For a love of crop­ping

No-till farm­ing: Kinnab­ulla farmer Lin­coln Lehmann fol­lows his own path

Central and North Rural Weekly - - ADVERTISING FEATURE - Dale Web­ster news@ru­ral­weekly.com

GROW­ING crops now is a dif­fer­ent ball game com­pared to when Lin­coln Lehmann’s grand­fa­ther, Reg, was farm­ing the fam­ily’s prop­erty in Vic­to­ria’s Mallee last cen­tury.

Lin­coln, who share farms 2350ha with his par­ents Roger and Dianne at Kinnab­ulla, is one of just a few op­er­a­tors in that re­gion to have in­tro­duced con­trolled traf­fic into a no-till sys­tem – a con­cept that would have bog­gled Reg and his mates 50 years ago.

“There was a lot of cul­ti­va­tion back then,” Lin­coln said.

“You’d put a ce­real crop in a pad­dock ev­ery three years and hope for things to hap­pen and most times it usu­ally would.

“With in­ten­sive crop­ping now though, you’ve got to know a lot more about nu­tri­tion, weed con­trol and dis­eases. It’s very dif­fer­ent, I guess.”

Kinnab­ulla sits in an area 20km north-west of Birchip that has an av­er­age an­nual rain­fall of about 300–350mm.

The Lehmann’s land presents the chal­lenge of var­ied soil types rang­ing from red loams, which per­form well in drier years, to typ­i­cal south­ern Mallee crab­hole coun­try, lime­stone soils, heavy clays and pock­ets of sand.

“Ev­ery pad­dock on the farm has three or four dif­fer­ent soil types across it,” Lin­coln said.

“Yield ranges al­ways vary a lot be­cause of that.

“In drier years, the poorer ar­eas won’t per­form and bet­ter ar­eas will, then you get wet years when the poorer soil types can do pretty well.

“Those lighter soil types, which make up about a third of the farm, are usu­ally pretty re­li­able for us.”

CROP THE LOT

WHILE Reg was a bit of a sheep man, Lin­coln has opted to con­cen­trate on crop­ping, with the an­nual pro­gram gen­er­ally re­flect­ing a break-up of 50% ce­re­als, 25% lentils, 20% canola and 5% brown ma­nure or chem­i­cal fal­low.

“I love grow­ing crops – that’s where my heart is so that’s the di­rec­tion I’m go­ing in,” he said.

The Lehmanns went no-till about 10 years ago, with con­trolled traf­fic in­tro­duced three years af­ter that.

It was a frus­tra­tion with ran­dom wheel tracks in pad­docks and the dif­fi­culty the seeder was hav­ing pen­e­trat­ing them that prompted Lin­coln to start run­ning all his ma­chin­ery along the same tram lines.

“It seemed to me the ideal way of grow­ing crops,” he said.

“Look­ing at it now I just don’t see why you would drive over ev­ery part of your pad­dock if you didn’t have to.”

Lin­coln’s first job was to buy a set of wheel spac­ers to move the axles on his trac­tor out to where they needed to be. He then bought another axle to put un­der the boom spray.

For the first cou­ple of years he elected to go nar­rower with his seeder, go­ing back to 9m to match the header.

It worked well but Lin­coln could see the set-up was go­ing to be too small go­ing for­ward.

He moved to a 12m seeder and then last year, achieved full co-or­di­na­tion with the pur­chase of a new Case IH header with a 12m front and a boom spray with a 36.5m span.

ON TRACK

A SHIELDED spray unit and land roller also run on the tracks.

“If I had done it all at the start it would have been very ex­pen­sive to jump straight into,” Lin­coln said.

“We worked it in with rou­tine ma­chin­ery up­grades.”

The shielded spray unit Lin­coln uses was built on farm in the Lehmanns’ work­shop.

He likes to tinker and will have a crack at any­thing he thinks he might be able to build him­self.

