CTF- Taking the tractor off your beds and onto permanent tracks
As featured in ‘Grower’ October 2009
Controlled Traffic Farming is a simple way to dramatically reduce input costs (time, fuel & machinery) – while sustainably increasing crop yields – towards increased farm profit.
With appropriate agronomy and management CTF is being used in NZ, Australia, South Africa, US and Europe. Farmers use CTF to maximise the potential of both the cropped and wheeled areas for their specific purposes. The tracked areas in the paddock become valuable in saving fuel and for bearing traffic in wet conditions, meaning operations can continue or resume sooner after rain.
CTF simply involves confining all field vehicles to the least possible area of permanent traffic lanes to avoid the soil damage and costs associated with conventional cropping.
This makes sense. Just like us, soils can’t do their work as well if they have been run over by a tractor. I mentioned this at a LandWISE presentation. A woman in the audience told me about her tractor ‘bite’ and that once was enough for her!
We have been told all our lives not to walk or barrow on the beds in our vege gardens. Now RTK GPS technology gives us the ability to stay off the beds in our crops too.
Dan Bloomer and I, together with a few other Kiwi’s, attended the Controlled Traffic conference and Precision Agriculture Symposium in Australia in September. Australian adoption of Precision Agriculture and GPS guidance is growing rapidly. It was a good place to learn what our neighbours are up to. Their soils have suffered decades of wheel damage. The Australians have learned that compacted soils shed more water, making the impact of floods and droughts worse. So they are becoming big fans of CTF.
We learnt that some 4000 RTK GPS units are in use for tractor guidance over there and nearly 11% of cropping in Australia is under controlled traffic. Some farmers in Australia have cut their machinery costs by as much as 75% while their crop yields have risen. With water such a limiting factor it was exciting to hear that CTF farmers were having their crops mature where their neighbours were not able to harvest in drought. Adoption in this environment is proving rapid. The SPAA website is worth a look: www.spaa.com.au
Does this apply equally here in New Zealand? LandWISE project farmers across the country are also working with controlled traffic farming and are teaming up to share information and methods in vegetable production.
Woodhaven Gardens in Horowhenua grow fresh vegetables, supplying markets year round. John Clarke was very keen to explore the advantages of controlled traffic. He wants the improved soil structure and increased accessibility to the crop offered by firmer permanent wheel tracks. And he is keen on less flooding because of better infiltration of water into the soil. Reduced fuel consumption is a bonus of a CTF system.
Antonia Glaria is the Agronomist and Production Manager at Woodhaven. She is responsible for trialling the conversion to a controlled traffic system. “We are happy with how the soil is looking after the changes we have made to the system” says Antonia.
Existing equipment fits with the change and less field operations are needed, because much of the soil compaction has gone. The tractor is mounted with a Trimble RTK GPS for bed forming and planting. John plans to add another GPS system in the near future to extend their use of CTF and get the gains of GPS in other operations.
Antonia is sharing her experiences from the changes with Chris Butler at NZ Fresh Cuts. Chris is also a LandWISE project farmer. He has been using controlled traffic for salad production in Auckland and in the Waikato. The system he has developed is similar to the Controlled Traffic Farming at Woodhaven.
If you would like to learn more about controlled traffic, you can visit the LandWISE website, there is plenty of information, as well as pictures and links to video in the resources section at: www.landwise.org.nz