Very few farmers globally have converted fully to controlled traffic farming. So why did over 100 people from 13 countries gather in Toowoomba to talk about it?
“It offers huge benefits,” say farmers who are doing it. “It offers huge benefits,” say researchers assessing its merits.
Who’s doing it? What benefits?
Few New Zealand farmers consider themselves to be CTF farmers. The system David Clark developed for maize in Gisborne is as pure CTF as any seen in Australia or reported in conference sessions. The system Chris Butler developed for salads and one being refined for onions and potatoes by Wilcox staff are also as advanced as any described at the conference.
Permanent beds that leave wheel tracks unworked are a form of CTF for intensive vegetable production. They offer better access in wet conditions.
Many New Zealand arable and vegetable farmers are tramlining on a crop by crop or seasonal basis.
Controlled traffic farming (CTF) is any farming system built on keeping all wheel tracks to closely defined paths. This must take into account the interactions between farmers and their farms, soils, topography, crops, climate, equipment and technology.
Many studies have monitored a wide range of economic, biological and physical factors and seen positive gains. Numerous examples show very significant economic advantages from reduced costs and increased returns.
Significant savings in energy, labour and equipment operating costs were reported by all conference speakers. The relative spread and importance of savings varied. Labour savings are often more important in horticulture than in arable. Fuel saving in broadacre is relatively more beneficial than in intensive horticulture.
Soil quality improvements are well documented. CTF gives improved field access, higher soil strength and stability, deeper root exploration, increased water infiltration rates, increased water holding and nutrient access and elevated biological activity.
The farmers and researchers spoke of CTF as a system of farming, and noted that once traffic is managed, other benefits are found. They include enhanced irrigation, ability to establish crops more quickly and exploit smaller windows of opportunity and the ability to grow new crops.
Better field access allows more timely planting, field operations and harvest. These generally translate to better yields and crop quality and less frequent losses from adverse climatic events. No one reported significant yield depression.
The cost of conversion to CTF depends on the inventory of equipment on-farm. At first glance, the cost of transition can look prohibitive. But it need not be problematic if considered over a longer time period.
Axle extension for wide track CTF
Customising tractors and harvesters can be very expensive, but working with common standard widths is not. And under controlled traffic systems, a lot of equipment may become redundant.
Once optimum track and bout widths have been determined, a plan can be created. Few farmers will go out and replace all their equipment at once. But they can ensure new equipment purchased will fit the system that has been planned.
As several farmers stated, “Just get started, and think when you buy new gear. One day you’ll wake up and find it all just fits.”
Dan Bloomer was a presenter at the CTF Conference, on behalf of LandWISE members and New Zealand CTF farmers.