For a love of cropping
No-till farming: Kinnabulla farmer Lincoln Lehmann follows his own path
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.
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.”
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
Lincoln Lehmann of Curyo – one of the few farmers using controlled traffic in the region.