Changing to no-till without breaking the bank

Western Australian cropper Colin Steddy

By David East

Western Australian cropper Colin Steddy (left) has learned from experience that machinery does not always need to be expensive to go no-till farming.

With a philosophy that you can stay home and work, or you can go to field days and learn to do things better and more efficiently, Mr Steddy, says the decision to become a no-till cropper was made after the 1997 harvest when he locked sheep out of a 200-hectare paddock.

“In 1998 the area excluded to sheep was increased to 500 hectares, and so the progression to no-till cropping started,” he says.

The Steddy farm is in the WA southeastern wheat belt at Narembeen. Run by Mr Steddy, his wife Tammy and their two young children, it comprises 2660 hectares of arable land of varying soil types with pH ranging from 4.5 to 8. It has an average rainfall of 350mm.

Mr Steddy says he is now a fully-fledged no-till continuous cropper, having gradually reduced the sheep numbers over the years as he stepped up his no-till cropping activities.

“The change to no-till cropping was a slow one,” he says. “I felt we needed to get rid of the sheep so that we could lower the weed seed burden because I was constantly worried about herbicide resistance problems.”

Describing the transition to no-till machinery, Mr Steddy said that in 1997 he and his wife bought a John Deere 1610 chisel plough fitted with Janke presswheels for $28,000.

“I immediately fitted it with Agmaster points and seed boots,” Mr Steddy says. “With 40 tines at 250mm spacings we had a 10m machine with which we planted 1200ha of crop – 800ha to wheat, 100 to faba beans and 300 to barley and lupins.

”Our airseeder was an old Agtec (Massey) box, which cost us $3000, and to which I fitted an old air kit that was lying around the farm. So we were no-till crop planting on the cheap, relatively speaking.”

In 2002 they bought a 240kW Caterpillar 65E tractor fitted with 762mm belt tracks and a three-point linkage.

“The same year I set about converting the Agtec bin into a tow-behind unit and fitted it with a Fusion air system.

“I repositioned the fan to the back, fitted large tractor tyres on the rear, mounted $250 steerers from a Shearer harvester on the front, and built a new tow hitch for the unit.

“The most expensive addition was a Beeline steering system, which we figured would pay for itself in a short time through savings on input costs.” Early in 2002, Mr Steddy became interested in tramline farming that incorporated his no-till cropping practices: “I made up a one-metre row seeding bar for the tractor three-point linkage and fitted it with 12 Nichols tines,” he says.

“While testing this, I noticed that when we passed at right angles to where the crop had been harvested, the tines with 1200psi pressure were breaking back on the harvester wheel tracks.

“I decided then and there that we had to fit the harvester into our no-till and tramlining system.”

The family has since bought a new 190kW Caterpillar MT745 tractor fitted with 460mm rubber belts, which gives them a three-metre track.

Mr Steddy says it was relatively easy to move the airseeder track out from 2.4m to match the new tractor’s three-metre track, and to also convert the 24m sprayer.

Colin Steddy"s proposed attachment to his seeder bar for applying liquid fertilisersMore recently, he has rebuilt his 12m, two-row seeding bar. It is fitted with 31 Nichols (Primary Sales) fully adjustable tines with a narrow row spacing of 375mm.

“By lifting up the back row of tines I get a 750mm row spacing for planting lupins, faba beans, chickpeas, canola and the summer crop I’m now experimenting with,” he says.

With his redesigned seeder bar, Mr Steddy says he will now be able to deep rip to 30cm and deep band either granular or liquid fertilisers.

“Deep ripping will break any hard pans that exist, and I will follow this with planting some deep-rooted crops to keep the soil open.”

Photo: Colin Steddy"s proposed attachment to his seeder bar for applying liquid fertilisers.

Mr Steddy says he now plans to introduce shielded sprayers into his farming system.

Other changes in the pipeline include the removal of all internal fences, together with single trees, rock piles and most contour banks, and to incorporate different crop rotations and species into the farming system.

Although they have since upgraded their equipment, Colin and Tammy Steddy launched their no-till cropping program for an outlay of just $28,000 – the cost of their JD 1610 chisel plough.

“Other than the tractors, we have made and/or modified everything else on the farm,” Mr Steddy says. “We didn’t have to break the bank.

“In 1997, we retired a Massey cultivator and two Chamberlain combine seeders to buy the chisel plough and we have gone from there with no regrets.”

Region North, South, West