PREPARING ground and sowing his first crop on his own this season on the family farm east of Kojonup, Western Australia, was for Michael Graham, 23, very much a return to 'old school' farming methods.
Without a full suite of modern farm machinery in the shed and on a limited budget that did not run to chemicals, Mr Graham made do with what he had at hand to get his canola, wheat, barley, oats and pasture seed for a hay crop, into the ground.
What he had was a Chamberlain 30-disc one-way plough, originally bought by his father at a reduction sale in Borden about five years ago, a Chamberlain scarifier, a seven-metre John Shearer Fieldspan cultivator, a Marshall Multispread and two tractors - all well used, second-hand but in good condition.
The one-way plough had been used on the property by both Michael and his father Des who run the rest of the farm together.
Other pieces like the Shearer Fieldspan had been purchased at reduction sales or privately over a period of up to seven years by Mr Graham, with the thought in the back of mind that some day they might be used to sow his own first crop.
The tractors, a 2002 130 horsepower front-wheel-assist John Deere - one of the last of the American 7610 models - and a 1990 four-wheel-drive Versatile 846 tractor with 230hp Cummins motor and manual gearbox, where both purchased within the past two months specifically for the jobs they had to do to get a crop in this season.
The Chamberlain plough and scarifier are later models, according to Mr Graham, who knows agricultural and earthmoving equipment - he already runs his own small business, Auswide Machinery Solutions, buying and selling machinery for farmers.
Built by Chamberlain Industries Pty Ltd in Welshpool, they proudly still display faded 'Made in Australia' stickers on the frames.
They also have small John Deere stickers, which hint at when they were manufactured.
The Chamberlain brothers produced tractors and agricultural equipment bearing their own name from 1949 until 1986, when local manufacturing ceased and the business closed.
But in 1970 John Deere bought a controlling interest in Chamberlain Industries, which dates Mr Graham's plough and scarifier as being somewhere between 36 and 52 years old.
He bought the scarifier "as a young boke", about six years ago from a farmer who was getting out of farming and it has been used to rehabilitate a former blue gum farm.
"It's done a lot of work, but it was basically still like new when I bought it," the young farmer said when Farm Weekly visited last week while he was scarifying the final 30 hectares for his cropping program before sowing the last of his wheat and some pasture seed for hay.
"The previous owner was fanatical about maintaining his equipment, it's been a great investment," Mr Graham said.
John Shearer has manufactured agricultural equipment in South Australia since 1877 and made Fieldspan cultivators from 1975, so Mr Graham's unit could be of similar vintage to his plough and scarifier.
It came off a Cunderdin farm and had been reconditioned and the frame repainted when he purchased it.
The Multispread is his newest piece of equipment.
Still with its original paint, it was built in 2011 and, according to Mr Graham, had only been used by the previous owner to spread urea.
The tractors are his pride and joy.
"I'm a die-hard Johnny fan, I love my John Deere," he said
"She's in very tidy condition for her age, she's only done 4500 hours.
"I'm the second owner - it was a local tractor, the previous owner bought it new."
The old blue Versatile is also a favourite.
"Growing up (on the farm) I used to work for a neighbour at weekends and he had a Versatile with the 855 Cummins and to this day I love those tractors," Mr Graham said.
"If something breaks you can go to a truck store and buy a part for it, you don't have to pay stupid money for parts.
"I'd buy another one tomorrow if I could find one.
"This one was also a local tractor, it's only got 6500 hours on it but it's not enough horsepower for a lot of farmers, it's only the small Cummins motor.
"It's 230hp, but it's a true 230hp, it's awesome.
"The Johnny won't pull the scari, but the Versatile will pull it all day and only use about the same amount of fuel as the Johnny does when it's working, but it's twice the tractor.
"It's an old girl, but the airconditioning works, the cab is enclosed and the wheels go around - what more do you need?
"All the gear is pretty old for a budget start up, but it hasn't let me down.
"Old Chamberlains - I shouldn't say this because it'll come back to bite me - there's not much that really breaks on them.
"If you need a bearing you can still get one, the tyres are a standard size.
"If you couldn't find something for it, it would be pretty easy to have it made up because they were designed to be simple to fix.
"When I was a kid these things (one-way plough) were given away, you couldn't get $200 for them.
"But now at clearing sales they are bringing upwards of $5000.
"Other than people like me starting out on a budget, I don't know who is still using them, but somebody must be."
