ProTrakker A 'Game-Changer' For Cropping

Ken Wilson — Farm Weekly, Western Australia

October 17, 2018

Cranbrook farmer Theo Cunningham (left) and Burando Hill salesman Michael Kowald discuss the hydraulic set-up on the ProTrakker guidance system, which is growing in popularity in WA to enable accurate sowing into the previous year's row without disturbing stubble.

Cranbrook farmer Theo Cunningham (left) and Burando Hill salesman Michael Kowald discuss the hydraulic set-up on the ProTrakker guidance system, which is growing in popularity in WA to enable accurate sowing into the previous year's row without disturbing stubble.

CRANBROOK farmer Theo Cunningham calls the ProTrakker guidance hitch a game-changer.

It’s a big call but results on the family farm are impressive and Theo, along with his parents Twynam and Elizabeth are convinced it’s a new tool which can provide more consistent crop yields.

Their appraisal of the hydraulically-controlled ProTrakker was measured against a background of issues on the family farm which has moved to 70 per cent cropping (3000 hectares) mixed with carrying 10,000 sheep, including 6000 Billandri-blood breeding Merino ewes.

With a district average annual rainfall of 500mm, Cranbrook is a safe district, but there still remains non-wetting issues.

The Cunninghams immediately saw the advantage of the ProTrakker, providing the ability to sow into the previous year’s crop rows without disturbing stubbles (so-called edge-row sowing) and thus overcoming non-wetting problems with the bonus of accessing moisture and residual nutrients.

“Non-wetting was a big reason why we bought the ProTrakker,” Twynam said.

“And it also has given us the ability to sow to a date, whether it has rained or not.

“And that’s very important in this environment where getting crops growing and active before winter is difficult if you have too much moisture and low soil temperatures.

“But if you can get the plants away early, they will power away through winter.”

And that will go a long way to raising the bar on their crop yields.

“It has given us the ability to establish crops every year during the optimum growing window while minimising the risk of establishment,” Theo said.

“That gives plants the chance to achieve their yield potential.

“Our average crops yields are slowly creeping up but the best thing is that we are now more confident in our expectations of reliably achieving 1.8 tonnes (a hectare) with canola, three tonnes with wheat and 3.5t/ha with barley.

“These have become realistic figures for our annual budgets.”

This year provided compelling reasons for the Cunninghams to use the ProTrakker.

Theo said their canola “went in on rain” on April 15 and germinated a week later.

“We didn’t get any more rain until late May but we put our DBS in at seven inches (175 millimetres) and we got a wick-effect by tapping into subsoil moisture.

“We got really even germination which was better than with the spring tyne bar we used previously.

“I think the canola that went in on April 15 will be our best crop.”

Theo credits the combination of the Protrakker, DBS and use of liquid nutrient injection for the above-average crops he will take off in coming weeks.

“I think the ProTrakker paid for itself last year and next year we’re thinking we’ll have the whole game together, using the ProTrakker, DBS, dual shoot and liquid injection” he said.

“For us, that’s the meaning of precision farming.”

According to Theo operating the ProTrakker was an easy exercise.

“It’s a simple kit and it took us about 10 minutes to undo the normal hitch and replace it with the ProTrakker hitch,” he said.

Operating on RTK guidance, the hydraulically-operated ProTrakker ensures almost zero bar drift, meaning a sowing tyne can be placed millimetres (sub-inch) away from the previous year’s cropping row.

Theo said it was noticeable the “easier going” operating next to old cropping rows rather than the harder inter-row of sandy gravel-over-clay.

“When the ProTrakker is not engaged, you can notice bar drift, particularly on hilly slopes, but when it’s turned on, you can look out the back and see the hitch constantly making slight adjustments to keep the bar straight.”

According to Theo, the ProTrakker will bring with it added flexibility, especially easily adapting to thicker straw in good years.

“We know we will always be able to sow alongside the stubble and dictate exactly where we want our seed to be placed,” he said.

“The trash control is another big feature because we want as much standing as possible to mitigate wind damage and enhance moisture capture.

“There will be a little creep each year but we will still be near the previous year’s furrow.

“In some runs when stubble is a bit thick and not running straight, we can adjust the ProTrakker to sow between rows to keep trash flow going.

"It’s not a big deal but it means we’re not creating any bulldozing of stubble and I’d rather avoid that and wait until later to work out what we do with the line in that paddock for next year.

“Generally we just go back to the default setting of the previous year.”

According to Burando Hill product specialist Jace Bratten, for farmers who do not have ProTrakker-compatible displays (John Deere, Trimble Centrepoint), Burando Hill is now offering a conversion option using an AgLeader screen that can add implement guidance to the display.

“You still need to have access to RTK signals but the AgLeader option is substantially cheaper if you need to upgrade for implement steering,” Mr Bratten said.

Credit for this article goes to Ken Wilson of Farm Weekly, Western Australia