- Controlled-traffic farming is a whole-farm system and is about more than just matching machinery widths
- Careful planning is required to ensure a smooth transition
Controlled-traffic farming (CTF) is a whole-farm system. While matched machinery is an integral part, there is no substitute for getting the rest of the system right.
The journey of continuous improvement in CTF is not over, but with careful planning and attention to detail, CTF makes all growers better growers.
'Do it, but do it right' is an excellent motto for CTF. Here are 10 tips for success.
1. Consider farm layout
The system benefits of CTF are only as good as the weakest link in paddock layout. The longest run is only as efficient as the first washout, sand blowout or wet spot. Whole-farm logistics matter as well, so make sure you can get inputs and outputs to and from the paddock.
2. Measure each machine
A 30-foot (9.14-metre) header is not always 30ft. Header fronts vary from 9.0m to 9.3m and that is just in the same colour. Measure machinery carefully to avoid overlap and ensure there is no contamination of the grain sample from any oversize header fronts.
3. Have a plan
Trying to manage the transition to CTF without a written plan is like trying to drive blindfolded in a snowstorm. A simple written plan detailing machinery, field layout and agronomic changes makes it easier to achieve complex management and operational changes.
4. Do not forget about agronomy, weed control and so on
CTF is not a magic bullet - it requires discipline and drive to succeed, but the rewards are great. Attention to normal agronomy is still necessary and CTF will make it easier with more options, improved timeliness and do a better job.
5. Include the harvester in the planning
Everyone takes time to implement CTF, but planning should include the harvester from the start. The modern grain harvester is one of the heaviest machines over the field. Northern growers report that controlling harvest traffic leads to improved crop frequency. CTF makes harvesting easier and reduces yield-map variation.
After 25 years of CTF consultancy and troubleshooting existing systems, I have identified 10 common areas which can make or break CTF systems.
6. Alternate tracks with the sprayer/spreader
The most common operational error is intensive use of the same tramline, leading to rutting and widening. The unused planting and harvest tracks get softer and weeds proliferate when wheel tracks are not planted. If they are planted, the crop develops poorly, has high screenings and is often green at harvest. Make sure you use every set of wheel tracks in a season. Use track one for the first spray/spread of the season, track two for the next and so on.
7. Seek professional advice
Many mistakes could be avoided by tapping into the network of CTF researchers and growers from around the world. The Australian Controlled Traffic Farming Association is a good starting point.
8. Biggest is not always best
Testosterone has no place in setting up a CTF system. Smaller, lighter equipment will look after the soil and cost less.
9. Keep records
Detailed records of production and inputs prior to adopting CTF allow you to make an economic assessment of reward versus risk and to measure your success. Continual improvement is a cornerstone of CTF adoption.
10. Standardise with other CTF systems
Machinery manufacturers have now standardised on 3m wheel-track centres and either 9m or 12m base widths for grain production, allowing seeders of 18m and 24m. While custom widths may suit your individual operation, they make it more challenging to get emergency help during harvest or breakdown. Today, cotton, sugar cane, fodder and vegetables are all planted on 3m wheel tracks, meaning a much wider range of crops can be efficiently grown on one farm.