Over the last couple of years we have seen tremendous interest being shown by manufacturers of conventional tillage implements in new machines that are designed to operate at shallow depths.

The motivation behind this new enthusiasm is the desire to save fuel and conserve soil carbon levels by confining soil disturbance to the top few inches of the ground.

Sky Agriculture (formally Sulky) of Brittany is very much involved in this new wave of shallow cultivation techniques and the company runs an organic research farm close to its Chateaubourg base.

Cover crop cultivation
Sky Agriculture firmly believes in the role of cover crops to maintain soil nutrients and condition

Two of Sky Agriculture’s most recent launches were demonstrated during the summer, one being the Methys Hybrid, and the other the Methys PCS.

The Methys Hybrid is described as a “stubble cultivator designed as a seed drill”.

By this the company means that is will disrupt a stubble and the weeds growing within it while, at the same time, sowing a cover crop via a small seed hopper or distribution head, fed from a front tank if desired.

Cover crop specialist

Working depth is between 4cm and 7cm and the discs are scalloped to ensure the maximum kill of weeds, or cultivated plants if it is being used to incorporate a cover crop.

Consistency of working depth is maintained by a set of support wheels leading in front of the implement and either a roller or bank of tyres that runs behind the discs.

Shallow pass disc set
Working depth is maintained by a combination of wheels and rollers on the Methys HDS

This is an ideal tool for managing cover crops according to Sky, for it can be used to prepare and sow the crop and then incorporate it prior to the maincrop once the plants have done their job of retaining moisture and nutrients.

It is available in working widths up to 12m and has a power requirement of between 100hp and 400hp, depending on size.

Scalping the surface

The second machine being shown was the Methys PCS which is a totally new machine that works between depths of 2cm and 11cm.

Tines working in soil
Tines set at a shallow angle enable working depths as little as 2cm

It relies on banks of tines which are positioned well apart to prevent blockage and its purpose is to destroy weeds and cover crops while leaving the residue on the surface, to be dried out by the sun, before incorporation by a further pass of a cultivator or min-till drill.

Although the power requirement is low, and it is designed to reduce a weed burden, the suspicion remains that it is better suited to the more predictable conditions of France and the continent rather than wet Irish clays.