A 90-foot seeder bar in operation south of Coorow this season could be indicative of future farm machinery innovations adopted by WA farmers to boost productivity.
The Simplicity SeedMaster bought by the Hunt family, of Marchagee, is thought to be one of the widest bars in use in WA for the 2012 season and dealer Boekeman Machinery has already reported strong interest from other farmers considering placing orders for next year.
Although a far cry from what is thought to be the world's widest air seeder bar in operation in New South Wales at 212ft, which needs to be drawn by two tractors, the popularity of 80ft and 90ft drills is rapidly growing in the United States and Canada and this trend is expected to follow suit in Australia as fuel and input costs continue to rise.
These big machines push the efficiencies of one-pass cropping to a new level, saving inputs, working time and labour, without compromising plant establishment.
The Hunt family has been able to sow at a rate of 24.5 hectares per hour with their new seeder bar, which is about 30 per cent faster than a 60ft bar sowing at 15ha/hour.
That translates to about 245ha sown every 10 hours, compared with a 60ft bar at 150ha sown in the same period.
It is a far cry from the 14ft and 16ft bars used by the Hunt family in the 1970s, according to Clint Hunt, who farms with parents Ian and Helen, sister Shannon Meyer and her husband Simon.
"We have got reasonably large paddocks to plant and we thought we had better get a bigger bar to cover the ground quicker," he said.
"Although the initial set-up of the machine took some time, there are no major logistical challenges with using such a big bar that are any different to smaller units.
"I expect manufacturers will keep pushing machine size bigger and bigger, but I don't think we will see significantly bigger bars than this on our farm for some time."
The Hunts bought the 90ft bar to replace their 35ft and 43ft Simplicity Australia 9000L air seeders and it has performed well in the dry conditions experienced at the start of seeding and the muddy conditions following 40mm of rain last week.
Clint said the family was striving to increase efficiencies in their 5100ha cropping enterprise and the new air seeder configuration included a liquid fertiliser tank on the bin and employed Topcon X20 GPS positioning technology to allow the transition to variable rate farming.
He said the bar was being pulled by a Case IH STX450 Quadtrac tractor that had been ramped up to 570 horsepower and had sown 2727ha of wheat, 340ha of lupins, 655ha of Roundup Ready canola, 93ha of oats and 60ha of cereal rye.
This week, the Hunts will finish their seeding program, planting 697ha of Buloke malting barley.
"Most of the crop was dry sown on the back of 8-10mm in three events that looked like fine mist, but the 40mm we received last week will help germination along," Clint said.
"The new bar has given us more accurate seed placement, especially in our non-wetting sands, and should allow the seeds to harvest more water.
"As we move to variable rate seeding, we are also getting more targeted fertiliser placement and - although it will take a few years - we expect to make significant cost savings.
"Having a wider bar will save us time in future years and should mean less need for labour, lower fuel use and less ground compaction from fewer passes."
Boekeman Machinery Dalwallinu branch manager Tim Boekeman, who towed the 90ft SeedMaster to the Hunt's property, said it was the biggest Simplicity Australia air seeder bar to be used in WA.
In addition, he said it was the first with a configuration that allowed combined application of seed, granular and liquid fertiliser. "It has a unique hydraulic opener system that holds firm regardless of conditions and splits seed and fertiliser separately," he said.
"The openers work individually, which means if you come across sheet rock in the paddock, the affected openers will break-out to go over it while the rest of the machine holds firm. And semi-pneumatic press wheels along with liquid fertiliser injection are fully kitted-out for liquid fertiliser."
Tim said draft was a potential problem as air seeder bars got wider.
He said to get around this, the 90ft SeedMaster used a wing brace hydraulic ram with a linkage arm that worked to keep the draft load on the machine and ensure it travelled evenly across the ground.Tim said the Federal Government's refundable tax offset of 15 per cent for eligible no-till machinery from July 1 this year could spur short-term investments in this type of seeding technology.
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