Being a fourth-generation Graham on the property which was cleared by his great grandfather and grandfather, Mr Graham has started with a very modest cropping program.
"I've done 100ha with the plough and I'm currently doing another 30ha with the old scari - so 130ha all up - which is a baby program, but it's a big program for me starting out," he said.
"Most of the program is wheat - I've put probably 40ha in and I'll probably end up putting another 8ha of wheat in.
"The rest of it is mainly barley and oats - just as a bit of a trial to see what I can grow here, mainly because it's my first year on my own.
"I've also put a bit of canola in, but that's a bit of a trial too because it's never been grown traditionally without chemicals on this property before and they reckon it's a more highly sprayed crop for bugs, so it's basically to see what happens to a canola crop without sprays."
Not having operated a boomsprayer during work on the family farm and for other farms, not having access to one and not being prepared to run over budget to buy herbicides, means Mr Graham is relying purely on tillage to control weeds.
Much of his cropping area has had two passes, a week apart, with the plough to turn the soil over, followed by passes with the scarifier to work the soil back, level the paddocks and pick up any weeds the plough may have missed.
"I haven't used any chemicals - I haven't got the equipment for it," Mr Graham said.
"I'd rather stay away from chemicals for now.
"I fully get why people spray - it's quick, it's relatively easy, you get a guaranteed weed kill every time and if you have a problem you can go spray it again.
"But I can't justify the cost of chemicals and a sprayer to put it out, with what I'm doing - I'm growing some stockfeed and hopefully some wheat I can take to CBH.
"Doing it this way (using tillage to provide a double knock to control weeds), it costs time, but it doesn't cost a lot of money.
"It's just wear and tear on the tractor, it's a set of disks on the plough and a set of points on the scari so far, but it is minimal outlay compared to buying chemical and a sprayer.
"I use a lot of diesel fuel, but you do whichever way you farm - if you spray five times you also use a lot of diesel.
"You get sticks and rocks come up when you are working the ground and it's a lot of work to clear them, but I enjoy it.
"I don't mind using the old gear, I kind of like seeing dirt turn."
The plough, which is dragged around the paddock in a continuous run rather than up and back like modern controlled-traffic, GPS-guided precision equipment, in particular took time to master, Mr Graham said.
"It's very challenging to get right and you have to get it right, otherwise you make an absolute mess of the paddock," he said.
"If you get it wrong, you either make a mound in the paddock or a ditch in the paddock.
"You've got to get the front wheel in the right spot and the right depth throw across."
One of the paddocks he has worked up had previously not been cropped for about 20 years.
"It was very, very hard with a lot of weeds - that was quite a mission, I've been working on it for a month to get it tidy," Mr Graham said.
"I'm given it a three-year program to get it flat and tidy like it should be.
"I've done a lot of rock, stick and root picking and it's come up really well."
The Shearer Fieldspan then came into its own with passes to bury the seed and as a final pick up for any weeds left behind.
"You can get a bit of speed up (with the Fieldspan), I can tow it at 14-15kph which really knocks the dirt off any weeds that are left," Mr Graham said.
"I probably could have rolled the seed in with a roller, but I don't have a roller.
"It was a bit rough and ready doing it with the spreader and Fieldspan, but the canola and wheat are out of the ground, so it's worked."
His canola was sown dry on May 1 and the wheat was seeded in the third week of May with both now above ground.
The oats and barley were seeded in the last week of May and are not up yet, but Michael is confident another week will see them breaking cover too.
"For me, once I've sown it all, I'll spread a bit of urea and I'll be done for the season, I'll shut the gate until harvest and it will be what it'll be," he said.
"I doesn't need it to be crazy intense.
"It will be interesting to see how clean it (wheat) comes out and how they (CBH) rate it.
"I'm very green to it, but by the end of the year I'll know how good it is when it's coming in the header box.
"If the wheat gets frosted we'll turn it into hay - there will be no waste."
Mr Graham praised farmers he has worked for, particularly Kent Rochester, K & N Farming at Manypeaks, for teaching him about farming.
"They're absolutely fantastic people, they'll take the time to teach you if you want to learn," he said.
Mr Graham also thanked his father for his help, patience and understanding.
"What I really appreciate about dad is he'll let me do my own thing, but if I ask him for advice, he'll give me his best advice," he said.
"Both dad and mum are very encouraging - their attitude is, you can't fail if you are having a go."
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