Flame Of The Month Rob Bell
Rob Bell runs a pasture seed and beef cattle enterprise east of Capel W.A. 200kms south of Perth.
Can you describe your operation Rob?
Our farming operation is somewhat unique, in that we commercially produce ryegrass seed. We also grow clovers, both sub and aerial types. We plant new pasture varieties and conduct seed bulk ups.
Unique for your neck of the woods?
Our family has been here for a long time. Even 3 generations back my Great Grandfather was involved in commercial clover production.
We also have have beef cattle, in fact, until I was 30, I was running 700 breeder cattle and turning off a load of cows every several days to DBC (Dardanup Butchering Co) a short way away. Now ryegrass production is the dominant enterprise.
Ryegrass yields about a tonne to the hectare. It’s a slow process to harvest tho. The 4 conventional NH harvesters you saw in the yard run at about 2kmh with 5.5m fronts on. It takes about 3 to 4 weeks to get thru harvest. The straw fraction at harvest time makes for the slow going. Last year we peeled off and processed over 400 tonne of ryegrass seed. For every tonne of seed, we’ll have about 10 tonnes of straw come out the back of the header. We bale and sell that too.
A typical rotation is 4 years ryegrass. Burn. Then a full cut cultivation for an autumn fallow. This can be followed by a brassica, say forage rape for cattle feed. Then clover for a year or two. Hay can be in the mix as well.
So why do you burn?
The accumulation of organic matter prohibits effective seed soil contact. In theory we could plant thru the material with our disc seeder but beyond 4 years we would be planting into “thatch”.
Organic matter levels get to 7% around the farm. As part of the rotation we need to burn off the excessive residue for reasons of plant establishment and for disease and insect control. Red Legged Earth Mite just get too many places to hide. There’s a numbers build-up issue. That’s why that thatched build-up needs to get burnt and have a full cut cultivation before a brassica and a clover come back into the rotation.
So, how’s the Accufire for you?
It’s brilliant. It’s also the only unit this side of the Darling Scarp too. We used to do the burning operation with 3 guys armed with firebugs. Dad invented and developed those drip torches years ago. In fact, he started Bell Fire Equipment.
Anyway, the change the Accufire has made has been huge. It used to take us a day to burn 40 hectares. Now we can get it done in an hour. When its time to act we just chuck it on the Gator and go. It’s so quick and accurate. It’s important to be able to lay down a constant line of fire to form a break otherwise there’s potential for grief, as we experienced with drip-torch ignitions. Every few days I’d maintain the jet and from there is all go.
Then there’s this conversation. Neighbouring growers have come over saying;
Neighbour “I wanna borrow your drip-torch thingy”.
Rob "I’ve got something better".
Neighbour "Yeah. That’s what we’re after."
Thanks for the chat Rob.