If you want a job done properly...

Brad Collis meets the father and son who have taken the DIY approach to no-till

Shiny and new: David and Tom Lewis with the seeder bar they built, and the solar-powered GPS station for their new auto-steering.

By the time Tom Lewis and his son David had put the finishing touches to their newly-built seeder bar it looked far too pretty to put into a paddock.

Tom is a keen welder and David is handy with paint and brush, when he is not studying the application of computer technology to modern farming.

However this impressive piece of colourful DIY simply reflects their commitment to excellence, following the old adage, "if a job"s worth doing it"s worth doing well".

After extensive research, the pair built the 12.5 metre seeder bar themselves to take the next step in no-till tramlining, with all equipment except the harvester now matched to three-metre tracks.

The unit has been built to handle heavy stubble with two toolbars, 1.3 metres apart and 0.8 metres between the tynes on each bar. It can facilitate up to four product applications in one pass.

At 40 centimetres, the row spacing is wider than usual, but the Lewises feel that the issues with row spacing are not straightforward and, over time, the benefits of a wider spacing with good levels of cover on the soil, outweigh any disadvantages.

If required, the spacing between rows can be lessened by spreading seed with a banding attachment on the tynes.

The horsepower is now provided by a Cat MT755 with Cat Auto guide steering. Much of the cost of the change was met by selling other equipment not suited to the new system, including a chaff cart, DBS seeder and John Deere 4WD.

"After selling, buying and/or making, our net outlay has been about $120,000," says Tom.

While using their own skills has saved money, the main aim was to be in full control of the specifications they needed. Tom says accuracy is the key word in the system. For example, the linkage seeder is able to transfer the repeatable 2cm accuracy of the tractor to the crop rows, enabling the use of a shielded sprayer or mechanical forms of weed control inter-row, in cereals as well as legumes.

"The trick with everything we are trying to do is to lower costs without compromising yields, and hopefully increasing them.

Of course it"s easy to say, but it takes time and effort to achieve."

This will be the third year of tramlining, but the first year using auto steering. "We spent a lot of time researching the steering.

It"s a complex area and it"s easy to misunderstand a particular system"s capability," says David.

The Lewises crop 2500 hectares in a 350mm rainfall zone near Bruce Rock, WA, and moved to total cropping and direct-drilling in 1981.

By the mid-1990s they were experiencing areas of soil compaction and reduced effectiveness of some chemicals.

As part of a concerted effort to achieve sustainable high intensity cropping, no-till with knife points was introduced in 1996. This has helped improve yields and timeliness, with crops able to be sown on much less moisture earlier in the season.

On the downside this has led to an increase in grass weeds, particularly ryegrass. Although usually at background levels, it is always there.

Rotations include wheat, barley, triticale, canola and lupins.

"It"s 15 years now since any stubble burning was done and the results are being seen," says Tom. "Wind and water erosion is not really an issue and soils are softer. Rainfall goes straight in. We are confident that crop residue, left mostly on the surface, is important in driving our intensive system.

"It is apparent that our residue is breaking down much quicker now, as very little material more than three years old is visible. The goal now is to get enough residue and effectively place it between rows for improved moisture holding, weed suppression and nutrient building."

The Lewises are excited about the prospects of their new system, particularly the ability to place inputs precisely. This will lead to significant reductions in the use of expensive and sometimes inefficient chemicals.

"We feel this is the next step in our push for increased production, so we are certainly working with a sense of optimism," says Tom.

For more information:
Tom Lewis, 08 9061 1309, miavale@wn.com.au
David Lewis, 08 9061 1018, djjlewis@wn.com.au

Free copies of the Tramline Farming Systems technical manual are available from Bindi Webb, 08 9956 8530, bwebb@agric.wa.gov.au

GRDC Research Code: DAW 718, program 4

Region North, South, West