Friday, January 7, 2011

A crash course in Radionics

Both Catherine and Charlie suggested I tried to visit Kym Green – a cherry and apple grower in the hills near Adelaide. It’s mid cherry harvest at the moment so I was very grateful when Kym agreed to meet me. Kym uses a mixture of compost, conventional chemicals and biodynamic preparations in conjunction with radionics to produce beautiful cherries that are the best I’ve ever tasted. Radionics is the practice of using a machine to ask the plant what nutrients it is short of and what product or mix of products would satisfy that need best.

Kym sits on many of the industries boards and regularly speaks at conferences in America. He has won many awards for his innovations – including using bird nets over the cherries. All the cherries are picked and graded by hand – they use very cold water to help bring the temperature of the cherries down (from around 40 C) to preserve the colour, flavour and texture of the fruit.

Kym uses grasses as green manures ‘in crop’ and green manure mixtures between re planting. This has all helped Kym raise his soil organic matter from 1.5 to 6%. The orchards are perched on steep hills, all the grass is mowed between rows – a job I wouldn’t queue up for on those slopes! Kyms methods are producing very healthy trees and juicy fruit.

A quick spree in the R M Williams shop in Adelaide today confirms the daily liveweight gain theory!

Simple Compost

Today I met David and Catherine Harvey – both Nuffield scholars with three charming daughters who live on a peninsula near Adelaide. They have a biodynamic organic dairy herd which Catherine – a fully qualified vet practices Homeopathy on with Mastitis results equivalent to conventional systems. They grow lucerne and some cereals and are constantly fighting rising salinity. David and Catherine have returned to ploughing when the lucerne paddocks become compacted which helps bury insect eggs and aerates the soil, it has also revolutionised their weed control. The Harveys make ‘easy compost’ from their dairy manure buy simply heaping it and turning it according to temperature with their front end loader, a water hose runs across the top to moisten the mix when necessary. By far the simplest most low cost compost system I have seen and the product looked really good with no bad smell – so a good option I think.

David and Catherine soil is high Mag – low calcium and high Sodium (19%) with organic matters now raised to 3.5%. David and Catherine’s biodynamic farming involves mixing biological fertiliser products and biodynamic preparations and spraying these on the crops.

David and Catherine shared their library with me - such an impressive collection of both old and new agricultural literature – my new reading list is born! They were also kind enough to share some of their home made goodies with me – the whole family are extremely talented cooks with such luxuries as homemade ice cream, sorbet, bread and veggies all from their own farm I’ll be chasing Mr Peck for the best Nuffield Daily Liveweight Gain!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Short drive off the edge of a cliff

Leaving Brads full of enthusiasm and heading to Charlie Hiltons I encountered my first grass hopper storm - driving along thinking about what I had seen at Brads and what I was going to ask Charlie, bug hits the windscreen - thud, and then another and another until the windscreen is just a smeary bug juicy mess, the road is covered and I was concerned for the cars radiator!

My farmer sponsorship group - BOGS suggested I visit Charlie whilst I was over here - a popular member of their worshipful company of farmers management course. I arrived at a house which resembled an oppulent vineyard, was handed a beer (and an afterthought token glass of water) and we sat down to chat - 3 hours a plate of nibbles and several beers later we had established where each of us was on our quest to balance our nutrition - Charlie is about 10 years in front so I had a lot to gain!

Then we set off in the 'toy' a V8 Landcruiser modified with a canopy for rabbit shooting and goes like it off a shovel - as demonstrated. While Charlie was pointing out a farm feature I spied a pit in front of us, about 60 metres long, 40 metres wide and 8 meters deep - it dawned on me Charlie did not appear to be stearing us around this cavern but straight at it 'this blokes bloody mad' breifly passed through my mind, rapidly overtaken by 'he must have done this before' followed by 'oh Sh******t'.

Anyway, Charlie applies liquid starter ferts through his drilland then applys further nutrition as the plant requires it following sap tests through the season. Charlie mixes up his own recipes from Chinese imported 'raw ingredients' in tanks with stirers and either applies it through the drill, boom sprayer or a mister attached to a cotton picker. Charlie is growing Lucerne for seed, some cereals, canola and cattle. Charlie is farming a sandy soil over limestone which is a 'non wetting soil' you pour on water and it doesn't sink in, it just sits there - looks a bit like liquid metal - the water then evapourates off - some gets into the soil through small cracks but most simply disappears.

The one draw back of the system seems to be that adding calcium to naturally acidic systems encourages snails - looked more like a plague to me - they completly cover fence posts, standing stubble, trees, it's a bit freaky.

Salt water tomatoes

Unfortunately I had to say good bye to the Goodens today - so Isaac got his room back! Onwards today to Brad Stillards about 200kms west of Daves and I popped in to meet Evan Ryan on the way - a Nuffield last year who studied trace elements so we put the fertiliser world to rights in a meeting held on his combine - this is becoming a regular occurence.

