Uptake of controlled-traffic farming sets industry standard

Three-metre centres fast becoming the CTF industry 'norm'

Soil and Nutrition
A harvester with outload auger extension and chaser bin both running on permanent controlled-traffic farming (CTF) wheel tracks. PHOTO Ben White

A harvester with outload auger extension and chaser bin both running on permanent controlled-traffic farming (CTF) wheel tracks. PHOTO Ben White

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Get on board - join the 40 per cent of Australian growers using machinery matching for CTF.

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Key points

  • About 17 per cent of growers nationally are using fully matched CTF systems, and an additional 24 per cent are using partially matched systems
  • The most common systems are based on three-metre wheel centres, with 12m or 12.2m multipliers
  • There is now a wide range of commercially available equipment for CTF systems

Controlled-traffic farming (CTF) is now a well-established system that can lead to efficiency gains, a reduction in soil compaction and - ultimately - can improve crop yields and profits.

Benefits include: better water infiltration and water-holding capacity; increased soil biology; efficiency gains from reduced wear and tear on machinery; and reduced fuel consumption.

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While some Australian grain growers have been using controlled-traffic systems for more than 15 years, about half have only made the shift in the past five years.

Increasing uptake

In 2016-17, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that 6.7 million hectares, or about one-third of Australia's total crop area, was operated under a CTF regime.

The 2017-18 Kondinin Group National Agricultural Survey (NAS) found that about 17 per cent of growers nationally use fully matched permanent wheel tracks for seeding, spraying and harvest.

A further 24 per cent are estimated to use a more flexible approach, particularly at harvest, in what is commonly known as a 'fuzzy CTF'.

Three-metre centres are fast becoming the industry standard for controlled traffic. - Kondinin Group researcher Ben White

Many argue that conditions are usually dry at harvest, minimising the potential for damage, and that there is often an imperative to get the harvest done quickly - with the daily logistics of grain movement difficult to maintain under a full-CTF system.

But it is worth remembering that some harvests are wet, and a fully loaded harvester can inflict a fair amount of damage.

The NAS survey showed that uptake of CTF varies around Australia, with the highest rate of adoption in Queensland and the lowest in South Australia.

Matching system

There are CTF-configured options for every cropping operation across a range of brands. PHOTO Ben White

There are CTF-configured options for every cropping operation across a range of brands. PHOTO Ben White

The cost of machinery replacement is one of the biggest barriers to the adoption of CTF. But a staged approach to machinery replacement over five to 10 years can be an economically viable approach.

Careful consideration also needs to be given to CTF layouts and the direction of operation (AB lines) with respect to:

  • harvest logistics;
  • operational efficiency;
  • surface water flow; and
  • the potential for soil erosion via wind and water.

Implementing fully matched machinery can take time, but there are now commercially available options for virtually all farm machinery - including tractors, sprayers, seeding equipment and towed carts. Many growers also modify their existing equipment to match wheel spacings.

Three-metre centres are fast emerging as the industry standard for CTF. This is the axle width from tyre centre to tyre centre.

More than 60 per cent of growers using CTF have adopted the 3m wheel centre standard, according to the NAS survey, and another 15 per cent are using 2m as their wheel centre. The remainder are a mix of 4m, 2.1m and 2.5m.

The most common multipliers are 12m or 12.2m - with seeders and harvesters running at 12m or 12.2m, and sprayers at 36m or 36.6m. Although, some sprayers are as wide as 48m.

With the increase in uptake of CTF, the ability to access new and second-hand equipment in complementary widths will make it even easier for new entrants.

More information: Ben White, 0407 941 923, ben@kondinin.com.au

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