Ten growers from the Esperance region of Western Australia who have adopted either chaff lining or chaff tramlining to help manage weeds have provided insights into their experience with these harvest weed seed control tactics.
Each grower spoke to Planfarm Agronomist, Nick McKenna, who documented their experience as part of a GRDC investment into the practical adoption of HWSC in the area in 2018.
Nick says the growers all felt that they needed to use HWSC tactics to stay ahead of the weed pressure on their farms. One grower indicated that he would need to return to a mixed farming operation if he did not take action to reduce the weed numbers in his farming system.
“Several growers in and around Esperance had used narrow windrow burning and chaff carts in the past but had found it was often difficult to get a clean and safe burn on the residue, either because summer rain had made them too damp, or because the risk of fire escaping meant it required too much attention to burn safely,” he says. “Changing to chaff lining or chaff tramlining was an easy decision for these growers because there is no further effort required after harvest to get a kill on the weeds.”
The chaff lining system involves dropping a narrow line of chaff, including weed seed, behind the harvester. A chaff deck directs the weed seed-laden chaff into the permanent wheeltracks in a controlled traffic system. In both systems the chaff is left undisturbed.
Two of the ten growers interviewed were using the chaff lining system and eight had installed chaff decks on their harvesters. Each grower was satisfied with the results they were getting with the system chosen and there were few differences between the two systems.
“The two growers with chaff lining chutes had both built their chaff chutes themselves at minimal cost,” says Nick. “One person had moulded plastic chutes with a hot air gun and some tek screws and the other was made of metal sheeting. Both were attached to the harvester with pins and R-clips, making them easy to drop off to access the rear of the harvester. The total cost for materials and labour was about $1000.”
Chaff decks are a more expensive option – usually around $15,000 to $20,000 when fitted to new harvests. The commercially available chaff decks have two conveyor belts running at an angle to the harvester to deposit the chaff onto the wheeltracks. Installation on the harvester involves moving the chopper a fair way back to make room for the chaff deck. None of the growers Nick spoke to had experienced any operational problems with their chaff deck systems.
“One grower had made his own chaff decks specifically for John Deere S670, S680, S690 harvesters,” says Nick. “His system had two conveyors running across the back of the harvester, and did not involve as much modification work at the back of the harvester. It looked to be a simpler system, and cost about $13,000.”
The growers Nick spoke to all considered annual ryegrass to be their main weed. When using chaff decks the growers had observed greater germination of weed seeds on the high traffic wheeltracks, compared to the low traffic wheeltracks.
“Growers using chaff chutes said that very little grass germinates in the chaff lines,” says Nick. “I think this was partly because there is very little seed soil contact in the fluffy chaff left in chaff lines, and the chaff lines seem to do a good job of shedding water.”
“Clearly it is not essential to have a full controlled traffic system in place, but it is best if the harvester runs on the same tracks each year,” he says. “Some might consider that having no disturbance and very little germination is better than having weeds germinating on a portion of the wheeltracks; but either way they are concentrated and not spread across the whole paddock.”
When it came to seeding, none of the growers had run into difficulties when seeding through chaff lines. Some growers were running disc units either side of the chaff to minimise disturbance of the chaff and maximise the crop competition, so that the crop would suppress any weeds that did germinate.
“One advantage of the chaff deck is that the quantity of chaff is split between the two wheeltracks rather than all going into the one chaff line,” says Nick. “The growers all said that using a chaff deck or chaff lining allowed them to sow early with confidence, knowing they wouldn’t have an excessive number of weeds germinating in-crop.”
Those using a chaff deck observed that the ‘carpet of chaff’ on the wheeltracks significantly reduced the amount of dust generated during spray operations, giving them better coverage behind the boom, especially in hot conditions. In the day or two after rain the chaff can cause wheel slip during seeding on some soil types.
The experiences of these ten growers are documented in ‘Investigating the harvest weed seed control tools chaff lining and chaff tramlining (chaff deck) in the Esperance area – Grower case studies from the Esperance Port Zone’. The project was an initiative of the Esperance Port Zone Regional Cropping Solutions Network and the report was prepared by Nick McKenna and Peter Newman, Planfarm.
The growers featured in this report are:
- Mick Shutz – EMAR chaff deck
- Adrian Perks – EMAR chaff deck
- Col de Gussa – chaff tramlining using chutes
- Carl Rasich and Henry Barlow – EMAR chaff deck
- Steve Marshall – EMAR chaff deck
- Elliot Marshman – EMAR chaff deck
- Con Murphy – EMAR chaff deck
- Mark and Hayley Wandel – chaff deck (continuous conveyor at 90 degrees to the direction of travel)
- Patty Barber – chaff line (metal chute)
- Mic Fels – chaff line (plastic chute)