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

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