Monday, 16 December 2013

Days 19 and 20 - Weekend in Athol

After a slightly delayed start to the day Steve and I headed out to have a look around the home farm in Athol.  We started off catching up with some fencing contractors putting deer fence in around one of the paddocks before setting off to have a look at a new pivot irrigator.  It was a remarkably simple to operate with the pump on a variable speed drive, automatically switching on and off depending on the load required.  The pivot was irrigating spring barley.  Soil moisture probes are used to assess the deficit in the soil before deciding when to irrigate and with how much water.  Theses are quite integrated systems with probes located between 100mm and 450mm and a second one between 450mm and 800mm. The barley looked a stunning crop with great yield potential.
The next part of the trip round Steve took me to see the Red Deer side of the business, which is quite diverse.  Deer are kept for a number of reasons, for breeding stags, for velvet and for venison; most of which ends up in Eastern Europe and Germany.  Here Steve has some deer velvet being stored in the freezer.  It is quite valuable but is slow to grow and difficult to harvest.  Only licensed operators are qualified to remove the velvet, after anaesthetic is administered to the deer.  I was fascinated to hear about the production systems and rounding the deer up form the hill using helicopters!
After lunch we headed down to Balfour to have a look at some arable crops, the first couple of fields being a direct comparison of direct drilling and traditionally ploughed and cultivated.  The direct drilling looked a lot thinner but better bigger ear numbers whereas the ploughed looked to have much more biomass in the bottom and smaller ears.  It will be interesting to see what the combine yield monitor says, in February!
We stopped at the main farm yard where Steve and family run another business, processing and selling grain to dairy farmers.  The barley and wheat are rolled, and if necessary minerals are added before being shipped out on one of the farms trucks.  This has turned the Southland area into a net importer of grain.  Before this plant was running wheat traded at a $50 discount to wheat in Canterbury because of the haulage.  Now all the wheat is being used locally, wheat is being pulled down from Canterbury, creating a shortfall in this area resulting in a price increase.
I headed East on Sunday morning after saying goodbye to Steve and Heather, but not before calling in to the Veg Shed to pick up some supplies for the journey, knowing how long it took me to get here!  A huge thanks to Steve and Heather for providing a base to take a breather, just what was needed!  I left Athol and retraced y steps back up towards Queenstown and Cromwell before turning south East towards Alexandra.  The scenery heading over the Knobby Range was stunning.  Large rocky outcrops with clear water lakes and sheep dotted on the escarpments.  Proper Lord of the Rings territory.
I stopped and detoured over a bridge across the river Clutha to show the crystal clear water carving it's way through the steep sided gorges. This was taken at Millers Flat and the colour of the water was almost luminous.
All along the river on the flat alluvial soils where water was available there were fruit farms, irrigating merrily in the hot afternoon sun.  This area of Central Otago is known for its top fruit of cherries, apricots, wines, peaches, pears, plums, nectarines and apples.  There were lovely little market garden stalls open along the roadside selling very local and very fresh produce.
I pushed on through Lawrence and Milton, where I stopped to take a picture of a classic tractor collection, totalling at least 12 vintage tractors, trucks and crawlers.  All were immaculately restored and maintained.  For any passing Ford fans it's definitely worth a visit.  I headed on into Mosgiel, on the outskirts of Dunedin to find a fellow Nuffield Scholar who has kindly offered to put me up for the night ahead of meetings tomorrow morning in Dunedin itself.

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