The three Ps
ADHERANCE to a simple three-point philosophy – prepare, place and protect – has helped to almost double the yield potential of a northern Victorian cropping operation over the past three decades.
Ross and Judy Geddes, together with their sons, David and Nick, grow about 800 hectares of wheat and canola on a number of properties based around their third-generation family farm, “Carinya”, just outside Dookie. They also run about 300 Merino ewes for first-cross lamb production.
“There’ve been tremendous changes in the way we farm over the past 30 years,” Ross says. “When I came home, our cropping program was ‘burn, bash and bury’ – we burnt the stubble, we cultivated the paddocks and we buried the seed. Now it’s ‘prepare, place and protect’. We prepare the paddock, we place the seed and then we protect the crop.”
Working with IK Caldwell senior agronomist, Bruce Larcombe, he prepares detailed plans with each paddock.“Preparation is about stubble management, maintaining a clean fallow over summer, soil testing, choosing the right varieties and planting them at the right time,” Ross says. “Placement is about placing the seed and fertiliser accurately to make sure you give the seed the best opportunity for germination, emergence and establishment. Then we protect the plant with the right crop protection and nutritional products at the right time so that the crop reaches its full yield potential. We’re getting yields of up to 6 t/ha for wheat and 2.5 t/ha for canola, which was unimaginable even 15 years ago.”
About three years ago, Ross began to look for a suitable replacement for his outdated 24-row combine. “We inspected a couple of different machines and narrowed it down to three that we felt would best suit our conditions,” he says. “We’ve got a mix of red and self-mulching black soils that can get fairly sticky, while our topography ranges from flat country to rolling hills with quite rocky outcrops.”
Ross settled on a Seed Hawk 800C compact precision airseeder supplied by CLAAS Harvest Centre in Echuca. Unlike larger Seed Hawk toolbars, the 800C features a mounted 4000 L split seed and fertiliser tank and a three-section frame folds to a transport width of just three metres. It incorporates 26 of the company’s patented openers set on 30 cm spacings, providing an operating width of eight metres.
Each opener consists of a laid-back hydraulic tyne with separate knives that place the fertiliser about 20 mm deeper and 40 mm to the side of the seed row. Depth control is achieved via the 10 cm trailing press wheel, which independently tracks ground contours and then packs and seals the furrow for faster, more uniform emergence. This simple design delivers precise seed depth, even over uneven ground, high trash conditions or at high operating speeds.
Each opener is pulled into its operating position by a hydraulic ram with the ‘break-out’ pressure adjusted from the cabin. Once the trip pressure has been reached, the opener gently glides up and over any obstacle before re-engaging the soil.
“The thing that really impresses me about the Seed Hawk is the simplicity of the design,” Ross says. “You pull the pin out, change the setting, put the pin back in and that’s exactly how deep the seed and fertiliser knives will go, no matter what. Someone spent a lot of time thinking about this.
“Likewise, the calibration and metering system is outstanding. We had just three kilograms of canola seed and about half a tonne of fertiliser left over at the end of this season, which I think is pretty amazing.”
Ross is impressed with the placement accuracy of the seeder. “It really does what the manufacturer says it will do in terms of seed placement,” he says. “The crop emergence is definitely quicker by days and it’s so even, even in rocky ground. “You drive past the paddock one day and there’s nothing to see. The next day, the crop’s out of the ground. I can’t put a percentage on it but faster emergence and greater uniformity has to contribute to yield.”
Ross is also impressed with the service provided by CLAAS Harvest Centre in Echuca, despite the dealership between nearly 100 km away. “Nothing seems to be a trouble,” he says. “They provided a complete set-up during our first and then our second season, which they didn’t really have to. One night, David was finishing up at about 9 pm when two of their service technicians, who just happened to be driving past, pulled up and asked him if everything was OK. Everything was fine but these guys had called in just to make sure.”
Ross has since had the unit retrofitted with semi-pneumatic press wheels and Devloo Roto conical mud scrapers. The Seed Hawk is paired with a John Deere 8310R tractor, whose 310 horsepower rating is nearly 30 per cent higher than required. “This is fairly heavy country, so we like having the extra horsepower when we need it,” he says. “We’re happy to stick to a sowing speed of 8 km/h. If you are throwing soil about, you are wasting your moisture and trifluralin, which is against our ‘place and protect’ philosophies.”