Brad farms Cattle, Lucerne, Cereals and Tomatoes with drip irrigation and saline water on a 1 in 4 rotation. Ths soil type is predominantly sand and the rotation seems to be keeping any salinity 'problems' at bay - Brad has tested to prove there is no difference in the irrigated soils and fence lines and normal paddocks. Brad is trying to balance his tomato nutrition and is making good headway.

There is no shortage of wildlife on Brads farm - you would be looking at the perfect kangaroo picture if my camera battery hadn't packed up right at the wrong moment! So sorry guys.
I had the idea that irrigating with saline water would be creating vast salt pan desert like conditions but Brad has proved to me that with careful management it can be sustainable and grow healthy and profitable crops.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

45 feet of farming pleasure

I finally got my ride on the header with Dave - all 45ft of it! Great! I then had to do some work, so off to visit Neil and Fiona Muller for a tour and dinner. These guys make compost for their own use out of baled straw, hay, imported cow and chicken manure, lucerne silage, clay, lime and or gypsum, it did appear to be an awful lot of inputs for a low input system when coupled with the products their agronomist is trecommending for stubble digestion etc.. but Neil and Fiona are happy with it and are using very few traditional fertilisers. Cereal production has dipped a bit for now but they hope this will recover in part. Neil and Fiona are also making compost tea extractions to apply to their crops and have trialled twin N (unsuccessfully) and a whole host of other mollasses, fish, lime and kelp ased products very successfully.

Neil and Fiona have a great family of five, four of which are prospective farmers! The oldest two have their own small businesses baking and poultry breeding running concurently with school. Fiona is a great home gardener and cook -producing everything from her larder for the family from salami to salads and it tasted great. The model for the business is to be easier to run and sequester carbon (hopefully for carbon trading) and hopefully eventually become more profitable.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Surefills, Drills and no staff

After a 900km drive south from Gunnedah I arrived at Dave Goodens, an Aussie Scholar I hosted in the UK. I met Daves wife Heidi and son Isaac for the first time and was made to feal very welcome striaght away - Heidi is an excellent cook and I was treated to home made ice cream - yum! Dave works with his brothers on a super efficient 9000 acre farm, controlled traffic and 45m system. Both seeder and header widths are a collosal 45ft. Daves soil is the soil you think of when you think Aus - red containing about 2% Organic Matter. Dave grows Wheat, Barley and Canola in rotation and direct drills. Heidi is an agronomist for local firm Delta - an impressive business model for an agronomy firm, the company carries out a lot of trials work with some of their profits. Delta currently holds 40% of the Lockhart market share - an achievement made very quickly. Heidi carries out the agronomy on the farm.

Dave has no employees - family rallies at busy times and the wives take it in turn to supply lunches and dinners to the harvest team depending on whose farm they are working on.

Daves seeder pulls the seed box behind. The seed box has four compartments. One for small seeds and three big ones to make caryying and applying seed, MAP and Urea all possible at the same time in close proximity to each other. The seed is augured into each compartment so no bags.

I visited Heidi store in town - with similarities to my own companies store. Here however I could also purchase pH and water hardness testing kits and a large proportion of the chemical comes in surefil type drums so no leaks, spills or handling just plug the hose from the sprayer in, suck out required amount and return the empty container - not rocket science but brilliant!
My last picture is of the local Bunker - grain is chaser bin'd into waiting lorries or mother bins at the side of the paddock, the lorries then transport the grain either to on farm storage, local bin stores or bunkers - cheap alternatives for the grain companies to silos and necessary where harvest can be very variable. These are in fields, lorries arrive, reverse up to the auger and unload and the auger is moved to create an even heap (that's the plan) the bunker is covered with tarps. The downside is when storage begins to get full in a good year like this bunkers become more probable destinations for the lorries and ques develop which last night were requiring a four hour queing time! Think that may be what's called a bottle neck! With careful management farmers can keep the combines rolling to accomodate this but it adds some logistics to the sequence!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Weed Seeking

I spent New Years Eve with friends in Gunnedah who are farmers and Ag Pilots. On the way I popped in to visit Dave Brownhill, an Aus Nuffield I met in Washington (the culprit of the 'Princess' nickname). Dave is farming with his family on black soils, growing sorghum, corn, canola, wheat, chickpeas and now cotton. Dave has good on farm crop storage and centre pivot irrigators.

Dave begun importing weed seekers to Australia - the company has florished and is a full time concern in its own right. Hopefully developments will continue and 'greens recognition' will open the opportunities up for us to use it. The guys here use it largely in stubbles with roundup where weeds may be few and far between, individual nozzles automatically turn on when a weed is detected in front.

Dave also told me about a union scheme where at 10 years 'long service' an employee is entitled to 10 weeks off - paid on top of ordinary holiday entitlement. These guys had some great employment and work ethics and some seemingly happy employees considering the conditions of this harvest - something must be right!