Machinery developments in no-till farming

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The idea that grew and grew

When they talk about the beginnings of no-till in Western Australia, two men are invariably mentioned - Ray Harrington and Kevin Bligh. A third one is not far behind, Ray Harrington's older brother David.

Kevin Bligh recalls he was researching crop wateruse and run-off for the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA when a very wet 1974 prompted many farmers to experiment with direct drill in 1975. All used Sprayseed®, which had been strongly promoted by ICI .

Kevin says ICI put a lot of effort and capital into promoting direct drill - the forerunner of no-till - to the extent of paying leading, innovative growers to demonstrate its advantages.

Narrogin's Mike Brown and several other growers had been direct drilling since about 1969, and he bought a triple disc drill after Esperance couple David and Nan Kettle had seen them on a trip to England.

The Kettles imported one and it worked well enough in WA for about 40 of them to be sold in the state in the following few years. With no press wheels and mainly used to sow clover into stubble, most went into premature retirement because of their difficulty coping with Australian weeds.

Mike Brown kept using one of the English drills and Kevin believes he would have been one of the first graingrowers in the west to use glyphosate (as Roundup®) in the direct drill system.

Ray and David Harrington were running a large cropping and sheep operation at Darkan when the big rainfall year of 1983 caused serious sheet erosion on their forest-gravel hill country.

With about 75 millimetres of rain falling in three or four days, their ploughed soil slipped away down the hill.

"We knew we needed to try something different and tried to think what we would like if we were crop seeds, deciding that would be a nice environment underneath for the young roots to grow into," Ray says. "We asked ourselves why we should dig up the whole paddock when really all we needed to cultivate was directly under the seed rows. That's where the beginning of our move to no-till started, straight out of our heads."

Noted inventors of improved equipment for the sheep industry, the Harrington brothers made all the gear they needed for their new farming system, coming up along the way with the concept of the hardened narrow point, now used Australia-wide for no-till planting.

Given the extra production and environmental value of no-till, Ray sometimes wonders what the real worth of the narrow point might be to the WA grains industry.

He says Kevin Bligh was an integral part of promoting no-till in WA , particularly after he won a 1990 Churchill Fellowship to study the application of no-till in the US and New Zealand. The Harringtons' relationship with Mr Bligh began with a telephone call after they read a newspaper article by him about notill.

More farmers became interested and no-till was officially born when the Western Australia No-Tillage Farmers Association (WANTFA) was formed in August 1992, with Ray Harrington as its first president.

[Photo (left): Ray Harrington: first president of WANTFA.]

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