Making no-till a handy move

Swan Reach growers Adrian and Colin Stoeckel

By David East

On-farm ingenuity, rather than a big capital outlay, has been the key to Swan Reach growers Adrian and Colin Stoeckel (left) switching to no-till cropping. The South Australian father and son team modified their existing seeding equipment, which, according to Colin Stoeckel, did not require a lot of change.

With their modified seeder, the Stoeckels’ have virtually developed their own no-till (direct drill) system. The use of knife points and soil incorporated herbicides has allowed them to no-till their crops, plus improve their ability to manage a worsening brome grass problem.

Adrian and Colin Stoeckel began no-till cropping on their 9300 hectares in SA’s Murray Mallee region in the 2002 drought year. “As it turned out, being a drought year, it was a pretty smart move in more ways than one,” Colin Stoeckel says. “It had a significant impact on protecting our farm from severe soil erosion.”

Early in the season they bought a Horwood Bagshaw Scaribar and had it reconfigured for 300 millimetre (12 inch) row spacings. It was hooked up to a Horwood Bagshaw three-bin, 11 cubic-metre air cart equipped with electric drive and variable rate application Colin says modifying the seeding bar, which already had sufficient tine breakout and provided a choice of tine spacing options, was not a difficult task. “When we decided to reconfigure it we settled on Primary Sales PR87 points and AIS fertiliser boots and our own made-up seeding boots.

“We then thought about the pre emergent weed control and couldn’t see why this had to be a second and/or separate operation. So we bought a Silvan Dosatron chemical injection unit and mounted it to the mainframe seeding bar, plumbed the machine with a row of spray jets across its full width and fitted a 3000 litre fresh water tank on the machine drawbar.

“This tank is refilled from a nurse tank in about five minutes, while we refill the seeder bin which takes about eight minutes.”

Colin says both refill operations occurred simultaneously so there was no lost time. The improved brome grass control came from the direct injection system and narrow points. “Basically, our system gives us weed control and allows us to plant the seed in one pass,” he says.

For the back of the machine, Colin says he and his father bought Manutec presswheels. “We made up our own carry frames for stagger attaching the wheels, one in front and one behind, to create what is essentially a walking presswheel arrangement. “Because our country comprises a fair amount of sand in some areas and stone in other places, we elected to take the seeding tubes off the tines and mount/attach them in front of the presswheels set-up.

“With our seeding depth now controlled by the presswheels, we can till deep in the sandy soils and shallow in the stony country.”

With the air cart and the spray system for the pre-emergent spray both being variable rate controlled (VRC), the Stoeckels are now able to make full use of the GPS guidance system they bought six years earlier.

“This has proven to be a great asset in as much that we can accurately seed and spray chemicals at night as well as during the day, all in the one pass,” Colin says.

Adrian and Colin Stoeckel pull their no-till seeding plant with a 300 kW Case-IH STX 450 tractor. They also have the option to use a stubble dumper behind their harvester for better weed control if necessary.

“Our entire 2003 crop was sown with our no-till system, and while some of the wheat was affected by frost, we did have the best germination ever on our shallow stony country,” Colin says.

Since converting to no-till using knife points, presswheels and direct injection herbicide application, in conjunction with their own particular on-farm modified machine setup, Adrian and Colin Stoeckel say they have achieved better crop germination and superior brome grass control, and introduced a greater versatility into their crop planting program, which has reduced their tractor hours dramatically.

Colin Stoeckel said the change to no-till farming cost the family about $15,000.

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