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Why harvest pods?

Medic pods can be harvested for the following purposes:-

    * For broadcasting over a cereal crop to establish a medic pasture in the following year.

        Traditionally medic pastures have been established using seed.

This has been an expensive option in the WANA region. While medic seed imported from Australia it is not expensive the major costs is the high rate of failure.

Farmers do not have the implements or the experience to produce good seed beds for the small medic seeds.

They do not have the seeders capable of sowing low seeding rates at shallow depths. High seeding rates have been used to try to over come these problems. High seeding rates are expensive.

Medic pastures in Australia last for many decades before they are re-sown.

In WANA the lack of implements for shallow cultivation means that medic pastures are re-sown more frequently after they fail to regenerate from the cereal stubble. High initial costs and more frequent reseeding increases pasture costs considerably.

    Medic pods can be broadcast over a cereal crop. There is no need to prepare a seed bed specially for the medic.

    * For broadcasting on the parcour (rough grazing land) or other land for an immediate pasture.

    These areas are difficult to cultivate and broadcasting seed is not a successful means of establishment. Broadcasting pods can be used instead.  

    * For threshing to produce seed.

    Pods can be threshed to produce seed for sale.

    *  For sheep feed.

    In Australia large suction harvesters are an efficient means of harvesting pods. Pods are an excellent feed reserve for sheep. 

The development of pod holding medic cultivars which can be harvested with a conventional cereal harvester at low cost makes the use of pods as a reserve food for sheep a practical reality.

   At present the use of pod harvesters in WANA has not developed to this stage as productivity is too low but in future medic pods along with hay and straw could be used as fodder reserves on small farms.

Pods may be fed to sheep to encourage their spread onto the parcour.

When pods are eaten by sheep some pass through and are not digested. These will germinate in future years to form a pasture. The rate of germination is low. Most studies have shown that less than 5% of the medic seed eaten is viable. Direct broadcasting of pods should be attempted if possible.

How to harvest pods?

Hand harvesting

    Farmers in the village of Tah in Syria have collected medic pods by hand using brooms.

In Tunisia there has also been hand collection with farmers employing children to collect medic pods from drifts where they have been blown by the wind.

Generally hand harvesting is time consuming and difficult.

ICARDA Pod Harvester

    This is a simple machine that sweeps the pods into a box. It can be pushed by hand, pulled by a donkey or tractor. It is well suited to use on small farms.

Large pod harvesters

    In Australia large suction attachments have been fitted to cereal harvester to harvest pods. These pod harvesters are quite different from the seed harvesters that suck the pods from the ground, thresh and clean the seed. Pod harvesters are able to harvest and clean (without threshing the pods) large quantities quickly and cheaply.

Alternative ideas include using various sweeping  machines to harvest the pods on a larger scale.

Preparing the ground for the ICARDA pod harvester.

    Pod source areas

    Farmers will need to harvest their first pods from a source area.

Source areas can be established on research centres, other government farms and on medic pastures provided by local farmers.

These source areas will usually be kept as permanent medic pasture and harvested each year for pods.

Obviously enough pods must remain for regeneration.

    The source area will usually be sown using seed. Extra attention should be taken to level the ground after seeding. The efficiency of the pod harvester is greatly improved if the ground is level.

The ground is levelled with tined implements such as a scarifier. These will level out most of the waves left by deep ploughing.

After cultivation with the scarifier the land should be worked with harrows to obtain a finer tilth and more levelling at the micro level.

Finally after seeding it is a good idea to roll the land to smooth out the small ridges left by the light harrow.

    Farmers' fields

    After the farmer has harvested his initial pods from the source area he will use them to establish medic pasture on his own land.

He will then want to harvest more pods. He can leave a special area aside for medic pods (a mini source area) but in most cases it will be more convenient to harvest the pods from the ordinary medic pastures on the farm.

These will not be as level as the source areas described above but it will be worth while using a light harrow behind the cereal seeder to obtain some degree of levelling.

Grazing the medic during winter

    It is most import to graze the medic pasture during winter to control weeds.

In fact it may be necessary to temporarily over-graze the pasture, that is to reduce the height below the optimum 8 cm,  in order to reduce unpalatable weeds.

Grazing in spring

    In spring when the medic begins to flower the pasture should be allowed to grow away without being grazed. This is ensure maximum pod production.

Removing the straw

    When the medic pasture is dry and the pods have dropped on the ground the medic straw can be raked away.

Time of harvesting

    The medic pods are harvested in summer when the medic plants are mature and dry.

The pods have dropped on the ground.  There is a long period during summer when harvesting can take place.

