New technology, or a new approach to an established industry, can have a remarkable impact on the techniques and implements developed for that industry over the years. This was once again proven during a conservation agriculture farmers’ day held on Hendrik Odendaal’s farm, Klippoort, on the banks of the Vaal River between Standerton and Villiers.

Role-players who attended the farmers’ day. From the left are Manuel Ferrari, Hendrik Odendaal junior, Hendrik Odendaal senior, Alberto Pedro D’Alotto, Argentinian ambassador to South Africa, Hendrik Jordaan, who organised the day, and Carlos Galarza.

The Odendaals hosted the farmers’ day in partnership with Argentina’s National Institute of Agricultural Technology, INTA. Several suppliers and marketers of Argentinian implements and technologies exhibited and demonstrated their products during the event.

The no-till philosophy

The Argentinians have been practising no-till for decades and are the global frontrunners in terms of their understanding of this philosophy and techniques, as well as the implements they have developed to adapt to this new approach.

It started with planters that were adapted to cut through the ground cover to plant seeds properly. This was followed by adjustments to accommodate narrower row widths and combines that could handle these widths. Next was cultivar development of suitable cover crops.

Carlos Galarza showing the effect that roots can have on the soil profile. Even compacted layers can be loosened over time.

The aim is to have living roots in the soil year-round, along with green foliage on top of the soil. Also included are specific plant species with root systems that can pierce any compacted layer in the soil, which eliminates the need to use tine implements. Finally, electrified fencing is used to facilitate high-density grazing of livestock on these cover crops.

New technology in the spotlight

One type of technology that took centre stage at the farmers’ day is DeltaForce. With this technology, each planting unit is individually controlled using hydraulics and shock absorbers.

This means the pressure on the soil is adjusted according to the soil’s hardness. The aim is to deposit each seed at the same depth across the entire field so that the seeds can germinate within 24 hours of each other, thereby increasing the yield.

Several speakers affiliated with INTA focused on the importance of having in-depth knowledge of soil and cover crops. Knowledge helps optimise the benefits derived from no-till in order to progress to conservation agriculture.

The role of root systems

Carlos Galarza, a trained agricultural engineer, used a soil profile to illustrate the effect that root activity can have on soil structure.

Manuel Ferrari indicated how the roots of different plant species can collectively help to:

  • Promote soil structure.
  • Counter compacted layers over time.
  • Recycle nutrients in the soil.
  • Build soil fertility.
  • Increase organic matter in the soil.
  • Increase the carbon content of the soil.

Exhibitors at the event included well-known brands such as Apache, Pierobon, Ombu, Mainero, Abelardo, Cuffia, Rizobacter, Don Mario, Southern Hemisphere Seeds, Peon and Aurovant.

Inoculation of crops

In the context of no-till, the progress made in terms of inoculation technology should not be ignored. An essential part of conservation agriculture is nitrogen fixation by legumes. To aid the process, it is necessary to inoculate legumes with the best possible technology relating to Rhizobium bacteria.

The effects of the latest inoculation technology on the Rhizobium nodules of legume roots were demonstrated.

The benefits of two no-till planters were shown by placing maize kernels in different spots, metres apart, in the soil. This was demonstrated using a field with a varying layer of organic matter and significant differences in soil density. A trial simulation was conducted to demonstrate what effect heavy rain has on bare, newly tilled soil. This was compared – using the same amount of water at the same intensity – on soil with a dense mulch layer. The difference should convince any crop farmer that a new approach to conventional agronomic practices is needed. – Izak Hofmeyr

For enquiries, send an email to Hendrik Jordaan in Argentina at consultancy@laurik.com.ar.