Keeping your wife and your soils content

I HAD to laugh when I read on someone's website recently: 'You wouldn't drive a tractor on your wife's garden bed so why drive over your cropping area?'

It's true though. You wouldn't risk ruining the roses, and the crop out in the paddock is no different. In fact, at the end of the day it's a great deal more important because it's your pay packet.

This is where controlled traffic farming comes in. Last week I talked about zero till which often goes hand in hand with controlled traffic as a technique for improving soil structure and reducing input costs.

The concept is really quite simple. By restricting all farm machinery to permanent wheel tracks or 'tram lines' you reduce the amount of paddock that is compacted and protect the planted areas from traffic.

One crop is likely to generate a lot of wheel traffic when you consider fertilising, planting, spraying and harvesting. The harvester often causes the most damage because it has the narrowest operating width, the widest tyres and is usually the heaviest machine out in the paddock.


Studies have shown that out of five passes, the first pass causes 90% of the damage. So even if a harvester only enters the paddock once a season there is still a significant risk of major compaction.


Reducing soil compaction in planting areas significantly improves the soil's capacity to absorb and retain moisture. But the benefits of controlled traffic don't stop there.

Many farmers who have adopted the system say it improves paddock trafficability and makes their operations more efficient and easy to manage.

It also reduces overlap in the paddock which cuts down on the cost of fuel, sprays and fertilisers which can mean big savings especially for large operations.

In other words, controlled traffic is not about attractive, straight rows, but a farming system that helps improve yields, efficiency and profitability. Changing to a controlled traffic system can be expensive though, which is why most farmers take a gradual approach.

The first step is to decide on a working width which will of course depend on the width of the seeder or the header front.

There are a range of popular working widths including 9, 10.67, 12 or 13.5m and the decision will ultimately come down to which one best suits.

At this stage it's important to do some research and talk to other farmers who've been through the process as the consequences of getting it wrong can be costly.

No matter what approach you take, the controlled traffic system can be developed over time as machinery upgrades are required and finances are available.

I'm sure there was lots of enthusiastic discussion about all of this when delegates met earlier this week for the first international controlled traffic farming conference in Toowoomba.

So, whatever your stage in the controlled traffic revolution the moral of this tale is don't drive over your valuable cropping area. And, keep away from the roses too.

For more ways to improve and protect your land visit

Andrew McCartney is the Manager of the Condamine Alliance Sustainable Agriculture program which works with farmers across the Condamine catchment to improve and protect agricultural land. For more details visit


Farmer profile:

  • Farmer: The Piper family
    TAKING CONTROL: John Piper.
    TAKING CONTROL: John Piper. Contributed
  • Location: Felton
  • Farm type: Cropping
  • Size: 810 hectares
  • Years on farm: 38 years

FOR the Piper family the decision to convert to controlled traffic farming six years ago came down to two things: conservation and cost.

They were already using zero till on their Felton cropping property so it was the next logical step.

They started with a second-hand header which was 12 metres wide and then matched their planter and sprayer.

Auto steer and GPS help keep the tractor on the three metre tracks and they've avoided overlap thanks to careful planning and professional advice from the very beginning.

Now and then a wheel track might need some repair because of wet weather but the benefits are obvious.

Since making the switch, they have saved money on fuel, sprayers and fertilisers. And in a big storm the water quickly soaks into the non-compacted soil rather than washing away. Crop yields have also been encouraging.

The new system has also made them rethink the layout of their farm and where they plant.

To hear more from local farmers who are working hard to improve and protect their land visit

Topics:  10 ways condamine alliance environment soil health

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