Contract Harvest Management in Forbes, Central Western NSW


Harvest management case study 1: Bob Wythes


Property owner: Bob Wythes.

Enterprises: Cropping and fat lambs. Contract harvesting.

Soil: River flats running to heavy clays.

pH: 7

Bob downsized recently from 2500 hectares and now operates 500 hectares of irrigation country just south of Forbes, NSW.

He crops around 100 hectares of lucerne for hay, 200 hectares of wheat and barley and 1000 breeder ewes in a fat lamb enterprise.

He has recently dropped canola from his cropping rotation because of his contract harvesting commitments, finding it too difficult to juggle demands of his clients with an early maturing crop.

Bob used to use harrows to break down stubble residue for continuous cropping and then in 1996 he started using disc chains after harvest to enable sowing with a combine, although he now uses both a disc seeder and tyne seeder.

Bob is also chairman of Australian Custom Harvesters (formerly Australian Grain Harvesters), an umbrella organization for contract harvesters in NSW, Qld, SA and Vic.

Harvest stubble management: Most of Bob’s clients ask for a stubble cut height of 250mm at harvest. He generally doesn’t find any problems facilitating this with header efficiency of around 85% although taller crops can lead to higher costs for the grower.

For some additional information on harvest height feel free to check out these episodes of GRDC ground cover.

Stubble Height Part 1 Ground cover 

Stubble Height Part 2 Ground cover

For growers who want the straw cut low for baling, costs have to be negotiated as header efficiency drops to about 55% in these case with modern headers costing over $600/hour to run. Particularly in heavier crops over 2t/ha it is probably more economically viable to manage stubble post-harvest.

Options for this can include baling (for the mushroom market) though stubble is not retained, slashing, grazing or chaining.

Some growers request the spreaders be removed for windrowing (requiring a shorter cut) and some have requested the use of chaff carts though Bob has personally never used one. One problem with windrowing Bob has observed is during a wet summer they tend to smolder when burnt, perhaps creating environmental problems of smoke haze.

He has used choppers in the past for certain growers but finds spreaders will do just as good a job and is suited to 12 metre tramlines for controlled traffic farming.

Paddock mapping: Bob supplies paddock mapping to his clients if required, but he finds many growers are not willing to pay for the service. He feels part of the problem is that not many growers know how to correctly interpret and collate the data over a long period of time.

Agronomists are helping bridge the gap, providing knowledge to growers about the data and finding them cost savings in variable rate sowing.

But what he feels is largely ignored is the ability to observe areas of weed resistance from paddock mapping data. In these areas the crop yield falls away and the weeds are visible from the header but the grower isn’t always aware of the problem or where it exists in the paddock.

Weeds: By using disc chains Bob has also been able to control problem weeds such as Fleabane – he feels using a mechanical weed control in conjunction with chemical control offers the best control while minimizing resistance.

He is noticing areas of weed resistance throughout the areas he harvests in and feels those areas are largely impacting crop yields.

Relationship with clients: One of the biggest issues Bob finds today is over-commitment by contractors, affecting the quality of the job done and limiting ability to work with a grower in managing stubble’s at harvest. In wet years the decision is already made as less time can be spent on one property.

He feels that if contractors focused on smaller areas rather than travelling as far as possible the same amount of work could be accrued with better results for growers. To visit Bobs website feel free to follow the link below, I have also included an ABC interview with Bob if you would like some additional information.

AGHA Website

ABC Interview with Bob

Project Name: Maintaining profitable farming systems with retained stubble in Central West NSW

Project Number: CWF00018