    * The early harvested pods will have a high hard seed content. They can be stored in sacks in the shade. They are ideal for use in the Zaghouan 4 rotation. The pods are sown over a cereal crop. The high level of hard seed means that very few will germinate during the first autumn.

Over the following summer much of the hard seed will break down due to the sun's heat and a medic pasture will germinate in the autumn.

    * Late harvested pods will have a lower level of hard seed. They are ideal for broadcasting on the parcour or other land where the objective is an immediate medic pasture.

It may be necessary to leave them in a sunny place to break down the hard seed further.

     * For pods that are to be threshed, early or late harvesting is equally good as the threshing process breaks the hard seed coat.

     * For sheep feed early or late are equally good.  

Using the ICARDA pod harvester

    This is described in the Manual for the ICARDA pod sweeper and further photos.

Yield of pods

    Yields of up to 2000 kg / ha of pods have been achieved. The yield is dependent (besides the usual climatic factors) on the freedom from weeds and the recovery of this yield is dependent on the land preparation.

If recovery is low the harvester can be used more than once but obviously a single passage over the ground in more economical.

    The ICARDA pod harvester is operated by two people. On average they will harvest about 80 kg  per day.

Alternatively the harvester can be pulled by a donkey.

Another means of pulling it is with a tractor but as the power required is small a tractor could pull a team or two or three harvesters.

    Cleaning of the pods usually takes place in the field. If the pods are cleaned in the traditional way by using the wind one needs to add another two people to the team. There are however simple winnowing machines that can increase the productivity of the cleaning process.

Storage of the pods.

    When the medic pods have been harvested they are cleaned in the field to remove straw.

They are then placed in sacks and stored until they are needed in autumn or early winter. These pods will have a high level of hard seed. This means that few seeds will germinate when they are broadcast over the cereal crop.

If pods are to be broadcast on the parcour this low level of germination is a problem.

It is better to harvest the pods later in the summer when some of the hard seeds have broken down. The pods can also be stored in a hot place such as the roof of the farmer's house.

They can be broadcast in early autumn before the first rains.

Sale of pods

    Pods can be sold to other farmers.

They are not a convenient product to sell as they are bulky. It is unlikely that farmers will sell pods in a market. They may sell some to neighbours.

The other difficulty is that it is not easy to determine the seed content of pods or the medic varieties. If farmers are neighbours this does not matter. The neighbour sees the good medic pasture in spring and buys some of the pods that are harvested.

Other farmers who have not seen the pasture will quite rightly be more wary.

The ICARDA pod harvester has not yet been tested for harvesting pods for sheep feed.

At the rate of 80 kg per day it may be too small and costly for this purpose. It would be simple to produce a larger tractor powered model. These pods could easily be sold.

Threshing the pods

    Threshing medic pods to produce seed in not easy.

Medic pods are light yet tough.

The standard threshers used for grain are not very effective. They are designed for grains that are heavier and have brittle chaff or pods.

Rather than trying to smash the pods with a high speed thresher it is better to use a rubbing action at slow speed.

The resilient cone thresher is ideal for threshing small quantities of medic pods.

Selling seed is more convenient than selling pods if any substantial distance in involved.

Purchasing and ownership of the ICARDA pod harvester.

    The ICARDA pod harvester is available from:-

Faraj Allah EDELBI
Al Arkoub,
Jebel Al Ghazalat,
Aleppo, Syria.
Tel (963 21) 642695

The cost is $US 320 or € 250.

Group ownership.

    The ICARDA pod harvester is an ideal machine for group ownership.

It is simple. It can be used with very little training.

The time of harvest for medic pods is over summer and the precise time is not critical.

A group of ten to twenty farmers could purchase a pod harvester with a loan and then charge for its use on a day by day basis.


    While group ownership is the long term ideal it is unlikely in the short term.

Farmers are unlikely to commit themselves to the purchase of a machine that they have not seen or used. Nor do they yet understand its significance in new rotations. 

The machines should be introduced on a staged basis. In the first instance it should be provided free as part of a demonstration and training program.

After the first year farmers should be able to hire the machines on source areas but then as the farmers wish to harvest their own fields they should be encouraged to hire or purchase the machines on a group basis.

Trying to hire the machines to farmers on a day by day basis off the source areas will be too administratively complex and expensive. If the group does not wish to purchase the machine they should be able to hire it for an annual fee.

The future

There is no doubt that as the use of medic pods expands there will be a need for medium sized machines.

These can be two or three times more productive than the current ICARDA machine and certainly not in the same league as the Australian super harvesters.