Sunday 22 December 2013

Australia & New Zealand roundup

No-till findings in a Dry and Hot Australia.

Sitting here in Adelaide airport waiting for my wife and 4 children to arrive from UK for 3 week holiday!

The last month has been very busy with 44 separate visits across New Zealand and then Australia. Both countries are amazing but for me the one big difference between the two is water! New Zealand has fairly good soils a great climate and plenty of rain. They also have an impressive irrigation infrastructure which is able to deliver water to both arable crops and grass based systems which boosts productivity and then profit. 

Grassland management in New Zealand is impressive. 

I was there for 2 weeks to look at the no-till established crops and see the benefits it was bringing. Many of the farms I visited were seeing a huge improvement in soil life, yields and profits from no-till with and without irrigation. There was also a far more consistent establishment of spring fodder crops seeded with no-till into a drying seed bed.

I visited a very impressive farmer, David Ward at Ashburton on the Canterbury Plains whose crops were as good as I have ever seen. The spring oilseed rape (canola) behind us in this picture was no-till planted with a stanhay precision drill, the soil now being in such a soft friable state that tillage is unnecessary! This was being irrigated and David was also able to fatten 20000 (twenty thousand) lambs and 1000 weaner deer as well as a cash crop from every acre of his 950ac farm!

I also visited Mike Porter the same day at St Andrews near Timaru and he was also no-till seeding but without irrigation and on much steeper slopes. His machinery was much older but he had seen big benefits to his business and work/life balance since embracing a no-till system 11 years ago. 

The picture below was taken as we arrived at his farm!
In Australia I have spent a week in the Clare Valley north of Adelaide where wheat yields can be as high as 6t/ha. 4-5 is more common in a good year though. I have seen some really progressive farmers using disc seeders, stripper headers and also experimenting with cover cropping.

Growing season rainfall is the biggest issue and many farmers also suffered with a frost atflowering/grain fill which ruined their wheat crops.

The farms in this area that I visited were mainly between 3500-7000 acres with very few (if any) staff. 

I visited a very progressive farmer, Tom Robinson, who at 26 was farming with his parents and no staff covering 4500 acres of cropping! They had one combine, one seed drill, one sprayer and had just bought a Case Quadtrack to drill, pull a chaser bin and put on fertiliser with a mounted spreader!!!
This picture was them seeding sorghum for a summer cash crop with their soon to be replaced Case wheeled tractor
After a week in the area I moved across South Australia to the Mallee where the scale increases and the yields decrease!!

Around Loxton I witnessed farmers cropping in the region of 20 000 acres plus with some "paddocks" being over 1000 acres but yields only 1-2t/ha of wheat. The soil resembled red sand and machinery was huge and fast. Michael Lange was just replacing a 55 foot drill with a 70 foot seed hawk tine machine!

So after 4 weeks on the road and 44 separate visits there's much to be learnt. I think the findings in New Zealand are more relevant to the UK farming system with Australia's vast areas, generally lighter poorer soils and low rainfall being great to see but less relevant.

It's now time for a holiday with my wife, 4 children and a family friend arriving for a 3 week break!

We return mid January for the LAMMA show and some very useful meetings plus hopefully some progress on our new drill which is being built in the uk for next autumn, fitted with NZ built cross-slot openers.

I'm then off to Paraguay and Brasil in February to complete my Nuffield travels before writing up my report in the spring!

Hope this is enough & you can work with it?

Kind Regards & Merry Christmas


Sunday 8 December 2013

New Zealand week 2

This will be a bit shorter than last weeks effort,

The past week in New Zealand has been amazing. The weather has been warm and windy with temps up to 30 degrees c. Today(Sunday) that broke with very heavy rain from 2pm that continues to fall!

We crossed from Wellington to Picton last Sunday on the ferry which is an amazing journey. The crossing was smooth and the scenery stunning with much of the time spent cruising in amongst Marlborough Sounds.

The highlight for this week has been to visit farmers who are operating cross slot drills on their own farms with little or no contracting to "justify" their drill.

David Ward who farms 950acres just North of Ashburton has a lovely farm with a central spine road with all the fields off this shingle track. His crops (all irrigated) looked amazing, clean, thick and he was also finishing 20,000 (yes twenty thousand) prime lambs and taking a cash crop as well as a grazed crop each year.

His machinery was very well maintained and fairly efficient! Only 2 tractors a combine and and self propelled sprayer were evidence of major implements plus hid cross slot drill. His soils have improved so much after 18 yrs no-till that he drilled his spring osr this year with a stanhay precision drill direct!

