Looking at Real Time Kinematics

My first week in Victoria, Australia was fascinating and I would like to thank everyone who gave their time to meet with me.

My travels took me from Ballarat in southern Victoria, to the Wimmera and Mallee regions and up to the border with New South Wales.  Victoria has varying rainfall patterns and I wanted to see how the land is managed at farms within the region. The Victoria No-Till Association were a great help in putting me in touch with growers in the area – I even ended up doing a video for their website followed by two radio interviews.

I saw during the first few days how valuable RTK (Real Time Kinematics) is to the growers out there, and the first farms I visited faced some challenges similar to the UK. For example, slugs work their way up the seed rows here, just like they do in the UK.

Russ Mc Kenzie - Wide Row Spacing Illustrating Inter -row Crop Planting Using RTK

Wide row spacing illustrating inter-row crop planting using RTK

I met some growers who had made the transition from a tine based system to a disc system, where they placed a high value on retaining as much soil cover as possible.  The use of discs is considered to have a benefit over tine systems even in relation to moisture retention at seeding.  However, disc based seeding requires greater attention to detail, and conditions for planting are more restrictive.

It was abundantly clear that using RTK enables the grower to plant accurately between the rows, which is crucial for both disc and tine systems, and extra kit, such as row cleaners, help reduce the problems associated with hairpinning.

Some of the growers’ focus has been extremely impressive, including maintaining stubble height at a specific level to act as a wind break, which in turn reduces the risk of soil erosion from the wind.  The detail one grower went into was immense.  In order to preserve his stubble height, he ensured the trailing wheels for his planter were staggered so that stubble was not run down too much, even when seeding.  Another grower was prepared to wait for the morning dew to disappear, as he considered even this increased the risk of hairpinning.

All the growers I met have noticed the benefits of using no-till. Some have seen the switch from a two pass system, resulting in a 25-30% increase in crop performance.  No-till allows them to retain every drop of rain they possibly can and infiltration rates have notably improved, with the addition of reduced run off and pooling.

Of course growers here face many challenges, including ryegrass, which is as troublesome as our black-grass, but some were convinced the situation had improved since the switch to no-till as more seeds are left on the surface.  It was clear, also, that care has to be taken with planting: excessive soil throw from tine coulters can cause residues to impair the emergence in some rows.  The spectre of glyphosate resistance lurks in some places and perhaps this is something we need to be mindful of in the UK.

I also saw how, where some growers have used a cultivator to level RTK wheel marks, this resulted in strips of ryegrass. It would seem that there was less weed pressure under their lower disturbance system.

By the end of the visits I was left with the impression that the way growers had adapted to their challenges had helped to even out their crop performance.

Russ Mc Kenzie - Vetch Planting In The Mallee Region

Vetch planting in the Mallee region.

There is so much to say that it is difficult to get it all in a blog.  Next time I shall reflect on my trip to Adelaide and a visit to the University of South Australia, which has a great history of research into no-till systems.




Russell McKenzie farms 750ha on predominantly heavy clay on the border between Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. He grows seed on contract as well as soft and feed wheat, and his usual rotation is wheat, OSR and spring beans. A Nuffield Scholar, Russ has been researching direct drilling in extreme weather in 2013 and 2014.