Cricket in the cool makes for happy harvest

Kate MatthewsCountryman

The ideal day for harvesting clover is when the cricket's on the radio and the tractor's air-conditioner is working, according to Tincurrin grower Wade Hinkley.

While most of the grainbelt's cereal growers have done their last lap, harvest is just starting to ramp up for Wade and his wife, Gerri, who farm with Gerri's father, Don Thomson, in Tincurrin.

Having finished their broadacre program just before Christmas, the family's clover harvesters have been in full swing since the second week of January.

"It depends on the yield and demand but we normally clover harvest until mid-April, then we start getting ready for seeding," Wade said.

It's slow going and dusty, with yields ranging from 200 to 400 kilograms of seed per hectare.

This year, they have 330ha of certified and uncertified Dalkeith and Nungarin clover and a mixture of both to harvest.

Dalkeith is similar to other black-seeded subterranean clovers. It likes a pH of 4.5-6.5 and well-drained soils with 300-500mm of rainfall.

Nungarin is an early maturing black-seeded sub-clover that has a three to four month growing season.

"We have three machines in tandem behind one tractor and another two behind another tractor," Wade said.

"We slightly rip up the ground first, then we run over it with some heavy harrows followed by light harrows to bring the burr to the surface.

"Clover harvesters are like vacuum cleaners, they suck all the burr off of the top of the ground."

To get ready for harvest, Wade said since October they had been chipping away at rebuilding the machines, which were between 30 and 40 years old. "They are quite old machines, which is normal for clover harvesting, so they keep needing to be rebuilt and with bearings, belts and bits and pieces being replaced," he said.

"Some of the components on the machines have been changed three or four times. We do as much maintenance during the year as we can.

"It's also much easier and cheaper to rebuild a machine than to buy a new one."

Wade said growing clover was the perfect link and complemented their sheep and cropping programs.

He said problem grasses in the pasture phase were eradicated so there was a smaller weed burden for the cropping phase.

"It gives us the opportunity to seed earlier and by growing clover, which is a legume, we are fixing nitrogen into the soil, which is used the following year in a cropping phase. So we are effectively buying less fertiliser," he said.

Wade said there were just as many benefits for sheep.

"Clover is a great feed source for sheep and helps wool growth. There is less vegetable matter such as barley grass in the wool. It also helps increase lambing percentages," he said.

"Overall, it's a great complement to our whole system."

And with one job rolling into the next, Wade said it kept summer moving. "It's not too bad when the cricket's on and the air-conditioner is working in the tractor - you're happy then."

Fast facts *

_WHO: _ Wade and Gerri Hinkley and Don Thomson, Braeside

_WHERE: _Tincurrin

_WHAT: _Sheep, cereals and clover seed

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