Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 065 November-December 2006 - North
STAYING ON TRACK CONSERVES MOISTURE BY REBECCA THYER n Growers and industry experts who were at this year’s Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF) Conference in Ballarat say controlled traffic provides significant agronomic and economic benefits, including better use of limited water. Although the reasons for implementing a CTF system varied among the graingrowers speaking at this year’s conference in Ballarat, the motivation for staying with it was universal – improved water-use efficiencies. The CTF concept involves laying out paddocks with permanent wheel tracks and adjusting machinery to fit those tracks. For growers like Ian Carter from NSW’s Liverpool Plains, CTF is proving increasingly vital in dry seasons. Mr Carter farms 3350 hectares in a 650-millimetre average rainfall zone. “This year we’ve had 266mm,” he says. “We’re struggling, but our CTF system shines through in years like this. “In our 2005-06 summer crop, we achieved an average of 6.5 tonnes a hectare on only 51mm of in-crop rain. If we assume soil water storage of 220mm at planting, the water-use efficiency was 38kg/ha/mm across the farm. We attribute this extra soil moisture storage to CTF and zero-till practices, which allowed greater infiltration.” Mark Harmer, a grower from Dookie, north-eastern Victoria, says he has achieved similar water-use efficiencies through CTF. Mr Harmer – who farms 1600ha with his wife Leticia and parents Ray and Lynne in a 525mm rainfall zone – says his system is not the product of any master plan or design layout. Instead it is a simple and cost-effective move to better manage moisture. “The only cost was $5/ha for the contractor to mark out the paddocks and about $100 to extend the boom, but the results have overall cropping efficiency … and I believe it is improving our overall profitability.” For St John Kent, who farms 800ha at Jimbour in Queensland, CTF has brought earthworms back to the farm, while “overland flooding is just a memory,” he says. “Water infiltration has improved dramatically. Our mechanical operations are substantially more efficient and less time-consuming. Our operational costs have been reduced with the elimination of larger, more powerful tractors and there is less wear and tear on all machinery. This significantly influences gross costs and net profits.” Growers at the conference were all enthusiasts for CTF and are keen to encourage others to work their way into CTF, saying the NOVEMBER -- DECEMBER 2006 GROUND COVER 13 Controlled traffic AUTO-STEER A USEFUL START WA grower Owen Brownley decided to change his farming system in the mid-1990s to get more out of his mixed-farming operation. “Hardened soils were holding back the seed- ing program on lighter or late rainfall seasons, where the biggest yield potential comes from earlier seeding, ” he says. Wide cultivation points were ripping out old stubble and leaving it loose on the surface. “This made it prone to bunching together by wind or moving with water into dams or fence lines. So in 1996 we decided to get rid of sheep and continuously crop the total arable farm with a no-till system.” Mr Brownley says he can now start seeding at a certain date instead of waiting for rain to soften the soil. “We know we can germinate a crop on 5mm.” For those keen to try CTF, he suggests fitting auto-steer to a tractor. “If you want to spend the least amount of money to give tramlining a go, just put auto-steer on your seeding tractor to sow straight crop rows that can be easily followed by the other machines,” he says. SOIL SOFTER VIA A CTF SYSTEM CTF was first investigated because of soil compaction problems, yet many growers still underestimate how much they drive over paddocks, says CTF Solutions consultant and researcher Dr Jeff Tullberg. He says the starting point for CTF is obvious: “Wheels work better on hard soil. Plants grow better in soft soil. Most soil organisms do not enjoy being dug up or squashed.” He says a CTF system can: n improve soil health, which leads to more plant-available water; n allow for faster and easier spraying because of hard, permanent traffic lanes; n reduce power needs because permanent tracks are easier to drive over; and n improve operation timeliness because the window of opportunity for paddock operations after rain is brought forward. “Compacted, permanent traffic lanes are usually trafficable for planting and spraying at least two days before random traffic paddocks. This increase in timeliness can provide direct yield benefits and indirect benefits – such as better weed control, ” Dr Tullberg says. Dr Tullberg says a recent experiment with a five-tonne tractor showed that one wheel pass a year reduced water infiltration by 40 per cent, decreased plant-available water by 40 per cent and decreased soil health by 60 per cent. “If you’re a no-till farmer, you probably drive over half of your paddock. If you cultivate the land, you probably drive over 85-100 per cent of it. In a controlled-traffic system you can get down to 12 per cent, giving you efficient trafficability and a crop that will grow better. “And it’s very achievable with modern technology and a perfect match with no-till farming, ” he says. been fantastic. Water-use efficiencies have increased from 14-15kg/ha/mm growing- season rainfall in 1995 to more than 25kg/ ha/mm growing-season rainfall today.” He says crop management has also improved and he would encourage other growers to embrace CTF. “Just do it. Even if it is only making use of what you currently have in some form of CTF, the benefits will help fund the bigger changes down the track.” CTF Solutions consultant Dr Jeff Tullberg says growers often report benefits from CTF after one year, although improvements continue at depth for at least five years, with positive yield effects from increased plant-available moisture. WA grower Mark Wandel from Scaddan, Esperance, says he started a CTF system three years ago and the hoped-for changes have occurred much faster than he expected. Mr Wandel, who farms almost 30,000ha in Esperance’s mallee district with his parents Neil and Mary and his brother Scott, says CTF has opened up a number of opportunities: “CTF has allowed us to establish crops on less rainfall, given us the ability to operate exactly where we want, and it has improved WA controlled-traffic farmer Owen Brownley. PHOTO: BRAD COLLIS WA's Owen Brownley and Mark Wandel at the CTF conference in Ballarat. PHOTO: REBECCA THYER HARVEST RADIO www.grdc.com.au/radio/main.htm benefits will outweigh any teething problems. North-western NSW grower Hugh Ball echoed the overall sentiment when he said there were no reasons why all graingrowers could not consider CTF. Mr Ball, who farms cereals, pulse and summer crops on two family-run properties totalling 11,000ha with his parents and brother Duncan, says his ‘driver’ is moisture management. He hopes that by the next CTF gathering the message will have spread and the discussion will be on what everyone is doing, not what they should be doing. More information: Andrew Whitlock, 0419 551 201, andrew.whitlock.dpi.vic.gov.au, www.actfa.net ASSOCIATION FORMED The Australian Controlled Traffic Farming Association (ACTFA) was formed at the conference as a national association sup- porting growers moving to CTF. Launched by Victorian Agriculture Minister Bob Cameron, ACTFA will promote, support and guide the development of CTF for all soil- dependant agricultural industries, through partnerships with industry. It will also act as a vehicle for the dissemination of CTF- related information. Developing an interac- tive website will be a priority.
Ground Cover 064 September-October 2006 - North
Ground Cover 066 January-February 2007 - North