Sulky-Burel is a family-owned machinery manufacturer. Based in Châteaubourg near Rennes, in western France, the company specialises in the design and manufacture of soil preparation, drilling and fertilisation equipment. Now in its third generation, Sulky employs over 250 people, and builds up to 6,000 machines each year.
The firm was founded by Fabien Burel founded in 1936 and exports in the region of 40% of the products it manufactures. Sulky claims to be the market leader in fertiliser spreaders and seed drills in France, and says it is in the top three producers in Europe. In terms of production, fertiliser spreaders account for 60%, while seeding equipment accounts for 40%.
In Ireland, Sulky has a fair share of drills working throughout the country, however, the machine on test here is the only one of its latest Progress drills in Ireland at present. To get a feel for the machine, we spent a few days sowing corn with it this spring. We used the drill to sow cereals in medium to heavy clay soils, and given the spring we’ve just had, conditions weren’t just as good as we would have hoped for, which meant accuracy of the drill was going to be more important than ever.
A major revamp of Sulky’s compact combination drill lineup took place several years ago and led to the unveiling of the Progress drill. It was designed as a future-proof drill, opening more doors to contractors and tillage farmers who were looking to experiment with different applications of seed and fertiliser, all in the one pass.
On first appearance, the drill appears to be well-designed and strongly built. This is soon backed up when you delve into the machine’s specifications. Like the majority of high-end disc coulter one-passes nowadays, it is heavy. Between the power harrow and the drill, the unit weighs in at 3,230kg unladen.
The Progress is available in 3m, 3.5m and 4m versions. The drill comes with the option of being piggy-backed on either a Sulky power harrow or Cultiline XR passive disc toolbar, which comprises two rows of notched discs.
Sulky’s power harrows feature four rotors per metre and come with the option of the Rapidfit tine changing system or bolt-on tines. Both the power-harrow and the XR come with a choice of packer rollers.
Options include the 550mm standard type for any conditions, followed by the 550mm Tracker roller which has cast rings that consolidate soil ahead of the coulters to give them something to bite into, and finally the 520mm Gravity roller with flexible rubber strips, which is the heaviest option.
Consistent seed placement at the right depth is critical. Sulky offers users a choice of three different sowing units. The first is the Unisoc Suffolk-type P20 setup, an option which is declining in popularity in Ireland. This sowing unit features three rows of coulters with 330mm clearance between each row, offering 20kg of downward pressure.
The other two options are both disc-based coulters, namely the Twindisc P50 and the Cultidisc P100. Sulky say the Twindisc double disc sowing unit offers powerful consolidation, even in dry conditions, and claim it offers up to 50kg of downward pressure per coulter.
The Cultidisc P100 is the latter option, and according to Sulky it’s designed for sowing all crops in all conditions, from fast and superficial soil preparation to late season wet conditions. Fitted with a sprung disc capable of applying 100kg of pressure per coulter, this single notched disc with a following press wheel is expected to be choice of the majority.
Our demonstration drill was fitted with the Cultidisc coulters. With a 560mm clearance between rows, we found this setup to work consistently well, even into ground with some residues. Sowing depth adjustment was carried out on the parallelogram, with raising or lowering the coulter frame adjusted via two rachet-type tie rods.
In marginal heavy clay-type conditions, we were very impressed with the coulter system, with it managing to cover all of the seed without blocking once.
Taking the Suffolk coulters as the entry level offering on a standard drill, overall the machine weight rises by 150kg when you move to double disc coulters, and rises by 480kg when you jump to the premium single-disc coulter setup.
Across Europe, and particularly within min-till operations, it is becoming more common to combine the likes of fertiliser with seed, or to sow several varieties at the same time in one pass.
Whether this is a mix of cover crops, seed and fertiliser or even slug pellets, Sulky set out to build a future-proof machine.
The French manufacturer offers the Progress with one, two or three hopper options on the drill, direct from the factory.
