Owners: Paul and Robyn Buerckner
Farm locations: Ariah Park, Methul, Ardlethan, Temora and Quandialla, New South Wales
Total farm area: 3050 hectares
Area cropped: 2450ha (owned and leased)
Average annual rainfall: 500 millimetres (long-term); 557mm (2020); 234mm (2021 to March 30)
Soil types: red brown earth over clay to grey clay
Soil pH range: 4.8 to 5.2 (calcium chloride) in the zero to 10cm layer; 4.5ca in the 10 to 20cm layer
Enterprises: cropping and trade lambs
Crops and varieties grown: Victory® V75-03CL and InVigour® T 4510 canola; LRPB Kittyhawk , AGT Illabo, AGT Scepter and AGT Condo wheat; RGT Planet barley and PBA Jurien lupins
Typical crop sequence: lupin or long-fallow/canola/wheat/wheat or barley
Investing in a stripper header has led to a 30 per cent lift in harvest efficiency that Paul and Robyn Buerckner explain is important because their grain farms are located on five different blocks about 100 kilometres apart – from Methul to Quandialla in southern New South Wales.
The 12.8-metre (42 foot) Shelbourne Reynolds stripper header, bought in 2017, comprises a rotor with eight rows of stainless-steel fingers that pluck grain from plant stalks, leaving stubble standing.
In 2020, the stripper front fitted to their harvester averaged 45 tonnes an hour in wheat: “We had peaks of up to 60t/hour, but we couldn’t maintain that,” Paul says.
The increased capacity results from less plant material passing through the harvester.
Anticipating high grain yields in 2020, the couple bought a new John Deere S780 harvester, a road train-compatible B-Double truck and a second chaser bin. Contract trucks were also used to keep grain on the move and one of their staff was dedicated to running a grain bag machine.
Looking back, Paul and Robyn say the decision to upgrade their logistics proved worthwhile because it facilitated a significant lift in efficiency in harvesting their wheat and canola, which averaged 4.62t/ha and 2.27t/ha, respectively.
The only additional purchase they would make, in the event of another big year, is a ‘mother’ bin.
“Overall, in terms of gross margins, it was the biggest season we’ve ever had,” Robyn says. “Never before have all our crops performed so well so consistently across all our farms.”
Paul and Robyn bought the stripper front to keep cereal stubble standing to improve rainfall infiltration into the soil and boost the plant-available water supply. This allows crops to hang on for longer in dry springs.
After four years, the long stubble left on the soil surface has also proved a better fit for the Buerckners’ disc seeding system.
Paul says years of harvesting crops with a draper front, even at average harvesting height, led to a thick layer of chaff building up on the soil surface.
While this protected the soil from wind and water erosion, their single-disc seeder struggled to cut through, even with sharp discs that were replaced every year. Chaff was pushed into the seeding slot (known as hair-pinning), which reduced crop establishment.
Paul and Robyn say their single disc seeder cuts through standing stubble with ease and has improved crop establishment. Photo: Nicole Baxter
Since moving to the stripper front, there is now almost no chaff on the ground, and Paul says the disc seeder cuts through tall standing straw with ease. This has improved crop establishment.
To growers thinking about shifting to a stripper front, Paul says the “trickiest” part is matching concaves and rotor speed to conditions. It requires some finessing over time: “I was lucky to be able to phone Ben Beck and ask him a few questions because he had been using a similar front for a few years before we bought one,” he says.
Paul uses HarvestCalc drop trays as a quick and easy way to assist front and harvester set-up to ensure minimal grain losses. “They’ve taken the guesswork out of calibration,” he says.
After selling their draper front, the couple employ a contractor to windrow lupin and canola crops before using their own pick-up front to harvest the grain.
In 2011, Paul and Robyn bought a 9m Serafin Ultisow single-disc seeder after seeing how other zero-tillage growers had improved sowing timeliness.
“The disc seeder has allowed us to sow into moisture on time,” Paul says. “Having the stripper front means we retain moisture closer to the soil surface, allowing us to start sowing from the second week in April.”
