Mulcher hybrid a success story

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Ten years ago, Ray Baum came up with the idea of making a stubble mulcher using grader blades.

It is the ideal solution for farmers who want to get rid of stubbles without burning or raking.

The premise is simple — stubbles are driven over and the grader blades dig into the ground an inch deep, breaking the stubbles which then rot away over time and act as a compost layer.

“The South Coast is ideal for this because we get plenty of moisture through the summer with dew and drizzly rains,” Ray explained.

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“The mulcher helps to break up the stubble pretty quickly.”

The Baums are farming using principals learned from an uncle who valued organic matter and utilising stubbles and fires.

Over the years they have tried a range of machines to meet their objectives. These have included rotary hoes and disc machines to make use of the left over stalks from cereal and canola crops.

“We’ve tried an old combine where we would block it all up and it would smash up the straw on a hot day, but it would all blow away so that was no good,” Ray said. “We tried truck tyres cut in half with a sixty foot set of harrows and we would drive that around to smash up the stubble, but the same thing happened — the wind blew it away.”

Ray thought about using a Kelly Chain but with the strong South Coast winds and sandy country, it wasn’t suitable.

“To me, we now have the ideal machine for sandy country and are on a winner,” he said.

“The softer the soil, the better job it does.”

Ray said a major benefit of using the stubble mulcher was retaining moisture. He said in the following year, if the paddock wasn’t cropped, there was still ground cover with roots pinned.

Ray said the ideal time to stubble mulch was at harvest, giving the stubbles plenty of time to rot away and, when the ground was softer, burying the fines and seeds.

“It buries the seeds and you get a better germination before seeding so you can get a cleaner crop,” he said.

While the practice of stubble mulching is best suited to continuous croppers, Ray said they had used their machine as late as March after sheep had grazed on stubbles.

He said it also meant that the value of stubbles could be realised.

“We can get five to six tonnes of straw left behind once the grain is off and what we are trying to do is to increase the bacteria in the soil – the microbes and fungi,” he said.

“Fertiliser is going to get dearer and we don’t want to waste our stubbles. We want to be utilising them and this is a good way of achieving that.

“Our chemicals are working better, as they have more contact with the soil, and seeding is easier with less blockages and lumps that interfere with germination.”

To pull the 42-foot wide, 11-tonne stubble mulcher, the Baum’s use a 300 horsepower tractor travelling at 18km/hr.

The machine, which has a patent pending, was recently demonstrated to members of the Stirlings to Coast Farmer group.

Ray said the project had received some grant funding from the Southern Incentives grant scheme through the South Coast NRM group and technical assistance from the Department of Agriculture and Food.

The grant scheme partners SCNRM with land managers and others to improve natural assets along the South Coast.

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