Friday, 29 November 2013

Nuffield Day 4 - Mixed Farming But One Thing in Common

Day 4 already and I have to admit that it's been a bit of a blur since we arrived.  I can't believe what we have seen since arriving on Tuesday and it's Friday already.  What a day Friday turned out to be.  Tom and I had the pleasure of being driven around the Taranaki District by John Baker (Above Left) who together with Bill Richie invented, developed and modified the Cross Slot No-Tillage System.  The district, on the West Coast of New Zealand (north Island), reminded me of Cornwall; with good rainfall (1200mm) and very little frost.  However there are biting winds coming across the Tasmin  sea (from Australia) which an dry the land very quickly and can potentially blast young crops to death with volcanic shard's.  The area is dominated by the still active Mt Taranaki which is an almost perfect 'cone like' volcano and which is anticipated to be the next big eruption in the country.
We started off the day looking at some crops of wheat and spring barley which I have to admit looked very handy. The spring barley direct drilled with the Cross Slot straight into maize stubble, looked stunning.  Fertiliser down the spout, at planting, seems to be key for the quick establishment of spring crops.  The farm has previously grown 10t/Ha plus of spring barley in just over 90 days which would allow further cover or animal feed crops to be grown later in the season. 
The wheat crops had some great ears and following just over 30mm of rain looked to be set up nicely for grain fill and the run into harvest.  lang population looked to be lower than I was used to and the crop looked a little uneven but still looked like it would yield well.
We moved on after lunch to meet Richard and then William Brewer who are farmers and contractors. They have a farm each with Richard farming milking cows (with a share farmer-Chris), and sheep.  William farms beef and sheep a short distance away.  Between them they own a 3m 19 opener Cross Slot drill and contract around 300 Ha of drilling per year, in addition to their own.  For at least the last 5 years Richard and William have been planting forage maize with random spacing down the row at 6" spacings and increasing the yield over precision planters; which need full cultivation to operate in.  The forage maize had established very well and I'm sure will grow on to achieve their target yield.
Richard also plants a lot of turnips in the grassland rejuvenation system in the area.  The ones below were a great crop, well rooted and fending off the spring tails and slugs.  Interesting that slugs are problem here as well.  We spoke about control methods which included, rolling at night, when they are out feeding and heavy sheep stocking rates.  Stocking sheep at 100/Ha will significantly reduce populations by trampling them, seems like a sustainable, environmentally friendly way to me!  Some of Richard's turnips are yielding 17-19t/Ha of dry matter in 90 days which is amazing.  These are summer crops worth experimenting with in more detail back at home.  Quite a lot of nitrogen fertiliser is used at planting time, placed adjacent to the seed which is available instantly the plant requires it.  Something we don't really do enough of in the UK, as we don't have the right equipment.
Richards lambs; Dorset and Romney crosses also looked very well indeed. All finished from grass and sold through a niche' marketing group Coastal Spring Lamb run by 5 families.  The marketing slogan, 'Naturally Seasoned by the Sea' is great and simply tells the customer everything they need to know.  A really tremendous marketing effort adding value to their lamb.  The lamb is marketed through a super market chain as well as direct sales and high end restaurants.  The families sell about 1000 lambs/week and they are all born and raised on the family farms, in view of the sea.
We pushed on through the afternoon visiting Williams farm to look at some lovely cattle and more direct drill maize on some steep slopes.  So steep that the drill could only be pulled down hill.  There was no soil erosion due to  the fact that the soil surface had not been disturbed and the rye grass mat was still in place holding the surface together protecting it from rain and wind.  We headed out to look at some chicory planted with the cross slot drill in comparison to fields planted with a Moore disc drill and another field with an Aitchinson.  The Cross Slot established the best in the dry conditions but recent rains had allowed the Aitchinson planted chicory to catch up.  The Moore drill struggled to close the seed slot up and the field needed harrowing to cover the seed. As a result of the harrowing the populations of fat hen, chickweed and other annual weeds are very high and will either need spraying; or result in lower yield through competition for nutrients and water.
So this is what it's all about the Cross Slot opener.  A very clever idea with many great benefits for soil health, soil biology, soil structure, soil carbon, soil organic matter, water quality, water use efficiency, herbicide use, time management, establishment cost and flexibility.  The crops we have seen look exceptional and I am very pleased with the fields we have done at home with this system.  Not sure I can get away with checking 30 of these in my luggage though! 

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