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Bale direct cost effective in the right circumstances

The Bale Direct system is an effective harvest weed seed control method that has also turned a quid for David Heinjus on his family’s mixed farm, Pareta Farms, near Freeling on the edge of the Barossa Valley, SA.

David Heinjus is well into a seven year campaign against herbicide resistant weeds using the Bale Direct technology.

David Heinjus is well into a seven year campaign against herbicide resistant weeds using the Bale Direct technology.

Herbicide resistant ryegrass has been a challenge on their 3500 ha farm for several years and wild radish is also showing signs of developing resistance. For around 20 years oaten hay production has been part of the rotation on the farms and this has helped manage the annual ryegrass problem.

In 2007 the family leased a farm at Kapunda and reintroduced livestock to their farming operation. They are currently running 2000 ewes for wool and prime lamb production and have included a vetch and balansa clover pasture phase to the rotation of bread and durum wheat, faba bean, canola and oaten hay.

Mr Heinjus invested in the Bale Direct system in 2009, when he saw the opportunity to reliably collect weed seed at harvest and produce a salable commodity in the process.

“Livestock and hay production helped contain the problem we had with annual ryegrass but we could see that it was not going to be the whole answer,” said Mr Heinjus. “We didn’t want to burn chaff rows or heaps because our farms are surrounded by many neighbours. The Bale Direct system is a great way to collect and remove weed seed from all our crops and we have been very pleased with the results.”

To operate efficiently the Bale Direct system requires a large harvester but once the adaption is made the baling operation does not slow harvesting down. Since having the unit installed Mr Heinjus has modified it slightly, adding a small water tank and pump to spray water into the baling chamber to help maximise bale weight in hot conditions.

The bales are sold to a livestock feed pellet mill less than 10 km from the Heinjus’ farms, making the sale of 8000 plus bales a year a profitable income stream for the business. Mr Heinjus identifies availability of markets and freight as the greatest barriers to the adoption of the Bale Direct technology.

He also employs some additional casual labour at harvest time to stack the bales but overall the system has provided a good return on investment. Mr Heinjus has a professional background in financial management and planning and so was in a good position to thoroughly test the profitability as well as the practical benefit of his investment in this harvest weed seed control method.

“We have the advantage of a nearby market and we take care of the delivery ourselves,” he said. “We also sell directly to some customers who use the straw for bedding in piggeries and chicken sheds. Once the straw has been used for bedding it is generally composted and that is the final step in destroying the weed seeds.”

To maximise profitability with the Bale Direct system Mr Heinjus has kept their harvester a few years longer than he would normally keep a new harvester. He plans to sell the harvester, complete with the Bale Direct module, in 2015–16 at the conclusion of a seven-year dedicated campaign to drive down the weed seed bank.

The Direct Bale system captures over 95 per cent of weed seeds present at harvest at a cost of just under $50/ha over 1000 ha.

The Direct Bale system captures over 95 per cent of weed seeds present at harvest at a cost of just under $50/ha over 1000 ha.

The only downside to the system in Mr Heinjus’ view is the continual removal of the crop residue from their paddocks. Now that the baling program has removed a significant amount of weed seed from the farms Mr Heinjus is planning to revert back to weed control methods that retain more crop residue in the paddocks.

He is confident that the hay production and livestock and pasture phase will be able to provide reliable control once the weed seed bank has been significantly run down during the seven year harvest weed seed control plan using the Bale Direct system.

“The pasture phase is a low risk break crop and weed control option for us,” he said. “We can sow vetch and balansa clover early and not be concerned about frost-prone paddocks. The high bulk pasture competes well with weeds and the sheep clean up any rogues that do appear.”

Mr Heinjus uses the ewes and lambs in a controlled grazing program to take advantage of the high bulk of feed. At weaning the ewes are removed, leaving the lambs to finish on the pasture and to clean up any weeds before they set seed.

“In addition to the weed control advantages, the pasture also provides additional soil nitrogen and is a disease break for the cereal crops,” he said. “Once the Bale Direct phase is complete we will reintroduce stubble grazing to clean up cropping paddocks after harvest.”

After some initial testing to establish that herbicide resistant weeds were present on the farms, Mr Heinjus now treats all weeds as if they were resistant and has built as much diversity as possible into his weed management plan.

“There are weeds resistant to group A and B herbicides and I expect there would be some glyphosate resistant weeds too,” he said. “We have found that we are still using similar amounts of herbicide but the sprays are more effective than they were before we started our campaign to bring crop weeds under control.”

The large bales produced have many uses in intensive agriculture, construction and energy industries, making the system economically attractive when the farm has buyers nearby.

The large bales produced have many uses in intensive agriculture, construction and energy industries, making the system economically attractive when the farm has buyers nearby.

Costing it out

Wongan Hills grower, Graham Shields, developed the Glenvar Bale Direct system, which captures all of the residue leaving the harvester, including 95 to 98 per cent of weed seeds.

Peter Newman from the AHRI communications team, said the end uses for the bales include stockfeed pellets, animal bedding, ethanol fuel and straw logs for power generation or the manufacture of strawboard.

“Overall the Bale Direct system is a great way to remove weed seeds at harvest while increasing profitability,” he said.

“However, this is a costly option if you don’t have a suitable market for the bales nearby because the system has high finance, fuel, maintenance, bale handling and residue removal costs.”

The estimated cost, based on one harvester and including nutrient removal costs for a 2 t/ha wheat crop, is $49.38 per hectare for 1000 ha, down to $32.47 per ha for 4000 ha. With access to a suitable market these costs can easily be recovered through the additional income, as David Heinjus has found.

Research supported by AHRI and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) shows seedbanks of annual weeds can be rapidly depleted when harvest weed seed control systems are used to capture and destroy weed seeds at harvest.

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