Gary Fiechtner with the ‘bristle crop holder’ prototypes designed to channel cut grain from the header knives to the grain tank and reduce harvest grain losses.
PHOTO: Clarisa Collis
"The seed always seemed to be planted into wet ground – behind the spear point. But where it was planted into wet soil it tended to dry out before the seed had a chance to germinate." – Gary Fiechtner
To counter the extremes of drought and flood in the past 10 years, southern Queensland grower Gary Fiechtner has transformed his approach to seeding to help his crops withstand the increasingly variable conditions.
Handy with a welder, Gary has rebuilt his planter so it creates raised seedbeds across his 323-hectare property at Ascot, 35 kilometres south of Toowoomba.
Testing the prototype planter on mungbeans, soybeans, wheat, chickpeas and navy beans, Gary was guided by the idea that a combination of cultivation and raised beds had the potential to lift the soil’s moisture content when there is too little rain, and improve drainage when there is too much.
He says the rethink of his planter set-up was prompted by the 2011 floods, which highlighted the importance of good drainage as well as soil moisture conservation, which he felt raised beds might achieve.
At that time, using hoe blades and tynes with spear points to sow crops, Gary observed: “The seed always seemed to be planted into wet ground – behind the spear point. But where it was planted into wet soil, it tended to dry out before the seed had a chance to germinate.”
Noting there was soil moisture away from the seed where the hoe blades had cut through the soil, and soil compaction where the spear point had placed the seed, he set about creating a planting machine to overcome these constraints.
Now, three years of on-farm development on the Fiechtners’ property have culminated in the Mador Servo planter, so named by Gary’s daughter Annallisa because it is Latin for ‘moisture-saver’.
The basic componentry for its patented design includes: four single disc openers; 16 dished discs; eight big 4WD tyres; eight standard car tyres; and four tynes mounted on nine tyne assemblies.
With other modifications, these components allow the Fiechtners to cultivate, lift and press the soil into raised beds, separated by drainage furrows. The beds created this way are 30 centimetres wide and from 2 to 7cm high.
The planter set-up also enables the seed to be placed into the raised beds in the same pass in which they are created, at a speed of up to 18 kilometres per hour.
To achieve this Gary has modified each tyne assembly, attaching a 50cm single disc opener behind the hoe blades, while leaving the tynes in place in front of this planting disc. This allows the seed to be placed down the side of the tyne where the cultivated soil is “soft and free-draining”.
In further changes to the tyne assembly, Gary has removed the tyne shanks between the planter rows and replaced them with clusters of four 35cm dished discs, half of which are scalloped. These smaller discs help to “cultivate, roll and lift” the soil into raised beds.
Behind these disc clusters, he has used a beam to attach large press wheels, comprising two big 4WD tyres and two standard car tyres, which press the loose, cultivated soil into raised beds and also form the drainage furrows between the beds.
He says planting seed 5cm into the raised beds, containing “soft soil disturbed by the tyne”, has provided better drainage in saturated conditions, while the furrows separating each raised bed help conserve more soil moisture in dry conditions.
Apart from improving drainage in the seedbed, the furrows run with the contour of his paddocks, so help to reduce water and soil run-off generally.
Always thinking about machinery improvements, Gary has also developed a device to avoid yield losses when cut grain falls short of the header’s auger table and drops to the ground.
Designed for short, fragile crops, his patented ‘bristle crop holder’ lifts and channels grain from the header knife to the draper front, reducing grain losses.
This ingenious solution to the problem of wasted grain at harvest draws on the spray-suppressant bristles used on the mudguards of trucks, which reduce road splash by diverting water down wheel arches.
Four rows of the coarse bristles, which are slotted into a plastic bracket and staggered in height, fan out to catch grain between the sickle guards at 7cm intervals along the header front.
Between 120 and 150 of these individual bristle crop holders are configured in groups of 10 on steel plates that are bolted to a 12-metre draper front.
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