$$ benefits of tramline farming

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TRIALS on the northern sandplain soils around Geraldton have shown that tramline farming can return an average annual $40 per hectare improvement in gross margins compared to practices that do not use any form of controlled traffic, even allowing for the cost of deepripping in the first year.

Set up to evaluate a wheat-Iupin-wheatcanola rotation, the tria ls demonstrated that much of the benefit comes from compaction control, with three years of tramline farming giving much the same gross margin benefit as re-ripping in the second year of wheat (the third year of the rotation).

The find ings indicate that from a financial point of view, there is no net short-term benetit of re-r ipping the normal traffic system compared to adopting a tramline fanning system.

"Even in a tram line farming system, it could be more profitable to re-rip the paddock in a way that preserves the tramlines, because slow natural settlemcnt of sands after ripping reduces yield over the 10llg term," says Department of Agriculture scientist Paul Blackwell.

Dr Blackwell says that wheeling overlap from different seasons can have a strong influence on financial benefits for longer periods of the farming system, with neither complete overlap nor zero overlap being very likely.

Trial measurements and estimates show that 50-80 per cent wheel track overlap is realistic if the same equipment is used. In dollar terms the wheel track overlap, which minimises compaction elsewhere, accumulates about $1 50 added income per hectare over four years.

This translates to an annual average improved gross margin of about $40 per hectare.

Other benefits were less significant, with reduced fuel use giving real financial benefits only in the year of ripping when the soil was weakest. The reduced seeder and sprayer overlap also increased gross margins consistently. This was calculated as contributing around j 5 per cent of the benefits from controlling compaction, especially in wheat years and in later seasons.

Weed control The potential for large gross margin benetits from controlling weeds in the lupin phase of the rotation was also identitied from financial modelling for systems using tramline farming.

Tramlines allow the convenient use of row cropping methods for crops such as lupins, allowing the use of inter-row shields. "Shields and an in-row treatment can control up to 98 per cent of ryegrass in the lupin year and allow a profitable crop of lupins without the use of normal grass selectives," says Dr Blackwell. Compared to green or brown manuring the crop, Dr Blackwell estimates that this method of weed control in tramline systems can give an improvement in gross margin of $150 per ha in the lupin year and $50 per ha including the following wheat year. Such large financial benefits, from equipment that some farmers have made themselves at low cost, are attractive at the beginning of a conversion to tramline farming to help finance the changes.

Program 4 Contact: Dr Paul Blackwell 08 9956 8537 email PBlackwell@agric.wa.gov.au