Farm Weekly

Winning the war against weeds

HIGH KILL RATE: The Seed Terminator kills about 99 per cent of the weed seeds it captures at harvest.

This is branded content for Seed Terminator.

The Seed Terminator is a simple attachment to the combine harvester that terminates weed seeds before they germinate.

A combine harvester collects around 80 per cent of weed seeds; determined primarily by seasonal conditions, weed species and harvester operator.

While the grain is being separated from other materials, weed seeds often end up in the tailings return system.

From there, they are spread up to 500 metres further up the paddock, distributing them and allowing them to germinate the following year.

These weed seeds are also likely to be the worst ones to spread, having survived chemical application and in fact, all other kill techniques that season.

However, the Seed Terminator successfully disrupts that process by stopping the spread of weeds, driving down the weed population, and specifically targeting herbicide-resistant weeds.

The story behind Seed Terminator

Founder and director of research and development, Dr Nick Berry completed a Ph.D. on mechanical weed seed control, specialising in impact mills.

He wrote his thesis on the amount of energy required to be transferred onto a weed seed in a given timeframe to become devitalised (meaning it cannot germinate, shoot and grow into a mature plant).

Dr Berry began simulating the process of a weed seed being subjected to the type of impact required, and he successfully achieved what seemed like realistic outcomes.

Then he converted that from a computer simulation into a real-world operating mill.

Seed Terminator's Victorian commercial manager Ned Jeffery is responsible for expanding the product into Australia's eastern states.

The head office and production is located in Adelaide.

Western Australia and South Australia are recognised as the home states of impact mill technology.

"It is where the uptake of the technology has been the highest, and more recently, we have started to expand into the eastern states," Mr Jeffery said.

The product has enjoyed rapid expansion from infancy.

After years of testing prior, Seed Terminator became a commercial product in 2016.

That year, the team sold about nine machines across Australia.

Sales have almost doubled each year since then, and the team at Seed Terminator expect to have around 450 machines operating over the 2021 harvest.

"We are still hearing from people who are worried about being 'guinea pigs' in the mechanical mill market, but I think by the time you have 400-odd customers, the canary in the coal mine has long since flown away," Mr Jeffery said.

"We had sold a couple of machines prior, but the eastern states really took notice prior to the 2019 harvest."

Mr Jefferey said they had more than doubled their sales in 2020.

This year, as harvest commences, he expects the business will probably go close to selling another 50 machines in the eastern states.

"The price and availability of herbicide and its performance is definitely helping us," he said.

"In really simple numbers, if a farmer is paying $10 a litre for glyphosate and applying it at two litres/hectare, the average 2000 hectare farm is spending $40,000 on that chemical alone, for a single pass, plus machine and operator costs.

"Based on those numbers, it doesn't take many harvester rotor hours for the terminator to make economic sense, and its killing the weeds chemical intervention left behind.

"There are really two types of grain growers now, those that stick to their knitting and those that buy terminators."

How the technology works

Its no surprise that mechanical weed seed control has quickly been adopted as another tool in the toolbox for grain growers worldwide.

"While the harvest is underway, the mill at the rear of the machine is capturing as much of the weed seed material as possible," Mr Jefferey said.

"The mill impacts the weed seeds as they exit the back of the harvester while it is moving through the crop."

Once the Seed Terminator impacts the weed seed, it is devitalised.

Reducing weeds obviously means less of the valuable moisture and nutrients are used up and hopefully better crop yields.

"The main selling feature of the Seed Terminator is the very high kill rate, but also the low servicing costs compared to competitors," Mr Jefferey said.

"Capturing 100 per cent of the weed seeds is very difficult; some of them blow out in the wind or are knocked to the ground by the harvester front, but research shows these plants grow up amongst each other and have less impact on yield in the long term than those new patches created by the harvester spreading weed seeds."