The spray unit may not be as glam­orous as one pur­chased off the show­room floor – the shields have been adapted from PVC storm pipes – but it came at a frac­tion of the cost.

“It was some­thing I thought would be handy with brome grass con­trol in crops and be­ing on con­trolled traf­fic I thought it was doable,” he said.

“Hav­ing per­ma­nent, bare wheel tracks means if you’re do­ing that sort of op­er­a­tion at this time of the year you are not knock­ing over your crop.

“I set about de­sign­ing my own ma­chine and set­ting it up the way I wanted it, us­ing a liq­uid fer­tiliser cart that I al­ready had there.

“This is the third sea­son I’ve been us­ing it and am sur­prised how well it worked in the end. It’s been a good sense of achieve­ment to make some­thing like that.”

The other thing Lin­coln finds sat­is­fy­ing is to see all his ducks lin­ing up and in farm­ing terms that means hav­ing his crops and pad­docks look­ing their best.

“It is nice to have them look­ing so neat and ev­ery­thing fol­low­ing per­ma­nent wheel tracks and com­ing up so evenly,” he said. “The crops are look­ing won­der­ful at the minute, it’s very sat­is­fy­ing.”

IN CON­TROL

THERE are many more ben­e­fits to con­trolled traf­fic than a well-or­dered pad­dock though and Lin­coln says they have def­i­nitely seen a dif­fer­ence in pro­duc­tion. The less-ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits in­clude open­ing up more weed-pest con­trol op­tions and re­duc­ing the run­ning cost of ma­chin­ery.

“A lot of farm­ers see con­trolled traf­fic as be­ing about re­duc­ing com­paction, but once you start you re­alise there are many lit­tle ben­e­fits,” he said.

“I run bare tracks now, which helps with late sea­son fungi­cide ap­pli­ca­tions on ce­re­als be­cause you’re not knock­ing over the crop.

“I’ve been able to im­ple­ment shielded spray­ing into the sys­tem and I’ll be plac­ing weed seeds and chaff on to the tram lines this har­vest.

“The poorer and heav­ier-type soils across our farm are more fri­able and eas­ier to pull ma­chin­ery through now. The fur­ther you go along, the more things stand out.”

As for the holy grail of crop­ping in lower rain­fall ar­eas – main­tain­ing yields in those tougher years – the move to a no-till, con­trolled traf­fic op­er­a­tion has made Lin­coln’s crops much less vul­ner­a­ble to the va­garies of the weather than his grand­fa­ther’s.

In 2014-15, the grow­ing sea­son rain­fall across the farm was any­where from 115mm to 150mm with very lit­tle to no stored soil mois­ture. Ce­real yields var­ied from around 0.7 to 2.5 tonnes/ha – the higher end not far off the 2.5 tonnes/ha of wheat and three tonnes/ha of bar­ley yields they would hope to pro­duce in a nor­mal year – with canola at 0.15 to 0.7 tonnes/ha and lentils 0.25 to 0.7 tonnes/ha. Wheat qual­ity is usu­ally rea­son­able in lower yield­ing crops, gen­er­ally achiev­ing higher pro­tein lev­els, and their feed bar­leys have mainly been F1 with some F2 and F3 in 2015.

“It’s noth­ing spec­tac­u­lar but we have seen that with the crop­ping tech­niques that we have un­der­taken in the past 10 years we can achieve rea­son­able re­sults from around 150mm across the grow­ing sea­son with min­i­mal stored mois­ture,” Lin­coln said. “Twenty years ear­lier in drought-type years like 2014 they wouldn’t have pulled the header out of the shed.”

❝ I love grow­ing crops – that’s where my heart is so that’s the di­rec­tion I’m go­ing in. — Lin­coln Lehmann

PHOTO: DALE WEB­STER

Lin­coln Lehmann of Curyo – one of the few farm­ers us­ing con­trolled traf­fic in the re­gion.

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