Earlier this year, the couple’s 9m disc seeder was replaced with a 12m Serafin Ultisow to better match their controlled-traffic farming system.
Paul and Robyn Buerckner replaced their 9m Serafin Ultisow single disc seeder with 12m high-lift Serafin Ultisow to better match their controlled-traffic farming system. The seeder has 200-millimetre row spacings to increase crop competition against in-crop weeds. Photo: Nicole Baxter
Although Paul says disc seeders require more maintenance than tyned seeders, the new unit, set on 200-millimetre (7.8 inch) row spacings, has a high-lift function, which will make it easier when replacing parts.
While improved rainfall infiltration is an important benefit of using the ‘strip and disc’ farming system, Paul is aware, from GRDC’s Frost Initiative, of the increased frost risk under zero-tillage.
“We saw more frost damage when sowing canola into heavy wheat stubbles,” he says. “To minimise grain losses, we now plant canola into long-fallowed paddocks or after lupins, which tend to produce lighter stubbles.”
Another challenge when disc seeding, Paul says, is having to rely on more expensive pre-emergent herbicides such as propyzamide and pyroxasulfone (Sakura®) for weed management. However, he says growing lupins followed by canola has allowed paddocks to be kept relatively free of weeds.
Chaff lining has been tried in the past as a harvest weed seed management tactic, with unsatisfactory results.
“We saw poor crop establishment on chaff rows where annual ryegrass proliferated rather than rotting,” Paul says.
He would like to add a seed destructing mill to their harvester in the next two to three years but would like to see a side-by side comparison of the different mills available.
Another problem the husband-and-wife team is facing is low pH and aluminium toxicity 10 to 20 centimetres from the soil surface.
The couple’s topsoils range in pH from 4.8 to 5.2 measured in calcium chloride, but pH 10 to 20cm from the soil surface is as low as 4.5, which is toxic to most crop roots.
Research into this has involved collecting soil samples every 2ha across each paddock in 5cm increments through the soil profile.
Robyn and Paul learned one paddock could be ameliorated using variable-rate lime application, but grain yields on the second paddock were constrained by frost, sodic and dispersive subsoils and low pH.
In the next two years they plan to ameliorate the first paddock with lime rates of up to 4t/ha – but with some parts requiring nil.
The second paddock will be ameliorated with a blanket rate of 3t/ha of lime, but as yet there is no equipment available to ameliorate the sodic and dispersive subsurface soils.
Although Paul now routinely incorporates lime, he says he is “struggling” to find the right tool to mix the ameliorant to a depth of 20cm. He has tried offset discs, a Kelly chain, a Speedtiller® and a seeder with winged points without success.
“To mix the lime to a depth of 20cm, we need to turn the soil on its head,” he says. “I’m now looking at implements that can incorporate up to 6 to 7t/ha of wheat stubble.”
While Paul is aware that GRDC and NSW Department of Primary Industries research has demonstrated a one-off strategic tillage does not significantly damage the soil, he says it leaves the surface rough, requiring remedy work with ‘smudge boards’ to level the surface.
“The offset disc does the best job of mixing lime to 20cm, but rain afterwards has caused paddocks to wash, creating 30cm deep ruts,” he says. “It’s then a big process to level the paddock again.”
In the interim, Paul and Robyn plan to move lime application and incorporation efforts from before sowing to September on long-fallowed paddocks, when more time is available to level the surface.
With 234mm of rainfall recorded by 30 March, Paul and Robyn have done everything they can to set up their paddocks to store the rain that falls and go on to produce high grain yields.
“I enjoy planning all aspects of growing high-yielding crops and seeing the final return at harvest, particularly in years like 2020,” Paul says.
Robyn also enjoys successful seasons but equally has found it rewarding to work with Paul in the tough times. “I enjoy being part of the decision-making process and quantifying the business data around profitability,” she says.
“We are keen to refine our business to improve our returns while also leaving the farm in a productive state for our children, should they choose grain growing as a career.”
Read GroundCover article: Probe guides soil water estimates and urea decisions.
More information: Paul Buerckner, 0427 741 466, firstname.lastname@example.org; Robyn Buerckner, 0429 366 374, email@example.com