Controlled traffic farming (CTF) maintains the same machinery wheel tracks in cropping paddocks year after year. Soil health and crop productivity improve by eliminating compaction from the crop growth zone, and the permanent compacted wheel lanes allow more efficient machinery operation. The basis of CTF is simple – plants grow better in soft soil, wheels work better on roads. While the concept is simple, the practicalities of implementing CTF are a different matter, particularly in the vegetable industry.
A grower study tour to Denmark, The Netherlands and UK agricultural areas investigated the state of development of controlled traffic farming (CTF) in Europe, particularly for vegetables and mixed crops. The group consisted of growers (from Tasmania and Queensland), contractors, private consultants and staff from the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture and the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.
Interest in CTF in the Tasmanian vegetable industry has developed significantly over the last couple years, with demonstration areas of crop grown under CTF at Gawler and Forth. Interest is also growing in Queensland vegetable production areas. The diversity of the vegetable industry makes achieving equipment commonality for CTF one of the major challenges to successful implementation.
A CTF workshop was attended on the Danish island of Samsø, renowned for its potatoes. This attracted growers and industry representatives from Sweden, UK and Denmark. A visit to the farm of Jens Kjeldhal showed rapid progress in adopting a 3.2 m track width CTF system, although there is still a significant hurdle to overcome to find compatible harvest machinery.
Jens recently bought a clod windrower for use in his CTF system. Due to the mis-match of harvest equipment, a seasonal controlled traffic (SCTF) approach is used as an interim step to a fully matched system. SCTF maintains the same wheel tracks for all pre-season tillage and in-season operations, and accepts that harvest traffic will be random. Guidance is used to return to the same track locations next season.
Visits to farms in The Netherlands showed a similar level of progress being made with seasonal controlled traffic (SCTF) for grain and vegetables. All farms visited in Europe use track widths varying from 3.1 – 3.2 m. Growers are observing improved yields, timeliness, and labour efficiency, better harvest recovery in some crops, and reduced tillage through the use of SCTF.
CTF in the UK is less developed, and is more directed towards operations with limited vegetable cropping. UK farmers are reluctant to adopt a 3 m track width due to road transport constraints and warranty issues. Instead, they are using systems which don’t match all track widths, but still reduce the area of land that is tracked during the season. Limited remedial tillage is used to deal with the effects of mis-matched wheel tracks.
Growers can take significant steps in CTF adoption for vegetables, as there are short-term advantages, even if a full collection of compatible machinery is not yet available.