His soil OM had risen from 2.8% 20 years ago to over 4% now and the soil was superbly structured, full of worms and had definitely improved from the notill and irrigation.

His quote to me "Water is Carbon" meaning that more irrigation allowed him to grow more crop, harvest sunlight and build soil carbon was telling and the benefits could clearly be seen.

We then drove South through Timaru to St Andrews where we visited Mike Porter.

After David Wards flat farm with perfectly symmetrical fields and modern equipment Mike Porters property could not be more different. We learned that his neighbour had a centre pivot irrigator working on the steepest land in the southern hemisphere, and Mikes land was much the same!

His farm was also around 900 acres which was harvested by 2 claas dominator combines, a 106 and 96!

The land was steep with rolling hills and resembled land similar to that of the South Downs near Lewes in Sussex. The soil was heavier than the mornings visit and there was no irrigation on the farm, which had been in notill for 11 years.

An interesting view from Mike was "you know you've made it in farming when you get past we can't afford to buy it to we can't afford NOT to buy it"

I think this was possibly referring to his need to replace 2 old combines with a newer self levelling machine!

When asked what some of the long term benefits of notill were to Mikes life he replied
"I got my life back!"

This week has also seen us visit agronomist Roger Lasham, an English agronomist now working for Tyrley Farms in Canterbury. They grow a variety of cereals, seed crops, potatoes and onions and have a Sands sprayer that clocks an average of 50hrs/week for every week of the year! (1of2)

We have visited PGG Wrightsons seed breeding facility and also spent time with contractor and product specialist Mark Scott who operates 2 cross slot drills behind Fendt tractors. He is so busy that he has called on another contractor to help him out and has been driving the "night shift" himself to try and cover the acreage, with 1000ha still waiting to be drilled!

This weekend we have visited the centre of Christchurch to witness the devastation caused by the earthquake in February 2011. Many blocks are just open areas with vast areas of office space and shops fenced off waiting to be demolished. The innovation is evident with a trendy shopping area now made up of shipping containers that have been converted in to shops and caf├ęs.

Tomorrow (Monday) sees me off to Australia leaving Jake Freestone behind in New Zealand. I'm then into Adelaide and have a full-on week visiting 2 farms per day for the week.

Trust you're all well, will report back next week!

Monday 2 December 2013

Week one in New Zealand

Well what a whirlwind this Nuffield Scholarship is becoming! I must say i do feel rather guilty! Firstly for not blogging regularly when my travel buddy, Jake Freestone, is seemingly compiling one daily! And secondly for writing this having had a lovely warm sunny day driving down from Nelson at the top of the South Island to Methven on Canterbury Plains. It was t-shirt and shorts weather with shades as standard issue!

Anyway, it has been far too long since I last blogged and for that, for those of you still reading, I am sorry!

I'm planning to try and do a weekly roundup of the things I've seen and people met and hopefully I'll work out how to insert a photo or two!
I'm also tweeting regularly for those of you on Twitter. I'm @tandssewell

For those who don't know I'll just give a bit of background to the last few months at home!

My wife Sarah gave birth to our forth child, Charlie, in April and so my travelling only really got going in July with 10 days in North and South Dakota.

During harvest and planting this autumn we have become more and more convinced that tillage/cultivation is not for us and so advertised our Horsch CO4 drill, Sumo Trio cultivator and Claydon Straw Harrow. In October having visited both Jake Freestone in Gloucestershire at Overbury Farms and Paul & James Alexander in Oxfordshire we made the bold decision to order a Cross-slot drill.

This will be built in conjunction with Paul and James at Primewest Ltd and will be assembled on our

farm this coming spring. Width will be 4.8m with 21 openers (rows)

The reason this is all relevant is that Cross-slot is based in New Zealand at Feilding in the heart of the North Island and so is key to my visit this time!

So after leaving home on Sunday 24 th November and arriving in Auckland on Tuesday 26th in the afternoon, we headed South to the town of Te Awamutu and found a Motel.

My travel partner for the 2 weeks in New Zealand was Jake Freestone, friend and 2013 Nuffield Scholar whose study topic is 20 by 20, fact or fiction. (@No1FarmerJake)

Next day we travelled South into the Waikato region, which is mainly dairy country, to visit Greg Muller. Greg is a contractor specialising in no-till seeding and owns a 4.5m cross slot drill, a 6m JD 750a and a large green tractor!

Greg's lasting quote to me was "if I've got a 5 ha paddock to work in I'm happy" ! This land is very steep and undulating with lots of small fields and broken contours.
Greg has just completed a 30 ha job at Taupo, 3 hrs drive in a tractor, and assured me it was worth his while!

