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Back to the Gyrotiller?

Date Added: 13/01/2017

Blog: By Richard Elsdon, Technical Consultant, United Oilseeds

 Gyrotiller - This somewhat crude but highly effective cultivator was invented by Norman Storey, who was the manager of a sugar cane plantation in Puerto Rico. This machine could have remained in a Puerto Rican backwater if Charles Henry Fowler hadn’t agreed an exclusive licencing deal allowing him to produce the machine in his Leeds factory.

This was the forerunner to the now ubiquitous rotary cultivator, but the original was used for deep cultivation powered by a 225hp petrol engine crawler which unfortunately consumed petrol as if it was were going out of fashion.  However, its main claim to fame was its ability to bring rabbit and scrub-infected abandoned land back into cultivation at a time when it was needed  most - in 1940.

 This somewhat lumbering leviathan of a machine used tines rotating about 50 cm deep to disrupt rabbit warrens and leave gorse and hawthorn bushes on the surface. These could be removed leaving the land in an uneven state but ready to be cultivated into a wheat seedbed. The gyrotiller fell out of use in the early 1950’s, but it took nearly another 20 years before the rotary cultivator came to the fore. Then the cost of cultivations began to be more carefully scrutinised and it too began to fall from use as chemistry, in the shape of glyphosate, took over.

 It is this dependence on glyphosate which is now causing concern across arable acres. There are moves emanating from Europe that seek to ban the use of this ubiquitous chemical on the, as yet, unproven claim that it has carcinogenic properties. Those lobbying against this chemical claim that its use both as a herbicide and a desiccant is spreading its use too far and over too many crops.

 This question mark, casting a shadow over the chemical, may mean that we need to reconsider the use of glyphosate as a desiccant.  So what then? We may need to look again at how we harvest oilseed rape.  For some growers, being prepared to wait until the crop is at the stage when it can be combined is an option. However, for the larger grower, that could well be too risky so we need to re-visit the use of a swather.  But not, you will be pleased to know, the side delivery type which would leave large lumps which obstinately refused to dry out whatever the weather.

Consider using a centre delivery swather which works with your combine header. By that I mean look at how many swaths can be either picked up or undercut at one time by the combine header.

 This is one of the weaknesses of the swather, the second is the cost, as even using a contractor will be more expensive than using glyphosate.

 While the swathing option might be a shock to the arable system, just imagine life without any glyphosate and how we would control black grass between crops? We would be looking at a much greater dependence on cultivations, back to the plough, and for some growers, the summer fallow using only cultivations.

 Before we know it, someone may re-invent a modern gyrotiller…

Visiting LAMMA?  Come and See United Oilseeds and Hubbards Seeds on Stand 788 in Hall 7,  East of England Showground, Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 January, 2017.

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