SOUTH African researchers are turning to WA technology to improve gross margins for the country's wheat growers.
Headed by the South African Small Grains Institute a trial program has been set up in the Western Cape region, involving an Ausplow DBS precision planter at trial sites north and south of Cape Town.
Earlier this year, Ausplow managing director John Ryan was a keynote speaker at a symposium held by the institute addressing reduced tillage practices.
During his visit Mr Ryan visited several South African farmers using the DBS precision seeding bar and the Ausplow Multistream air seeder with liquid fertiliser.
According to researcher John Tolmay, the DBS is being used by the institute for row spacing and fertiliser placement trials.
It was chosen because of its attributes as a precision planter capable of accurate placement of low seeding rates, its ability to harvest water and provide minimum topsoil disturbance while breaking subsoil hardpans.
"We basically have the same problems as many grain-growing countries," he said.
"Our wheat producers are experiencing increasing pressure to produce an acceptable product on an economical basis.
"The reason for this can mainly be attributed to dramatic increases in all input costs, which affects net margins negatively.
"Since soil cultivation and fertiliser practices account for up to 50pc of the input costs, decisions made on these practices are of the utmost importance.
"In one experiment this year we found producers should be able to increase row widths to about 300mm (12in) from the currently popular 260mm (10in) spacing and reduce seeding rates for the cultivars used to 60-80kg per ha without significant loss of yield if a specialised planting method such as the DBS is used.
"If these changes can be implemented, producers can make substantial savings with regard to input and mechanisation costs as well as speed up the planting operation while using the same amount of fuel.
"A saving of 30kg seed per hectare amounts to a direct saving of R96 ($A20) per hectare.
"If the row width of a 12 row DBS planter is increased from 260mm to 300mm, and the planter plants at a speed of 8km/h, the planter will plant 0.4 hectare per hour more.
For a typical 12-hour working day, the planter will plant 4.8ha more using the same energy and at no extra cost.
"Promoting reduced tillage or no-till practices can make a huge contribution towards sustainable production, since it addresses the most important factors in crop production," Mr Tolmay said.
In another trial, Mr Tolmay said good yields could be obtained from low nitrogen applications if accurate placing of fertiliser was used in combination with crop rotation.
"It is also clear that sufficient nitrogen needs to be applied to ensure a good grade in terms of protein content," he said.
"In this regard using a management option by applying top-dressing according to the season's rainfall ensures optimum yield and sufficient protein content."
Mr Tolmay said the long-term objectives of the institute's project included reducing input costs through reduced cultivation, ensuring that soil as a natural resource was maintained and quantifying the benefits of reduced tillage practices.
"We also want to identify and find solutions for production problems associated with reduced tillage," he said.