A single hopper version can be specified with a 1,250 litre or a 1,750 litre capacity. The double hopper configuration is available with a 1,200/800-litre split or with a 1,250-litre or a 1,750-litre main tank, alongside a 100-litre small seed hopper. And finally, the three-hopper machine has a 1,200/800/100-litre split-hopper setup.
This essentially means that the drill can be used to sow three different products at three different rates at same time.
The firm’s in-house developed universal metering units offer the possibility of sowing all seeds, without having to change the metering rollers.
The adjustment from small to large seeds is carried out by a simple action in a few seconds. With a wide operating range, Sulky says the metering unit can sow from 0.5 to 450kg/ha at a speed of 8km/h. The flow rate is adjusted from the terminal.
Machine controls are available through iPad, the Sulky Quartz control box or the tractor’s Isobus terminal. The iPad allows users control the seed drill with their fingertips through Wi-fi.
It offers the capability of controlling calibration from the seed drill platform without having to get on and off the tractor.
Next is the Quartz touchscreen control box, which is already available on the Sulky fertiliser spreader range.
This IsoBus control box, built by MÜller, opens the way to precision GPS technologies including automatic variable rate application or automatic shut-off in headlands.
The final option is straight Isobus, allowing the operator to use the tractor’s own terminal. It allows the user to manage the rate and the automatic shut-off via GPS in headlands, without the need to buy a control box.
Our demonstration drill came with the Quartz control box. Between this and the CCI universal terminals, we feel both are without doubt the most user friendly Isobus terminals available on the market today.
Both are clear and concise, and very easy to navigate, especially for someone who isn’t overly familiar with the technology.
Sulky was founded by Fabien Burel, a blacksmith from Châteaubourg. In the 1930s, the seed drills used in western France all came from Paris. However, local farmers in this area struggled, as these were too big, and required two horses to pull them. A local farmer approached Fabien and asked him to design a lighter and smaller drill. In the years that followed, the company became known as Sulky Burel; Sulky, after the sulky racers, which are light and fast, and Burel after his own surname.
Today, they trade under the Burel Group, who also own the Sky and Prolog brands. The Sky brand was established in 2013 as a solution for Sulky dealers already carrying a separate brand of min-till equipment that did not offer a direct drilling range of machines. The Burel Group now also has a majority stake in Italian power harrow manufacturer Frandent, since 2021. Farmec, based in Co Meath, have been the Irish distributor of the Sulky brand since 2003 and the Northern Irish distributor since 2015.
We were really impressed with the drill. It was incredibly easy and straightforward to operate, and the results in the field speak for themselves. It did a super job on sowing cereals on a range of soil types this spring. Seed placement has proved to be very accurate, while the ease of calibration and the accuracy of the metering device were first class.
However, the Progress is more than just a standard one-pass with good metering and seed placement. Its major selling point is the extent to which it can be configured. It offers the potential to open more doors for farmers looking to experiment with different applications of seeds and fertiliser in one pass.
Based on the time we spent working the machine, and the even emergence of the crops in the recent weeks post sowing, we would have no qualms in highly recommending the Sulky Progress drill. With quite a few demos now under its belt throughout the country, Irish distributor Farmec now have big plans to push the new drill on the Irish market, and we don’t doubt that it has the potential to become a real competitor.
Model: Sulky Progress.
Working width options: 3m, 3.5m and 4m.
Cultivation options: Power harrow or disc toolbar.
Power harrow: 12 rotors weighing in at 1,663kg.
Coulters: Suffolk (P20), twin disc (P50) or single disc (P100).
Coulter pressures: 20kg (P20), 50kg (P50) and 100kg (P100).
Row width: 15cm (3m), 14.6cm (3.5m), 14.3cm (4m).
Hopper: can be fitted with one to three hoppers.
Weight: power harrow and the Cultidisc drill is 3,230kg unladen.
Metering: Sulky’s own electronic system.
List price: starting from €52,500 plus VAT.