The next day we drove South and visited Baker No-Tillage, home of Cross Slot at Feilding (East of Palmerston North.

We met with Dr John Baker who owns most of the company and has spent his life researching no-till and then designing no-tillage machines. There was a 6m machine being assembled destined for Ireland to be pulled by a Case Quadtrack! (I think this took Jakes fancy!)

It was clear to me that the small staff weren't there to do a job but all passionately believed in the benefits of the product they were part of producing. The build quality is quite simply amazing and
everything is assembled by hand with one man taking care of all the openers!

There are currently just over 100 machines operating worldwide with 50 in New Zealand.

The next 2 days were spent visiting farmer/contractors who were using cross slot machine to seed all of their crops.
Douglas Giles has 2 machines and his contract drilling acreage is now over 7000 acres! He, like me, cannot understand why anyone would want to cultivate for combinable crops and his fields looked as good if not better than any cultivated fields I've seen. His wheat yields are regularly well over 10t/ha
and his spring barley and oilseed rape crops looked fantastic.

We also journeyed out to Taranaki on the far west coast to visit Richard and Will Brewer. Richard has a sheep and dairy business and grows forge crops and summer brassicas for grazing. His 
maize sown into a sprayed off ryegrass stubble looked very impressive! Imagine that in the UK!
He was operating a 3m cross slot drill behind a MX 240 Case and was covering less than 1000 acres/yr!

That evening was spent with some of the cross slot staff at a local Irish bar and then dinner out. These guys are incredibly knowledgable, good fun and very helpful.

The next day was, for me, was the most exciting visit of the week so far! We drove South from Feilding to Masterton and visited Nathan and Jim Williams. Jim (Nathan's Father) told of how the farm had been continuously no-tilled for 14 years with yields improving and all land double cropped with a winter ryegrass grazed by up to 7000 bought in lambs. The largely spring sown crops of peas, barley and some winter wheat looked really very impressive. The worm numbers were high on soil that was very sticky in places.
Jim commented to me that before no-till they had ploughed and power harrowed up to 4 times to get
a seed bed. "When I threw a clod at the cast centre of a John Deere wheel and it bounced straight off I thought there must be a better way than this!"

Nathan was clearly a very switched on farmer who had minimal machinery, some challenging soil but was making a brilliant job of combining winter sheep feed and combinable crops!

I was also able to sympathise as he and his wife Kate have 4 children, the youngest one was 7 wks old,

We then travelled to visit Nathan's brother Mike and his wife Karen who farm about half an hour further South.

Again very impressive farmers whose attention to detail and crop condition was outstanding. I came away thinking that maybe for the EU to lose subsidies wouldn't be such a bad thing! It would force us to be more efficient and innovate and we would question each and every spend. The land price here is consistently more than the UK, they have no subsidies and farmers are very efficient, hard working and really think outside the box.

Now sitting at Methven, the next week will be more suited to me as I'll be visiting arable farmers using no-till on their owns farms.

Hope you're still awake and are following my thought pattern! I'll post again as I go, follow the tweets too! Cheers from New Zealand

Friday 22 March 2013

Nuffield CSC and travels.

Well, the last few weeks have been busy to say the least. On the 21st Feb I visited Harper Adams University in Shropshire to see the work of Prof Simon Blackmore and hear him talk about Precision farming. I was part of a group of 5 2013 Nuffield Scholars and it was nice to visit the place where I spent 2 years of my life 13 years ago!

The following week (mon 25th feb) I was off up the M1 again and this time to Stoneleigh and the offices of my sponsor, HGCA. I had a fantastic time meeting all the dedicated and enthusiastic staff on a tour of the premises with Jonathan Tipples, a near neighbour of mine! I then met with a number of the senior management and presented my study plan for the coming year. We had a very productive time and the support I was given and the contacts available to me were amazing!

I drove home back to Kent with ideas spinning around my head, thinking of all the possibilities my Nuffield Scholarship was unearthing!

I was home for two days before returning to Stoneleigh,this time for the first meeting of BASE-UK. This is a group of farmers and some agronomists and stands for Biodiversity, Agriculture, Soil & Environment. It was a fantastic day and an opportunity to put lots of names to faces, and faces to names! There were some excellent presentations with speakers from the UK, France and Ireland.

On the 6 th of March I was off again and this time I had suitcase in hand! My Nuffield introduction was about to start with 2 days in London at the Pre-CSC (contemporary scholars conference). The group of 22 UK 2013 Nuffield Scholars were joined by 2 from last year (Amy Jackson and Caroline Millar) and the Arden award winners Caroline Drummond and David Northcroft.
We had an excellent 2 days in London meeting with DEFRA and NFU officials as well as a visit to The House of Lords.

