Harvest, mulch, pit and plant

October 31, 2010

Steve Glutz and Horst Hellberg have established a new company, Enviro Mulch, which aims to offer mulching and biomass harvesting solutions to meet rising demand.

Mulch, plant and pit

The AHWI RT200 mulcher is ideal for mulching in
the inter-row to reduce fuel loads after thinnings
have been done.
Horst Hellberg (left) and Steve
Glutz have launched a business offering mulching
and soon biomass harvesting services.

Two Vryheid farmers with a strong belief in sustainable farming practices have teamed up to offer a range of mulching solutions, in anticipation of a growing demand among forestry companies for mulching slash as an alternative to burning. They also believe that a growing demand for biomass is inevitable as the world embraces 'clean' energy, and they aim to be at the forefront with appropriate mulching and biomass harvesting and accumulation solutions.

Horst Hellberg is a third generation farmer who runs a diverse operation on the farm Grootgeluk outside Vryheid in the Kambula district that includes just over 1000 ha of timber, a beef herd and a large 700-cow dairy operation.

Horst's partner in this venture is Steve Glutz, who set up AHWI SA several years ago to bring the AHWI range of mulchers to South Africa. Steve also farms in the Vryheid area, and has been successfully supplying mulchers to farmers, foresters and landcare businesses around southern Africa.

Horst is one of a number of foresters who acquired a mulcher from Steve a few years ago, and he is convinced that the benefits of mulching slash instead of burning more than justifies the cost. In fact, Horst has implemented a 'no burning' policy on his farm for the past two years, and has also stopped ripping the soil before planting. After harvesting, he mulches and then pits the soil using a mechanical pitting head mounted on an agricultural tractor.

He says that the mulched slash keeps the nutrient cycle 'in the ground', it retains the moisture in the soil, eliminates the fire risk, reduces soil compaction, decreases chemical usage for weed suppression and best of all, facilitates fast re-planting so that he can maximise the productive capacity of his land.

When a mulcher is brought into your harvesting and silvicultural plan, harvesting methods need to be adapted. This means that brushwood lines need to be spread evenly over a compartment and then mulched.

His target is to re-plant within two weeks of harvesting his timber plantations. This means that by the time spring comes around, his young trees are in the ground ready to take best advantage of the optimal growing conditions.

Horst is currently utilising the AHWI RT200 crawler, a super-narrow carrier for various AHWI attachments, for his mulching operations. It is just 1,8 metres wide and has been customised to fit between the tree rows. The mulching head, a FM500, is 2,2 m wide. It's designed for inter-row cleaning, and can do coppice reduction in eucalyptus.

Horst is using it for mulching the slash after thinning operations in wattle. At four-five years he removes every twentieth row; at six-seven years he removes every tenth row; at eight-nine years he removes every fifth row.

"We reduce the stocking rate as the trees grow. It serves to open up access to the compartments in case of fire, reduces the stocking rate for the drought years and the bark and timber really swells during that last year of growth before we harvest, and we still take off over 110 tons/ha of timber, when clear felling," said Horst.

According to Steve, there is an AHWI machine for every job, big or small. But the key is to adapt the harvesting methods to suit the mulching operation that follows it, and the machine that you have available. High windrows of eucalyptus slash is difficult to mulch with the RT200, so it's better to spread the slash more evenly over the ground to achieve the best results.

Steve says that AHWI has designed an efficient de-stumping head, and he will soon be bringing in to South Africa a mulcher with a head that picks up the residue simultaneously. Eight of these machines are going to Namibia where they will be used to accumulate biomass as feedstock for a heat/energy plant supplying power to a cement manufacturing operation.

Steve says that there are 20 AHWI machines, owned by private farmers, contractors, and one by NCT, currently working in South Africa.

Currently there are three RT200s in South Africa, including Horst's machine and one being used by Sappi. For the last four years, Mondi has been using the UZM700 trailed mulcher at Iswepe/Piet Retief. They are at present also using Steve's RT200 to do a frost damage fell to waste operation as well as trials on inter-row coppice reduction. They are clearing compartments affected by black frost, with trees one and two years old and up to four metres in height. Apparently, the cost of mulching is cheaper than manual felling in these compartments.

"I have found that the private commercial growers are receptive to new ideas, and they have been keen to try mulching as an alternative to the traditional method of simply burning the slash," said Steve. "There are many applications for mulching on a farm or forestry operation, and there is an AHWI machine designed for every job."

Published in October 2010

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