GRDC Harvester Forums 2020

Grain losses during harvesting equate to significant lost income for growers across Australia every year.

To support growers in their efforts to reduce harvest losses and improve operations at harvest time, the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) has funded a national project  ‘Optimising harvest losses, efficiency and weed seed control; and capacity building for future delivery’ otherwise known as the Harvester Set-Up Project.

Prior to the restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic international specialists covering a diverse range of makes and models were organised to deliver face-to-face workshops nationally providing growers and advisors hands on training in harvester set-up their to minimise losses and get more grain in the bin. However, in response to the restrictions the resources from this year were redirected into the delivery of locally run Harvester Forums in Western Australia, New South Wales and South Australia. The forums were facilitated by state-based industry leaders in measuring harvest losses, reducing the risk of harvester fires and harvest weed seed control.

The practical and interactive forums provided an opportunity for grower discussion on how harvest losses can be accurately measured and how to identify where losses are occurring. The forums also had a key focus on options for harvest weed seed control and how to get the best benefit for hard to control weeds whilst maintaining efficiency of operations, as well as minimising risks of harvester fires.

The project is being led by Primary Sales, with project management support from BCG, and will be delivered nationally with forums and workshops held across the southern, northern and western grain growing regions.

In Western Australia the Forums were run over the week of the 21st-25th September on grower properties in West River, Kojonup and Cuballing, and coordinated by Facey Group. Peter Newman (Planfarm), Ben White (Kondinin Group) and Peter Broley (Primary Sales) were the Forum Leaders. 

Over the same week, South Australia growers from Cummings, Maitland, Keith and Pinaroo attended the Southern Region Harvester Forums lead by Chris Preston (Universtity of Adelaide), Sam Trengrove (Trengrove Consulting), Dr James Barr (Seed Terminator) Keith Hopkins (Primary Sales) and Ben Wunersitz (Maitland grower).

The Northern Region will host forums on the 13th and the 15th of October in Condobilin, Lake Cargelligo, Ardlethan and Lcokhart which will be lead by Greg Condon (Grassroots Ag), Warrack Finlay (Primary Sales) and Rod Gribble (Australian Custom Harvesters).

Due to the COVID situation, in-person workshops couldn’t be held in Victoria, so an online forum was developed and run in-lieu of face-to-face meetings.

The Forum was run as a panel discussion between industry leaders and experts with input from selected growers to provide context and ground-truth to the information.

Marcel Kringe a technical agronomist and founder of Bushel Plus from Manitoba, Canada was the key spekaer on the importance of harvest losses and how, when and where to measure. “If we can’t measure it, we can’t manage it’,  explained Marcel “it’s not about blaming the driver, it’s about setting up the machine properly, and learning about your machine and your conditions”. Peter Newman (Planfarm, Weedsmart), provided some grower examples improving harvest losses from previous projects. “It’s not all about low losses, it’s about the cost of harvest. You have to find the ‘sweet spot’ between losses and capacity, if you have to slow down to decrease your losses, this will increase your cost of harvest, so it’s important to quantify what you’re getting back from it. You have to balance the cost of your losses against the cost of slowing down.” Pete explained.

Ben White (Kondinin Group) presented on the fire dangers for harvest this year, as well as tips and strategies for reducing risks. Wet conditions on the back half of the season might make for dangerous conditions during harvest and it is important as ever to plan for the prevention of harvest fires.

The key points to think about this year are:

  • High biomass + high levels of mold (wet years) = increase the risk of harvester fires  
  • A weed seed mill increases dust, which increases the risk of harvester fires (to counter this: increased frequency of clean downs/ blow downs, more frequent inspections)  
  • Pulses are a more harvester-fire prone group of crops than oilseeds or cereals  
  • Dust and trash build up are a real issue for harvester fires  

Peter Newman  wrapped up the presentation section with information on HWSC mill systems. Pete noted that there are three main brands of seed destructor (Seed Terminator, Readekop HSU and the iHSD), which all kill 95-98% of weed seeds and return residues to the field.  Another system called “The Weedhog”  is a completely different set-up from the other three and a cheaper option, but has a weed seed kill rate of ~80%.

Pete noted that the percentage weed seed kill rate only calculates from the seed that makes it to the weed seed control tool. It doesn’t take into account the seed that doesn’t enter the front, or the seed that doesn’t make it from the front to the tool. So, a 98% seed kill rate might only mean that 70% of the total seed in the paddock is destroyed, if 75% enters the front and then 95% of that is diverted to the HWSC system. 

In the second section of the forum, three Wimmera Mallee farmers, Ian Ruwoldt (Warracknabeal), Ben Merritt (Ultima) and Cam Taylor (Lubeck).
shared their experiences on HWSC and measuring harvest losses. 

Ian invested in a Bushel Plus system last year, which allowed him to make some changes to setting that would probably have otherwise been ignored, prior to this he had relied on visual inspection. 

Ben was windrow burning in 2015-16, which worked well to control weeds, but caused issues with smoke and there was concerns with future viability based on increasing fire restriction in Victoria. In 2019 Ben began running an iHSD Seed Destructor, they are still learning how to operate it to its full potential after one harvest and have only scratched the surface in weed seed control.

Cam also used an iHSD with the vertical mills, which were fitted at the start of last season. They started out narrow windrow burning for 10-15 years, this gave them good weed control but required more fertiliser to replace nutrients removed across the paddock. They  moved on to chaff lining for 2 years, but caused issues with chaff lines not breaking down and large stubble loads. They now run two iHSD See Destructor Units, which they have run for one season.

A recording of the full webinar is available here 

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