DIGGING IT: The business runs Kelly diamond harrow frames and a range of chains depending on the application. Photos: Supplied
Demand for harrows is being driven by herbicide costs, higher rainfall, labour shortages and a lack of new machines.
Despite the winter crop plant being months away, an equipment hire company near Goondiwindi is experiencing unprecedented demand for its diamond harrows, renting out its entire 14-strong fleet.
Michael and Penny Pegler of M&P Pegler at Talwood usually see a spike in business just prior to the opening of the traditional sowing window in April.
However, the combination of rising herbicide costs, unusually high rainfall, the labour shortage and a lack of brand new machines is prompting a flood of farmer enquiries.
“Normally we’d have three or four working now, but the price of Roundup’s gone through the roof, which has sparked it up earlier than usual,” Mr Pegler said.
“They’re all working at the moment in varying configurations, anywhere from Roma to Taroom to Warwick and Dirranbandi and over the border.”
Michael and Penny Pegler, Talwood.
Tackling the weed burden, clods
Mr Pegler said one of their cropping customers did the sums and saw the instant benefit to his bottom line.
“A wheat grower was looking at a double knock at $40 a hectare or a Kelly chain at $8 a hectare,” Mr Pegler said.
“He had a big stubble load from last year and wanted to get a bit of that back into the soil. He has a fair bit of moisture stored though.
“He said, ‘I don’t need to spend $80,000 on chemicals this week and it’ll rain next week and I’ll have to do the same again’.”
However, Mr Pegler warned harrows weren’t a complete weed fix.
“We don’t hire them out saying they’re going to get 100 per cent of the weeds out, because you can’t. They’ll get 90pc out.
“They do a good job on Feathertop Rhodes grass and fleabane, but when you get to a really thick clump of Feathertop, they don’t do as well.”
The unseasonably wet winter in 2021 experienced by many parts of Queensland and NSW is also prompting some farmers to level out their paddocks.
“The cattle farmers are looking at running over their oats country and just doing a light working on the ground and levelling those clods,” Mr Pegler said.
Labour, new gear hard to find
Mr Pegler said due to the labour shortage, farmers who normally ran 40-foot harrows were now looking at 60-foot harrows to boost efficiency.
“If you’ve got one 60-foot machine, you’re basically getting as much done as two 40s,” Mr Pegler said.
“You can run one 60-foot for 24 hours and you only need three men, whereas the other one, you need four, and they’re a bit hard to find.
“That’s all everyone’s doing. If there’s a gain to be made by doing something, it happens. It’s all a game of percentages. It doesn’t matter what you do. It’s just squeezing that extra drop out of the towel into the bucket.”
Mr Pegler said getting a brand new harrow or chain could prove difficult, driving many to hire instead.
“I think it’s an eight or nine month wait for a chain if you want to buy a new one – with steel and COVID delays.”
The business runs nine 12m Kelly diamond harrows and five 18m harrows and a range of chains depending on the application.
“We run just about anything, whether it’s a double heavy disc or heavy disc on the front and a prickle chain on the back, or a heavy spike on the back,” Mr Pegler said.
“Coming into planting time at the start of May we’ll change a fair few of them over to prickles. That’s just for covering over deep sown chickpeas and to stop people getting a bit of chemical damage. It makes it a bit better and easier on harvesting.”