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Peter May HORSCH Sprinter NT

Horsch sprints away to a great finish

The Western Australian Wheatbelt region covers more than 155,000 kilometres mostly to the east of the city of Perth, extending approximately 350km east and 425km from north to south.

The Wheatbelt forms the heartland of Western Australian agriculture, making up almost half of agricultural production.  More than one third of the widely dispersed 75,000 population is engaged in some form of agriculture.

The grain industry includes wheat, lupins, barley, oats and canola seed, and stretches from Geraldton in the north to Albany in the south and out to Beacon in the east.  Approximately 80% of grain produced is exported, which can be up to 15 million tonnes in a good year.  

The physical environment of the Wheatbelt varies from coastal dune systems and sandy plains over limestone bedrock, to the more central and eastern cereal growing areas where rainfall is generally lower and unpredictable.  

Grain growers face the constant need to increase efficiency and yields in higher rainfall areas, overcome constraints to production on marginal soils, and maintain and improve production levels in low rainfall areas.  

Conditions vary so much that some areas had a record harvest last year while others had eight months with no rain at all.  New technologies, smarter farming and spreading the risk can play a vital role in meeting these challenges.

The Nicoletti Group is Western Australia’s largest grain grower and the second largest wheat producer in Australia, with properties spread across 1120km from Mullewa to Esperance.  

John and Julie Nicoletti came out to Western Australia from Italy 30 years ago.  Today, the family farming enterprise includes 121,000ha in the eastern Wheatbelt, 30,000ha in Esperance, 28,000ha in Mullewa and 8,000ha in Quairading.
Their 2014 season began with good rains bringing relief to the drought-affected far northern and eastern Wheatbelt just as seeding started.  Much of the Nicoletti property had been drought affected and last year some crops didn’t come out of the ground till July.  This year they have been able to sow into moisture in many areas.  

Peter May has been farming in Western Australia for 22 years and has plenty of experience with many brands of seeders and different seeding technologies.  

He has managed operations on Nicoletti farms in the Southern division and at Marvel Loch for the past five years.  This season for the first time he used a 24-metre Horsch Sprinter NT tine seeder for direct seeding into stubbles and fallow land.
The Sprinter NT has been specifically designed and tested to deliver optimal results on broadacre farms in areas with low rainfall during the growth phase.  Using the open furrow principle, the seed is dropped into deeper soil layers, covered with 2-3cm of soil and pressed.  

The cross frame design provides in-built strength and requires no stress plates.  Soldered carbide-pointed tines operate independently of the rigid main frame and are connected to a torsion-flex, rubber-mounted rock shaft, which is hydraulically operated for on-the-go adjustment in varying soil conditions.

Semi pneumatic press wheels are connected to each tine for depth control, with fore and aft castor wheels providing frame stability.  There are no wheels inside the frame to impede trash flow.

Mr May used the Sprinter with a 510hp triple-wheel John Deere 9510 tractor, sowing mainly wheat at 25 hectares an hour on 30cm spacings at 25mm depth.  The Sprinter sowed a total of 5500ha into soils varying from red loams to sandy, at rates between 35kg-45kg per hectare.  

He sowed into some good moist conditions in the south-eastern Wheatbelt and then moved into dry-seeding in the less favourable areas.  He said the biggest challenge was always timing.

“When the moisture is right, you’ve got to go.  With the Sprinter’s 24-metre working width and 17,000-litre tow-behind seed and fertiliser cart, we were getting through the work very efficiently and the results have been excellent.

“It’s a very easy bar to pull compared to others and it’s less invasive on the soil.  The flotation is good and it’s very manoeuvrable too.  You don’t get any fouling when you’re making turns.  It’s an easy machine to understand and very simple to use, which is particularly important when you’ve got a lot of casual labour.

“The concept is different to the usual seeders.  It’s a torsion bar setup.  Unlike a hydraulic tine, it relies on depth and press wheel pressure to get it right.  The benefits mean that once it’s set up, you can put any operator on it and still get the same great results with very good seed placement across the bar.

“We think it would be even better if the pressure settings could be adjusted from the tractor cab.  We spoke to the Horsch people about this and they really do understand farming.  They listen, when some other manufacturers do not, and they are going to make the modification we suggested.

“The germination was excellent – as good as I’ve ever seen it – and emergence was a bit quicker than with other seeders, partly because of the single shoot system for seed and fertiliser.  

“The Sprinter has one of the best press wheel pressures in the business.  The way each tine works independently delivers very good results in marginal moisture conditions.  

“At Marvel Loch, south of the Great Eastern Highway, we can harvest up to 1.5-2 tonnes per hectare in a in a good year but it can be a lot less.  It can be a matter of kilos.  This year, it’s shaping up well.  And at Daisy Downs at Geraldton in the northern Wheatbelt, we’ve had 1.5 tonnes per hectare this season,” he said.

With so much work to get through and many casual employees brought in at peak times, safety is a vital factor with any piece of machinery.

“With the Sprinter, you’ve got a good example of careful design for safety and maximum efficiency,” Mr May said.  “The build and engineering and the finish are all excellent quality too.

“I like the accessibility of the ladder.  The fact that it’s not at the back makes it much safer.
“The big bin lids make them much easier to fill than other seeder bins and the central position of the hydraulically operated filling auger means it’s easy to swap from fertiliser bin to seed bin.

“The metering system can handle rates from 0.5kg/ha up to 600kg/ha.  Calibration is very, very simple.  It runs electric motors instead of hydraulic for the whole bin so the oil isn’t causing rate variation.  The accuracy of the bin has to be one of the best on the market,” he said.

Horsch machines have a reputation for being fast, easy to handle, strong and efficient, and Peter May agrees the Sprinter NT tine seeder certainly lives up to this.  

“Rainfall is king, as always, and climate change is making things tougher but we have the technology now to help us deal with some of the harsh conditions and the chance to maintain and even increase yields in areas where it wouldn’t have been possible before,” he said.