Grower Callum Wesley, of Southern Cross, is developing and trialling a new seeding system for lower-rainfall areas – called the Wesley Wheel – that harvests moisture in inter-row furrows.
PHOTO: James Tolmie
Owners: Callum, John and Adrian Wesley
Location: Southern Cross
Farm size: 8000 hectares
Enterprises: 45 per cent cropping; Brahman cattle stud
Average annual rainfall: 315 millimetres
Soil types: heavy red loam, red sands
2015 crop program: 2600ha wheat, 800ha barley, 200ha oats
A valuable second year of research data is being collected this season on an innovative new seeding system – the ‘Wesley Wheel’ – that aims to harvest moisture from inter-row furrows.
Developed by young Southern Cross grain grower Callum Wesley, this unique system is patent-pending – a process that could take up to seven years.
In the interim, Callum has the backing of the GRDC’s Regional Cropping Solutions Network (RCSN) Kwinana East group and the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA) to expand trials of the Wesley Wheel this year into eastern parts of the northern and central wheatbelt.
He says the system is ideally suited to the ‘eastern fringe’ of WA’s cropping areas, where production is water-limited in most years and growing-season rainfall has been contracting.
“I am confident we get enough rainfall to grow a really successful crop in these environments, but the issue is that our efficiency is not as good as it needs to be for long-term sustainability,” he says.
In 2013, Callum designed and produced a prototype of his Wesley Wheel concept, which is based on furrow formation and inter-row compaction.
This seeding bar has specific seeding points that increase soil throw and are followed by wide press wheels that run on the inter-row, compressing the excess soil into two linear faces on either side of the inter-row.
This creates steep inclines that are ideal for water harvesting and for reducing moisture loss through evaporation.
“Amateur trials I undertook in 2013 at our farm showed this system had potential to triple our sowing window for cereals by capturing early rainfall,” Callum says.
“In that year, the opening season rain was eight millimetres and it came down in five minutes. Using conventional seeding with knife-points, that moisture would last four days in the soil.
“But where I used the Wesley Wheel there was still ‘germinating’ moisture in the soil 12 days later.”
Based on this initial success, the Wesley family used the Wesley Wheel system on 800 hectares of their farm in 2014 and it was tested on the farm and at the Merredin Research Facility with assistance from DAFWA.
At both locations, row spacings of 220, 300, 375 and 460mm were set up and wheat yields increased by up to 26 per cent where wider rows were used, compared with conventionally sown control plots.
At Southern Cross, Callum says it was a challenging season, where daily rain events in June, July and August did not exceed 5.4mm – reducing water-harvesting potential.
“But we did see the wider row spacings of 375 and 460mm produce slightly higher yields of about 0.1 to 0.2 tonnes/ha than in the narrower rows – with and without furrows,” he says.
At the Merredin site, there were significantly higher soil water measurements in the Wesley Wheel furrows after two rainfalls of 11mm, compared with conventionally sown plots.
Wheat yields at this site tended to increase (by about 0.3t/ha) with furrow formation, but were not statistically different.
“The Merredin trial was also the first indication that using wider row spacings could increase yield in a 1t/ha crop, compared with narrower rows,” Callum says.
“Traditionally, using wider rows in our eastern wheatbelt environment has led to yield penalties. But this system seems to work well at wide rows because the wider the row, the more water is captured.”
Callum says there was up to 11 per cent more water measured in the furrows post-rainfall events last season at Merredin than in the inter-row.
He says the flow-on effect was amplified when a paddock’s lower soil water limit is 10 per cent and upper limit is 35 per cent.
To further test the Wesley Wheel concept this year, Callum’s family used the seeding system with 375mm row spacings across 1500ha of their property and the Kwinana East RCSN has funded trials at Southern Cross, Merredin, Mullewa and potentially a location in the central midlands on a non-wetting soil type.
Callum says his aim is that, when commercialised, the Wesley Wheel will be affordable for growers and easily adapted to existing seeding machinery.
He says it is ideally suited to real-time kinematic autosteer systems for repeating furrows in consecutive seasons.
“This might lead to lower requirements for nutrients and lime, as these would be more concentrated in the furrow, but would need careful stubble management,” he says.
DAFWA is planning to assess furrow nutrient levels in this year’s Wesley Wheel trials.
0448 154 888,
Julianne Hill, RCSN,
0447 261 607,
Callum Wesley’s 2015 Agribusiness Crop Update paper and presentation
Video of Callum Wesley, designer of the Wesley Wheel
Ripper trials to overturn compaction constraints
Ground Cover Direct
GRDC Project Code