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