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