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Norfolk farm trials Australian ‘chaff deck’ harvest invention

PUBLISHED: 14:59 04 August 2018 | UPDATED: 19:02 04 August 2018

Norfolk farmer Will Goff is trialling the

Norfolk farmer Will Goff is trialling the "Chaff Deck" harvester attachment to assess how well it can control grass weeds. Picture: Chris Hill

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A pioneering Norfolk farmer is trialling an Australian machine designed to control persistent grass-weed problems – as part of a system of innovations which he hopes can boost the efficiency of his business.

Norfolk farmer Will Goff is trialling the Norfolk farmer Will Goff is trialling the "Chaff Deck" harvester attachment to assess how well it can control grass weeds. Picture: Chris Hill

Will Goff at Foxburrow Farm, based in North Elmham, near Dereham, is one of only five UK farmers testing the “chaff deck”, which captures chaff from the back of a combine harvester and uses conveyor belts to deposit it in two neat lines behind the rear wheels.

The idea is to prevent the seeds of yield-killing weeds like black-grass from being blown out across the field where they can germinate freely, and instead concentrate them in an area where they will struggle to grow, or where they can be more easily dealt with by targeted spray applications.

The system was developed in Australia, where farmers have been using harvest weed seed control (HWSC) measures for more than 30 years to manage their “problem” grass weed, ryegrass.

Mr Goff hopes its effectiveness will be amplified by his farm’s controlled traffic farming (CTF) system, which means all farm vehicles operate at the same width and are always satellite-guided onto the same tramlines, making the tyre tracks an even more hostile place for any weed seeds.

Norfolk farmer Will Goff is trialling the Norfolk farmer Will Goff is trialling the "Chaff Deck" harvester attachment to assess how well it can control grass weeds. Picture: Chris Hill

And he said a continuous, collaborative attitude to innovation is “imperative” for a farming industry facing uncertainties in the future.

“There is no single golden bullet that is going to be the saviour of agriculture,” he said. “It will be the attention to detail, the lots of ‘littles’, that will make a big difference.

“I wouldn’t say this particular system will radically change anything, but it is a good step in the right direction.

“We also do minimum cultivations and we have done controlled traffic farming since 2012, which puts all the machinery into the same tramlines so we are not creating lots of compaction, so we don’t need lots of cultivation.

Norfolk farmer Will Goff is trialling the Norfolk farmer Will Goff is trialling the "Chaff Deck" harvester attachment to assess how well it can control grass weeds. Picture: Chris Hill

“We are looking at micro-tillage, just roughing up the top inch of the surface. We want to keep the weeds there where we can deal with them rather than mixing then through the soil profile. Then whatever is still there at harvest time with the chaff deck we can put it all into a small area that happens to be the most hostile area for it to grow – in the tramlines where all our tractors and trailers driving up and down.

“This has all come from Australia, where farmers need to be very innovative. People talk about how things like subsidies will change after Brexit but if you look at countries like that which don’t have that support, and how innovative they have to be – if this innovation is applied in the right way, the future is bright. We have just got to be open and embrace it. It is an exciting time to be a farmer.”

Foxburrow Farm works across 1,800ha of land, part-owned, part-tenanted and part-contracted. It is primarily cereals and arable, but the farm also runs a flock of 800 ewes and about 100 Red Poll cattle.

The chaff deck trial – which also includes farms in Essex, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire – is being monitored by Frontier Agriculture as part of its 3DThinking trials programme and is run in collaboration with AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board), Primary Sales from Western Australia and Rothamsted.

Norfolk farmer Will Goff is trialling the Norfolk farmer Will Goff is trialling the "Chaff Deck" harvester attachment to assess how well it can control grass weeds. Picture: Chris Hill

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