This was followed by our CSC in Canada. We spent 5 days in Guelph, Ontario, hearing from many officials, farmers and economists. We had the enjoyment of watching a senior A ice hockey match and tried our hands at Curling.

The final 3 days was spent at Niagra Falls. This allowed the group to travel, see the sights and build contacts with other Nuffield Scholars from around the world!

The final evening we dined at the top of the Skylon Tower, overlooking Niagra Falls! Our speaker that evening was Canadain Nuffield Scholar, Steve Larocque. He is a first generation farmer who practises No-Till farming, is also an agronomist and produces a weekly agronomy newsletter that is sent around the world. For me he was the highlight of the week and I had the pleasure of giving the vote of thanks.

So now it's back to reality! Wet, damp and cold soils are not ideal for spring drilling but we've cleaned 17 ton of spring bean seed in preparation for some planting in the next few weeks.

My wife is now approaching 39 wks pregnant with our 4th child so she is now my No 1 priority!

The next few weeks will be spent planning my Nuffield Travels and I'm hoping to get to Canada, Northern USA, Argentina, Brasil, France, Australia and New Zealand.

The next 12 months will not be boring!  Until next time.


Tuesday 26 February 2013

First post

Well here's my first ever blog! And as the title suggests it will largely be covering the next year of my life and my Nuffield Scholarship Studies.

Last year I was awarded a 2013 Nuffield Scholarship studying "long term benefits of direct drilling/no-till" sponsored by HGCA.

I was presented with my award by Peter Kendall at the Nuffield conference last November where I met the rest of the 2013 scholars and heard the 2011 scholars give their reports.

Since then I have been planning my travels and researching the best people and places to visit.

Last week I was fortunate to visit Harper Adams University and Prof Simon Blackmore who spent the day helping a small group of us look at Precision Farming and the benefits it can bring. This was particularly useful as it got me to think "out of the box" and see what is possible as we move forward with technology in agriculture. It was also nice to return to Harper where I spent 2 years of my life 13 years ago! A lot has changed with some amazing new buildings, AstroTurf and two new buildings in construction. If you're an ex Harper student and haven't been back for a while, it's well worth a visit!

This week the early starts continued with a trip on Monday to Stoneleigh and the offices of HGCA. I was shown around by Jonathan Tipples and met some excellent people who took a real interest in my upcoming travels and thoughts surrounding no-till.
I then joined a meeting with Rebecca Geraghty, Susannah Bolton, Anna Farrell, James Holmes, Vicky Foster and Jonathan Tipples. They all listened to my thoughts and initial plans and helped with some thoughts and suggestions including contacts and helping to organise some visits to Rothamstead and the James Hutton Institute later in the year. Having been a bit nervous of embarking on my Nuffield, the enthusiasm and support that the staff at HGCA showed  me left me feeling like I had an army supporting me as I embark on my travels. For those of you that view HGCA as a "recommended list" or sending out a few publications now and again really need to see what goes on at Stoneleigh. I was amazed at the depth of research, quality staff and enthusiasm in our industry that these lovely people showed.

Today was back to reality, out of shirt and tie and back to shirt and overalls, loading and delivering haylage and a bit of tree "pruning"!

So what next?

Well on Thursday this week I'm off (again!) back to Stoneleigh (yes twice in one week!) for the first BASE UK meeting and AGM. For those that haven't heard of BASE it stands for Biodiversity, Agriculture, Soil and Environment. It's a group that has been established in the UK by Jim Bullock and Steve Townsend and is modelled on the hugely successful group in France of the same name set up by Farmer Frederick Thomas. This group will be very interesting and I am really looking forward to meeting some of the farmers from the farming forums and on twitter in the flesh and finding out more about cover crops, no-till, rotations and all aspects of conservation agriculture.

Then next week our Nuffield travels kick off with 2 days in London with a visit to the House of Lords before flying out, with the rest of the 2013 scholars for 10 days in Guelph, Canada. This is known as the CSC (Contemporary Scholars Conference) where we will all meet up with scholars from around the world for fun, lectures, visits and is a great opportunity to meet with people from many different countries. Should be able to be able to get a  few good contacts for my travels!

On return my wife Sarah is expected to give birth to our 4th child in early April, so this is a year I will not forget in a hurry.

I'm hoping this blog will be linked to our website and also the HGCA site where there is already a blog running for me!  I'm also embracing social media and prefer twitter ( even though I got hacked today! ) if you want to follow me or the Nuffield group I'm @tandssewell. The Nuffield 2013 group is #nuffield13

Until next time!