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! 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Day 3 from Taupo to Fielding

Day three started with a run along the shore and along trails with fellow Nuffield13 scholar and fantastic host Sophie Stanley.  Sophie put Tom and myself up overnight at her parents beach house 100 yards from Lake Taupo.  After Sophies we headed just out of Taupo to see the Haku falls, where hundreds of cubic meters of water every second leave lake Taupo and start the journey to the sea in the form of the Waikato river. 
Headed south on state highway number one along the southern side of lake Taupo and turned south on the Desert road.  the landscape changed, almost at every turn, from wooded areas, to managed or cleared forest and the climbing up on moorland.  The volcano's are still active in New Zealand and the soils are young, some still resembling the moon scape.
 We continued our journey south across moorland and hills to the army camp town of Waiouru.  Here we stopped for a bite to eat before resuming the trip on highway 54 over the hill tops to Stormy Point.
The views form here were spectacular in every direction.  Rolling hills and steep grassy sides.  There were some very steep areas that had been sprayed off, we presumed ahead of a reseed operation.  We stopped briefly to take in the views and then continued our journey onto Fielding to meet Dr John Baker.
 Tom and I arrived just after lunch at the home of the Cross Slot team team in Fielding.  We were introduced to John and Bill and then had a tour of the factory and offices.  The factory floor was well organised and you could tell from meeting the staff the pride they haven their design, product and manufacturing creativity.  It seems to me the Cross Slot drill is like a Morgan car. Hand built to your specification, the best that you can get.  John mentioned a sense of pride, providing a product for the top end of the market for top end farmers.  

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Leap of Faith, New Zealand Day 2

Well, everyone who told me I would love New Zealand was right.  The scenery has been fantastic, very few cars on the road and agriculture everywhere.  Our morning started with Greg Muller who is a contractor using a Cross Slot and a John Deere drill.  Greg specialises in direct drilling grass seeds and brassica's, with either drill, for dairy farmers.  The turnips are used as part of the grassland rejuvenation process.  The 'permanent' grass is sprayed off when the productivity (sward growth) reaches a certain point and the turnips are direct drilled into the dying turf.  The turnips, depending on the variety are grazed off over the summer period before returning the field to grassland the following autumn.  Seem like a very sensible plan to me, I wonder if we could do that at home where grass has been planted for more than 5 years and is deemed 'permanent' by DEFRA?  Answers on a post card, but to me that sounds like a very sensible break, and if drilled correctly will not have soil erosion issues.
However if done incorrectly, i.e. will full cultivations and by that I mean heavy discing, power harrowing, drilling and rolling, then the soil becomes unstable and with heavy rain, and in parts of New Zealand anything from 50-100mm in an hour, (where we were) and you know the soil is only going to wash down the slope.
We met up with Geoff Scott, one of Greg's Cross Slot customers and looked at a field of turnips planted with the Cross Slot drill directly into the sprayed off turf.  Geoff runs the family farm milking 600 cows, once a day on 750 acres.  Geoff's system is very simple and was working really well; a very impressive farmer, with a grasp of world markets and trends as well as intricate knowledge of his cost of production.  Geoff is investing in a new 'cow shed' to expand the operation and go to twice a day milking, whilst remaining committed to a simple grass based, all feed grown on the farm, system. This reduces his exposure to world market fluctuations in grain prices.  Geoff made a very good comment to me about his definition of farm sustainability 'being able to do the same thing in 150-300 years without impacting on the environment'.  
After a quick bite to eat we left Geoff and headed about 100Km to Taupo where we picked up Sophie (2013 Nuffield Scholar) and headed out to Donald and Kirsten Watsons farm on the road to Napier.  Donald is a share milker on 1,000 cows on some really thin soil over pumice rock.  Donald is keen on the cross slot drill for establishment especially in the spring for his brassica break crops.  Yields have been improved on this this soil from 7t/ha (conventionally established - plough based) to about 12t/Ha.  The yield increase is mainly due to retaining the soil moisture at drilling by minimal disturbance on the soil surface. Interestingly Donald is looking to plant oats and forage rye in the autumn for winter feed and then follow that with brassicas in the spring to rest the land from grass for a whole season.
Before we headed to Donald's farm, whilst in Taupo I did my first Bungy jump!  I thoroughly enjoyed  it and might even try and fit another one if time allows.  He's me, setting off on the 47m drop, down into the Waikato river, literally! Great fun, if slightly scary. Thanks Nuffield for that one!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

New Zealand, New Adventures, New Nuffield Adventures Day 1

It almost seems unreal to actually be in New Zealand!  The flight, although long, a total distance of almost 20,500 Km seemed to fly past, excuse the pun, which I suppose is a credit to Emirates airline.  During the run up to actually setting off I had some doubt about the authenticity of the website; who shall remain nameless, so when I checked in and I actually had a seat I was slightly more relaxed.  I set off form Birmingham airport, in the United Kindom, an hour up the road form home, another bonus on Sunday evening 23rd November.   The picture above shows the sun rising, whilst flying at around 39,000 ft over the desert sands of the middle east and it was stunning.  The skyline high-rise views as the plane landed in Dubai were also impressive although slightly cloudy.  A short lay over in Dubai and we changed planes this time boarding, for my first time, an Airbus A380-800 which was a beautiful plane.  The entertainment package was great with many options, comfortable spacious seats, the food delicious, and warm hand towels were regularly passed around by the cabin crew (very refreshing).
The airbus flight was the long one, travelling across the east Indian sea and arriving early morning for a quick stop at Melbourne in Australia.  This trip was just over 12,000Km and took almost 13.5 hours.  I was trying to follow a great tip to reduce the effects of jet lag and setting my body clock, meals and sleeping patterns to the time of my destination, so during the trip to was eating and thinking New Zealand time which was quite a challenge.  For those of you on twitter I actually did some tweeting from the plane which was highly entertaining (for me).  It's great to know that you can still be in communication even whilst flying.
I finally arrived in Auckland; lunchtime on Tuesday, and having passed successfully through a stringent security check; which as an island I totally agree with, headed out to meet my touring mate for the next two weeks Tom.  Tom flew via Singapore and arrived an hour ahead of me.  We collected the hire car and headed South on highway 1 through Hamilton, to a small town and found the Matariki Motor Lodge in Te Amamutu.  Our adventure has begun!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Wychall School Visit

On Tuesday 12th November we hosted the first of three annual visits from Wychall school.  Around 40 year 4's arrived bright and early on a glorious day to explore the farm.  Half of the group  started off in the kitchen garden looking at winter vegetables and what plants need to grow, while the other half learnt about our sheep flock and some habitat exploration.  After that we headed up to the tower field to do some history, on the Iron Age Hill Fort; and geography, looking at the counties around the hill.
We had lunch back at the Estate Office, with everyone removing their wellies.  Homemade soup was the order of the day with winter vegetables harvested from the garden, spicy pumpkin soup, which was delicious! After lunch we boarded the coach to head off to look at some cover crops, no time to see the rape and wheat, where we talked about roots, worms and soil.  It was a great day for the children who went home very tired after having so much fun.