A Norman conquest on canola


Harvesting a WA record 13,000-hectare genetically modified canola crop is a time-critical challenge for man and machine.

While overnight temperatures plunged and rain kept moisture high, the direct-harvest GM canola performance played itself out across two big blocks in the Wheatbelt recently.

Farmer Michael Shields and his team planted 8500ha at Bodallin and 4500ha at Glenvar, in Wongan Hills.

Glenvar farm manager Lee Norman said that with 6000 ha of GT Scorpion, 6000 ha of GT 61 and 1500 ha of Hybrid 502, the GM canola out-yielded the conventional canola crop by 600kg/ha.

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Despite owning a swather, Mr Norman had, for the past couple of years, chosen to direct harvest to optimise yield and minimise seed damage.

Until this year they used North American draper fronts, but they still found crop losses.

The Yorkshireman had hands-on experience with CLAAS Vario fronts in the UK.

He said that when the German designed and built 12-metre Vario hit the market, they immediately bought two.

“To strip the amount of crop, this harvest we used two CLAAS Lexion 750s with 12m Vario cutterbar fronts, ” Mr Norman said.

“We hired two Lexion 580s, one with a 12m Vario front. We also used the services of Wagin harvest contractor Geoff West with his CLAAS Lexion 480.

“We run the machines with the three Vario cutterbars in the canola and use the other draper fronts in the wheat and oats.

“With the tracked Lexion 750, the great advantage is that the machine, on tracks, fits perfectly with our CTF program with less compaction and greater traction in our light sandy soils.

“With the three combines, we harvest on average 750ha in 24 hours. At both shift changes 6.30am and 6.30 pm — we service, refuel and blow-off the machines.

“It takes around an hour or 20 minutes per machine to do three units, so we are actually harvesting 22 hours each day.

“We average 10km/h over the period covering approximately 11.5ha an hour. We use 2700 litres of fuel in 24 hours, that’s 900 litres per machine at 3.6 litres/ha.”

CLAAS’ harvester specialist Steve Reeves said the new Vario series of cutterbars had proven a boon to canola growers in Australia who, this year, had been cruelly challenged by rain, residual moisture and very tight harvest windows.

Mr Reeves said when harvesting canola, the cutterbar table could be moved forward an additional 50cm using extension plates.

“Ripe canola pods require careful handling at threshing to prevent shatter loss, ” he said.

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