Kelly Engineering in South Australia has developed a tillage system to cut costs and boost productivity for cover crops. The patented diamond-shaped tiller and air seeder allow the entire sowing process to be completed in a single pass. Testing has begun in the United States and the product is expected to be available in 2017.
Timing is good for U.S. farmers looking to use cover crops to increase crop yields and decrease reliance on pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers. Kelly Engineering is helping growers meet that goal, with their highly efficient but affordable products.
“There are government incentives for farmers in the United States to get involved with a cover crop program for environmental benefits, whether it be nutrient recycling, erosion control, soil improvements or water runoff,” Kelly said. “In the United States, as here in Australia, there is recognition that maintaining live plants year round helps soil health and productivity.
“Farming on a global basis should be sustainable and we know that soil degradation, weeds and water-use efficiency are things affecting agriculture – we know that the tillage tools we provide can help address all of those issues.”
The Diamond Harrow uses four chains lined up in a diamond formation to allow the machine to prepare the seedbed in rough fields. The Cover Crop Seeder is integrated into the machine, which is towed by tractor. Each chain is fitted with a crop-specific row of metal discs that rotate and penetrate the soil. The design also allows the machine to work the soil, attack crop residue and manage weeds.
The machines initiate better microbial action in the soil by decomposing residue in the top layer. This allows it to access more sunlight, which dries the soil and helps kill weeds.
The North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) in the U.S. estimate a nearly 40 percent increase in the number of farmers using cover crops from 2012 to 2013. That translates to more than 130,000 farms on 10.3 million acres in 2013. SARE would like to see that number increased to a large of 20 million acres by 2020.
The new Diamond Harrow can help achieve that goal by saving time and offering more accurate germination in all types of weather, in addition to saving on maintenance costs, explains the company.
“One customer related that he spends $15,000 a year rebuilding his no till planter. He spends $7000 annually as a direct result of cover crops,” Kelly said. “Wear costs on the Kelly Diamond Harrow are in the order of 30 cents per acre and the machine will go for many years without spending anything significant. A new set of chains (on the Diamond Harrow) after 100,000 acres would cost around $25,000.”
The Australian-based company has more than two-thirds of its business in the United States and also exports to Canada, Germany and the UK. They’re gearing up to offer products in Africa as well.