Keeping precious topsoil on farm and added profit are rewards for farmers in Australia's northern grains region who adopt new technology which controls on-farm traffic.
Controlled traffic farming (CTF) separates permanent, machinery wheel tracks from the crop bed for some or all farming operations, with many benefits to both cultivated and track zones of the paddock.
The benefits include substantial savings in machinery costs, while improving moisture retention, soil condition, timeliness of operations and spray efficiency.
But no-one is promising overnight results. CTF will pose an even bigger challenge to conventional grain industry thinking than did minimum and zero till.
The precise row cropping provided by permanent wheel tracks is the basis for efficient operations, but offers the added benefit of direction run-off down the wheel tracks.
Growers are therefore encouraged to run their CTF cropping rows up and down the slope, rolling over any contour bank that may be in the way. The system manages run-off by preventing concentration of water and development of rills.
The Kajewski family, of Orion, on Queensland's Central Highlands, have CTF on 1,600 hectares.
The family adopted the "heretical" idea of working up and down the slope when they made their first foray into CTF two years ago.
Mr Kajewski says Central Queensland's highly variable climate makes moisture conservation the family's highest priority and that CTF works extremely well with zero till to achieve that aim. Proof of the pudding came with a February storm that dumped more than 150 mm on parts of the Kajewski property.
"We had a bit of bare country, about 80 hectares that had grown lablab for seed and then been grazed," Mr Kajewski said. "It had no stubble and run-off water from the storm broke contour banks in places and caused a bit of erosion down the slope from where the banks broke.
"CTF country alongside, which had undisturbed wheat stubble, had very little run-off at all. I have no doubt that without CTF and wheat stubble the water would have run over the banks in those paddocks too.
Machinery to fit
Mr Kajewski says his family solved the CTF machinery adaption problem with chisel plough cultivation at 9 metres and zero-till planting at 18 metres.
He said compaction is most likely to be a danger if headers work in damp soil conditions, but he has rarely seen that happen.
CTF technology, supported by growers through the GRDC, is estimated to offer an additional $55 million profit to producers in the northern grains region over 10 years.
Aiming for more than 160,000 hectares of the region under CTF within three years, the GRDC is supporting a project to speed adoption spearheaded by engineer Graham Powell from the Queensland Department of Natural Resources Farming Systems Institute.
Members of existing farmer groups at Brigalow, Kingaroy, Taroom, Chinchilla and Moonie in Queensland and at Moree and Trangie in NSW will be among the first growers encouraged to consider CTF on their own farms.
Step one: look at your layout
Department of Natural Resources soil scientist Don Yule, who has been heavily involved in CTF's development in Central Queensland, says growers considering CTF should look at paddock layout as the essential first step.
"CTF can provide excellent soil conservation but, if the layout is wrong, erosion may be worse," Dr Yule said. "CTF also makes zero till easy and efficient, with all the benefits of moisture retention and good soil condition."
Contact: Mr Graham Powell 07 4662 2322
WHAT CTF CAN DO FOR YOU
- crop yield increases of up to 10 per cent
- reduction of up to 15 per cent in overlaps, saving inputs, increasing yield
- no misses, efficient and effective zero till, with attendant benefits
- run-off management between contour banks, no rilling, reduced erosion
- uniform soil condition between wheel tracks, giving uniform establishment, more even crops
- reduced implement draft and improved tractor performance, cuts in fuel use by up to 50 per cent, and
- increased precision of operations, allowing intensive management on broadacre farms.
CT farmers report savings of up to 50 per cent in insecticide cost, through use of direct ground sprays, planting between stubble rows, inter-row fertilising and furrow planting.
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