Expert opinion

New technology, new gear

The Fowler Farming’s home farm is a long-established farming operation in the Dargle district of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. The farm is run by David Fowler, one of the 4th generation of Fowlers, who have been farming in the Dargle Valley since the 1800s. Dustin du Plessis is on the management team and on a recent visit, he described the changes to equipment they have made in order to implement various ‘Precision Farming’ and ‘No-Till’ techniques.

First stage: soil mapping

The first stage was to map the soils in the various lands on a grid basis to identify any deficiencies. From the prescription maps compiled by agronomist Thomas Strydom of Sion Agri, lime was applied to correct acidity. This entailed setting up the bulk lime-spreader to distribute variable rates according to the prescribed requirements.

The next stage was variable rate fertiliser application. This involved the purchase of a suitable spreader and a Bogballe L2W Plus was chosen. This was linked via ISOBUS to the Starfire 3000 GPS system on the tractor. The spreader came complete with a linkage mounted hydraulic crane. The crane has made a dramatic improvement to the turnaround time of the spreading operation and it is now a ‘one-man’ operation; 1-ton bulk bags of fertiliser are loaded directly into the spreader by the tractor driver. The Bogballe came with all the ‘bells and whistles’, allowing section control as well as variable rate application. This has resulted in considerable saving in fertiliser costs. Mr du Plessis says that the advantages of the new spreader include the fact that tractor speed does not affect the spread, also, the ability of the control unit to accurately monitor and record the job done is a useful management tool.

Bogballe L2W+ spreader with crane. Photo: Arthur Gray
Bogballe L2W+ spreader with crane. Photo: Arthur Gray

New no-till maize planter

Currently, maize is planted with Tatu COP Suprema No-Till planters imported from Brazil. This is about to change as the operation is awaiting delivery of a new John Deere 2117 10-row No-Till planter, also from Brazil. This will allow variable rate planting. Telemetry on the combine has enabled yield maps to be made that identify the areas with the most potential. With the new planter, plant spacing will be varied, on-the-move, to exploit this potential. Results from other farms in the area show that this can reduce planting costs and significantly increase overall yields.

Sample map showing calcium deficiencies (Not Fowler Farming). Photo: Sion Agri
Sample map showing calcium deficiencies (Not Fowler Farming). Photo: Sion Agri

The JD 2100 series planters have some interesting features including the Vacuum Central Commodity System, whereby bulk seed is distributed by air to mini seed hoppers on each row, ensuring constant seed levels in the row planting units, with the advantage of central bulk filling. SeedStar seed management with Row Command and section control provides the correct seeding rate with no double planting at the headlands. It is possible to plant a boundary around the field and rows will automatically switch on or off as the planter enters or leaves the unplanted area. The SeedStar system monitors the seed count and checks for skips or doubles, another management tool that Mr du Plessis says will be extremely helpful. Fertiliser can also be applied at variable rates, dictated by the prescription maps.

Sample prescription map for Liming (Not Fowler Farming) Photo: Sion Agri
Sample prescription map for Liming (Not Fowler Farming) Photo: Sion Agri

10 row planter, 8 row header

An interesting point is that the crop, planted by a 10-row planter, will be harvested by a combine with an 8-row header. Mr du Plessis is confident that the AutoTrac systems on the planting tractor, a John Deere 7200R, and the John Deere S660 combine, will ensure that this isn’t a problem. The choice of another planter from Brazil highlights the fact that climatic conditions in Southern Africa are similar to those in South America, albeit with lower average rainfall.

Other equipment on the farm includes a John Deere 8260 which is used for deep ripping, a periodic requirement in the No-Till regime to reduce compaction. A crop of Rye grass is planted after potatoes and this is strip-tilled for the following maize crop. When maize follows maize, it is planted in between the old rows to avoid excessive trash build up

2 John Deere 6630s are available for general duties and a John Deere 5930 is used mainly by the potato operation. A John Deere 4730 self-propelled sprayer, with a 31 m boom, sprays the maize and soy beans and a JD 4630 with a 20 m boom takes care of the potatoes, both have AutoTrac, variable rate and section control facilities. The Bogballe spreader is on a Landini Powerfarm 95 High-clear tractor.

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