastes will (depending on the wastes used) hold 8 to 14 times its own weight in water and possibly a lot more NPK.  Although the Environment Agency will restrict quantities, the truth is that the Fens, when Vermuyden drained them some 300 years ago, were up to 40 foot deep of almost pure compost. (Organic soils do not leak excessive N.)  It is also true that high organic, well-composted soils, can halve cultivation energy inputs and reduce chemical spraying.

So, there really should be a national policy of maximizing urban waste recycling to urban farm land. Suggest get a copy of “Survival”, read it and send a copy to your MP.


Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 1 August 18

AD Insanity


Putting “waste” into an AD plant to make “renewable ” energy can make sense, despite the energy cost of the plant. However, growing crops to feed the plant is both insane and immoral.

The energy cost of the steel, plastics used in the construction of an AD plant, plus the energy involved in construction, can sometime make environmental sense and make a small contribution to energy security, However, it is as well to remember that 1 tonne of Nitrogen fertiliser nutrient, made in a modern and efficient USA fertiliser factory, according to UN-sponsored research, typically takes 21,000 (yes, twenty one thousand!) kWh to produce and deliver.  N fertiliser produced in eastern block countries may use as much as 20 tomes more power. So, using fertilisers, to grow crops, to harvest using diesel to cut and transport to an AD plant, to digest to produce methane, to burn in an engine to drive a generator to produce even less electricity is insanity based on ignorance. What is more, that land could be used to produce food and we need food security and so do 100,000,000 people in central Africa which the UN reports are on the edge of starvation death.  That is immorality on a global scale sanctioned by ignorant government. in Brussels and Whitehall.

(There is a chapter on renewables in general and AD in particular in “Survival”.)

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 31 July 18



Recycling HDD arisings

HDD (Horizontal Directional Drilling) under the Solent for two gas pipelines. 4500 tonnes of arisings went to proximity farm land.

From a farming point of view, offering to accept the arisings from HDD (Horizontal Directional Drilling) has advantages, other than getting a little cash from crossing through your gate (a “gate fee”). Generally, the “cuttings” from drilling will add mineral particles to replace erosion losses. (2 to 3 million tonnes are lost to the sea every year.)  Sometime, the drill has gone through chalk and this is probably less contaminated than agricultural lime. There may be some very small advantage from the spent fluids, too.

From a wider environment point of view, recycling to proximity land gets trucks off the public road and does not waste space in declining landfill. Regulation and permissions? Well, there are usually good, soil science-based arguments to support this recycling but it does take time.  Fortunately, there are changes coming in the Environment Agency which may make recycling to land easier (where there are good science-based reasons and evidence) and, hopefully, quicker.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 24 July 18