Discs bring benefits at Streatham farm

Author: Alistair Lawson | Date: 03 Jul 2014

Key points

*Three years into using disc seeder

Scott Blurton examines germinating barley sown into a summer crop "cocktail" at his Streatham farm.

Streatham, Victoria, grower Scott Blurton in a paddock that had a “biological primer” sown to it over summer, which was desiccated in April and inter-row sown to Oxford barley with his John Deere 1890 disc seeder, which is emerging nicely.

*Able to sow on-time without definitive season break

*More even germination of crops

Victorian no-till cropper Scott Blurton is beginning to see the benefits a disc seeder is bringing to his operation, three years after he first trialled the machinery.

His Streatham farm, ‘Tara’, spans 2800 hectares and has been no-till since 2007. Soils are predominantly grey loam over “fairly hostile” sodic subsoil. Scott, wife Anne and sons Oscar and Sam grow wheat, barley, canola and legumes comprising lupins, beans and some clover this year.

The farm operates on a 12.2-metre controlled traffic (CTF) system, with everything in 12.2m multiples. Both the seeding bar and header are 12.2m in length, while the boomspray and header are both on 36.6m.

The conversion to disc seeders

In 2012, Scott undertook a trial where he sowed half of the farm using a tyned implement with knifepoints and presswheels and the other half using a disced implement. It was the first time Scott had used a disc seeder and he was pleased with the results.

“That year the results from the disc seeder were good, probably better than the tynes in that there was more even germination,” Scott said.

“From that point we’ve been using discs. The disc seeder is just a cheaper machine to run more generally, from purchase cost right through to diesel usage. We also find it a lot more productive. On our 12.2m controlled traffic farming system, we have gone from seeding 8 hectares an hour with tynes to 12ha/hr with the discs, purely because of the fact we are able to travel faster.”

Scott cites another reason they pursued a disc seeder was because they have stony country and, in his own words, he “didn’t want to spend another 20 years picking up rocks”.

Timely sowing

The greatest benefit Scott has found from using the disc seeder is being able to sow timely, with or without a decent enough break in the season.

“Last year we had a very dry start and had between 60 per cent and 70pc of the crop in with no rain at all, then we had 20 millimetres of rain,” Scott said.

“It was great to be able to sow so timely and get the evenness in germination, which means we’re not waiting for straggler plants to come up so we can spray. Being able to sow the crop on time last year was great, otherwise we would’ve been a month behind. That benefit shines through even more so in years with dry finishes.

“Now that I’m committed to discs, I couldn’t go back to tynes. We are sowing 2800ha and sowing it when we want, which also works out better for staff as we’re not running around the clock. And if you look back over the last 10 years the biggest driver of yield is time of sowing, and all our crops are going in on-time and doing well with a disc seeder.”

Scott has a John Deere 1890 on 30.5 centimetre row spacings. The only modifications he has made since buying the disc seeder is installing residue managers to clear rows and help prevent hairpinning. However, having recently installed implement steering to keep the disc seeder on the same guidance line as the tractor - to improve inter-row sowing - Scott hopes to do-away with the residue managers once that system is fine-tuned and working properly.

Weed and slug control

While it is only early days, Scott envisages the farm will be using less chemicals as a result of using disc seeders. He said there is not the same ryegrass germination as there was in a tyned system, and he has noticed less and less weed germination as the farm moves further away from full tillage.

“I think the less you can disturb the soil, the less weed germination you get, which is why I want to get rid of the residue managers,” he said.

“It makes a lot of sense because we’re not destroying the biology in the soil and pulling up clods of dirt. We have previously had a lot of trouble with slugs and I think the lack of clods is helping to keep the slugs under control. Being able to sow early while the soil is warm helps the plant to outgrow the slugs.”

Summer cropping and “crop primers”

To target a problem the farm has with shallow root depth, Scott has been experimenting with deep rooted summer and cover crops such as sunflowers, corn, millet and turnips. They are sown as a “cocktail” or “biological primers” following harvest in summer, and this year Scott let them grow right up until late-April before desiccating them and sowing the winter crop. That way, Scott said, they are keeping the soil alive and active all year-round. It is this aspect of farming – cover crops and crop primers – that has Scott particularly excited about the future.

Over the last two years Scott has also grown summer crops to harvest in sunflowers and corn. While they have not been hugely successful crops due to the dry summers he has experienced, he is slowly seeing the same benefits he is getting in the cover crop cocktail. Those crops are bringing up nutrients that have been leached from years of continuous winter cropping, making for healthier cereals and legumes in the winter program. In the long run, Scott is hoping to see significant yield benefits to his winter crops as a result of the summer cropping program.

Scott is also a committee member of the Victorian No-Till Farmers Association, which he said has been beneficial to him as a knowledge source.

“That has opened doorways for me, with access to a lot of farmers both locally and overseas,” he said. “It enables you to pick the brains of other farmers and learn new things.”

View the GRDC Controlled Traffic Farming Fact Sheet at www.grdc.com.au/GRDC-FS-ControlledTraffic

Region South