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Precision farming isn’t only arable

The latest management systems are used by Stubbs Farming in its dairy enterprises and the arable farming that supports them.

Stubbs Farming, owned by Rene and Britt Stubbs and their son Nick, has 2 dairy herds. On Denleigh Farm in the Karkloof district of KwaZulu-Natal there are 1,150 milking cows and on Southdown, near Fort Nottingham there are another 800. Both these farms have the latest De Laval rotary milking systems, controlled by a full management system that takes care of all aspects of the operation.

To feed these herds the farms grow 300ha of maize for silage, 80ha of Kikuyu grass, half of which is chopped for silage and the other half baled as silage. Another 100ha of Kikuyu is grazed by heifers and dry stock. One farm has 190ha of perennial Rye grass under irrigation and the other has 170ha, also irrigated. Silage harvesting is done by a local contractor. The cows are fed a TMR mix using 3 locally built Italia mixer wagons with computerised controls, all the ingredients are weighed in the wagons.

Custom-built maize planter

I visited Denleigh to see the launch of a new maize planter, a custom-built hybrid machine, combining John Deere planter units with Monosem fertiliser bins. Another special feature was the locally manufactured knife coulters. These were designed by Bergville Engineering to meet the needs of local farmers. They place the fertiliser ahead of and underneath the seed.

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The hybrid planter showing the knife coulters. - Photos Arthur Gray
The hybrid planter showing the knife coulters. - Photos Arthur Gray

Nick Stubbs told me that they create a tilth that the seed is placed on, providing for excellent germination. They also have a shear bolt system that works well in the sometimes-rocky terrain of the KZN Midlands. The seeder units are controlled by a Precision Planting Vset drive system with 20/20 monitoring, providing section control to each row, essential in the odd shaped fields of the Karkloof.

Trimble CFX 750 display

The fertiliser application has a variable rate system supplied by Mueller and monitored by a Trimble CFX 750 display. Half the total width of the fertiliser application can by be shut down by section controlThe Trimble CFX 750 also serves as the guidance system on the Massey Ferguson 7614 planting tractor. With RTX correction, it automatically steers the tractor along the curved planting rows to an accuracy of 25mm.

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  • Rear view of the planter.

    Rear view of the planter.

  • The maize crop was following a cover crop of Oats, Stooling Rye and Tiller Radish.

    The maize crop was following a cover crop of Oats, Stooling Rye and Tiller Radish.

Rene Stubbs has been a pioneer of No-Till farming, now very popular in this area. This has made it possible to dispense with the contours that used to be part of the KZN farming scene. The 8-row planter is set up with the 4 middle rows at 500mm row-spacing, a gap of 750mm and then the outer pairs of units also at 500mm. This creates a 2,375mm tramline for the sprayer or subsequent operations.

Most operations are computer controlled and monitored

Other machines on the farms that have variable rate control include the sprayer, fertiliser spreader and lime-spreader. Prescription maps are prepared by consultants from grid samples and these are used to correct nutrient imbalances. Fertilisers used include chicken litter and farm-yard manure from the dairy herd, composted on the farm. This is spread with a Keenan manure spreader.

The rolling hills of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands

After grazing the cover crop, areas where the cattle had congregated, and the headlands, were run over with a Pasturator, an implement with narrow tines following straight disc coulters. This relieves any compaction without inverting the soil. This picture gives an idea of the strange shape and undulations typical of fields in this area. It also illustrates the value of the guidance system; the driver can give full attention to the planting process.

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