Aerator lifts soil health

Countryman
Omya Australia agronomist Ken Sharpe and Harvey farmer Jim Pace with pastures grown using the new machine.
Camera IconOmya Australia agronomist Ken Sharpe and Harvey farmer Jim Pace with pastures grown using the new machine. Credit: Cally Dupe

A pasture aerator designed by a farmer has brought crops to life and slashed its inventor’s water costs by more than three-quarters.

Jim and Lyn Pace have farmed 45 head of Red Angus cattle and 40ha of pasture across a mixture of Bassendean sands at Uduc, near Harvey, for 18 years.

Two years ago, Mr Pace designed and had built a 2.4 metre-wide, dual roller designed to penetrate the ground and allow water to filter down into the soil.

He was frustrated by what he said was a hard soil crust, between 80-100mm thick, which had repeatedly repelled water and caused his crops to die.

“We were ploughing, deep ripping, liming and doing everything traditional farmers have been doing for years,” Mr Pace said.

“We found that it was the light, early rains causing the ground to tighten up and creating a crust, the more you watered the bigger the crust got.

“It got up to 80mm deep and it wasn’t allowing the water to penetrate.”

Designed to be pulled behind a tractor, the currently unnamed pasture aerator features an 800kg, concrete roller which works to flatten and even the soil.

Behind it is a 250kg roller, with spikes spaced 160mm apart to penetrate the soil 250mm deep.

Mr Pace uses the machine before and after seeding, and, unusually, while the crops are growing.

While his neighbours “thought it was very strange”, when he first started to flatten his crops, Mr Pace said they were also surprised when they took off.

“Someone said to me ‘what are you doing, you can’t do that’, and I just said ‘I have nothing to lose, my crops are dying’,” he said.

“I said ‘bugger it ... I am going to run over this and see what happens ... and we were amazed.

“Within two or three days they were back up, and getting greener and greener.”

The farm’s lucerne is irrigated by overhead knocker sprinklers with water drawn from the farm’s dam by a six cylinder pump.

Mr Pace applies usual fertiliser rates but also found great improvement by including Calciprill at 300kg/ha, for extra calcium and improving soil acidity.

Since using the machine, Mr Pace has slashed his water usage from 40mm every day, down to 10mm to every three days, with an estimated saving of $100 a week on pumping costs.

He said his farm has also tripled dryland pasture production, with a 10ha trial paddock now producing 60 bales, up from its original production of 18 bales. He, and his agronomist Ken Sharpe, of Omya Australia, believed soil compaction on Mr Pace’s property was caused by rain, not cattle or machinery.

“It was like concrete, killing off the plants, the lucerne was growing to about 200mm and then dying off, we thought well, there has got to be a reason,” Mr Pace said.

Mr Sharpe said the gussets supporting the finger tines contribution allowed water to flow into the channels evenly across the paddock.

“This machine is controlling the water, punching a channel in the soil which the water and roots can follow,” he said. “It’s very cheap to operate, it doesn’t require any horsepower, it doesn’t damage the crop or pasture it is used on.

“Most other aerators just punch a hole straight into the soil, whereas this has got the cleats on it to allow more water in faster.”

Most aerators use high horsepower to move the soil and do too much damage to crops and pastures.

Mr Pace said farmers might be sceptical of the machine.

“They might be afraid of destroying what they have, and that is what makes sense,” he said.

“If you look at it and say ‘I have beautiful grass growing, why would I want to go over it with a machine’ … but it could be better.

“I just thought this was an interesting machine, and that someone could come up with something better than I can, if they can understand what I have.”

Mr Sharpe said the machine could potentially be used on different soils, including sand, clay, and loams, at different times of the year. “It’s a simple machine, if people try it and see the results rather than thinking of logic ... the difference is incredible.”

To find out more, contact Mr Pace at jimandlyn2007@hotmail.com

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