The Claydon Opti-Till system was invented in 2002, to drive down establishment costs on the Claydon family farm.  The additional environmental benefits it delivered soon became clear. Each successive year of Claydon drilling brought improvements to soil structure and soil health. This, in turn, had a positive impact on both crop health and yield.  Fuel consumption reduced as better soil condition made it easier to drill crops.  Since 2002, Claydon have been promoting the importance of soil and keeping it in good health.

Soil health has gained global recognition in recent years and governments are legislating to promote environmental initiatives.  Since its launch on the market in 2003, Claydon technology is enabling farmers to meet environmental objectives and look after their soil. It allows them to farm sustainably – not at the expense of yield and not at the expense of the environment.


Unhealthy soils “slake” (run together) very quickly when wetted as they lack the natural glues that help bind soil together. Slaking blocks the natural pores and worm burrows in soil which can lead to waterlogging. This can develop into erosion and loss of topsoil.  Conversely, in very dry conditions, this can lead to wind erosion, which is equally as damaging.

UK crop production specialist Hutchinsons carried out a slake test on the Claydon farm to assess soil health.  Here is how it’s done.

soil health

Our soil health brochure includes contributions from leading industry experts.   Dr Elizabeth Stockdale, Head of Farming Systems Research at NIAB discusses the benefits of good soil structure, how it can be damaged and how to improve it.

Jerome Vasseur from Jouffray Drillaud talks about the benefits of cover crops and how to get the best out of them.  There is also a section by Gordon Brookes from Michelin on how to choose the correct tyre to reduce soil compaction.

Getting the right foundation for soil health is also important.   Find out more from Dick Godwin, visiting Professor at Harper Adams University on how, when and when not to subsoil, in our Choosing the right subsoiler leaflet, whilst Rob Burtonshaw discusses in our second leaflet the Benefits of good drainage.

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soil health uk
Dr Elizabeth Stockdale NIAB
soil health



Ploughing is expensive – both financially and environmentally. It creates the need for extra cultivation passes and increases fuel consumption.  Soil is turned over, releasing moisture and CO2 to the atmosphere.  Ploughing depletes organic matter, mineralises nitrogen and harms soil life.  Natural soil structure is destroyed and can no longer support the weight of heavy machinery.  This can result in compaction and wheelings.  Ploughing increases the risk of wind and water erosion.


Instead of inverting soil, min-till involves several shallower cultivations. These also damage the soil’s natural structure and biology and can lead to compaction and waterlogging. Min-till mixes weed seeds throughout the soil profile which allows them to germinate over a long period over many seasons. The weed seed bank is not diminished. Min-till can also dehydrate the soil.

Claydon optimum soil loosening

CLAYDON Opti-Till®

The Claydon Drill’s leading tine technology is at the heart of the Opti-Till® system. The leading tine loosens soil – but only where necessary – in the rooting and seeding zone. The bands in between the seeded rows are left undisturbed. The front tine loosens and aerates the soil, creating a friable tilth which is a perfect environment for seedlings to germinate and develop strong, deep roots which tap into the moisture in the undisturbed banks of soil.

The leading tine also breaks up any shallow compaction, reinstating the water and air balance in the soil, providing good drainage so water can get away from the rooting zone. This eliminates ponding through the later autumn and winter period.

Claydon healthy soil structure

Moisture is retained in the unmoved soil for the crop to access. Earthworm populations thrive, their burrows are left intact and old rooting pathways remain. The natural structure of the soil remains intact; capillaries remain unbroken allowing water infiltration and unimpeded rooting, minimising stress throughout the crop’s life cycle. Soil biology flourishes. Claydon soils have an increased capacity to support traffic in the field without risk of compaction. This all contributes to make a healthy soil for a healthy crop.

Claydon oilseed rape

The Claydon drill’s two tine design and toolbars grade and level fields.  Headlands usually suffer some yield loss in conventional cultivation. This is eliminated with the Claydon drill; the leading tine action and the undisturbed banks of soil ensure that crop performance is the same on the edge of the field as it is in the centre of the field.

soil health uk

The Claydon drill’s versatility allows it to be used in conventional and min-till establishment after soil consolidation. It was designed as a direct drill however and it is in this scenario where maximum benefit is realised. The crop residue that is left on top locks in moisture and helps protect the crop and the soil from weather extremes. The layer of mulch helps prevent soil blow and water run-off. It is gradually broken down by worms in the soil, increasing the level of organic matter and soil fertility. Worms also aid drainage as their worm burrows act as channels which let water soak away.

soil health uk

Crops established with the Claydon drill are better at coping with weather extremes, whether high rainfall or drought. This is due to the improvement in soil structure, retaining moisture and organic matter and creating drainage in the rooting area.  Claydon crops may suffer a yield downturn during these times of extreme weather, but it has not been to the same extent as conventionally established crops, where yields have dramatically reduced.

Claydon Opti-Till eliminates the need for unnecessary, expensive cultivations.  It also reduces cost and time in establishing crops.