They Used to Pay Me to Do That

This post has no pictures of the other day but just a few from the NT and plenty of memories.
Last Tuesday was one of the best days that I’ve had since leaving “Humbert River Station” in the Northern Territory to go to university.

While I work on a cotton farm there are cattle that run wide and live in the flood country, the farm doesn’t really do anything with except for about once a year when they try and muster them to cut out anything that might make a decent return. Recently the dry weather has brought them out of the flood country and into cotton where they graze in between the plants for the weed Nut Grass, they knock off a lot of the squares and bolls in the process.

We were just about to head home when the manager called us up and said to get the quad or the Yamaha Viking ATV, instead of taking one of the work vehicles I opted to use my Postie bike. I’ve been riding the Postie to work lately to cut down on my fuel bill as I’m able to reduce a $70 a week bill for the ute to $16 for the Postie, despite it having road tires and being servilely underpowered I thought it would be the better choice as it would be more manoeuvrable as well as easier to weave in and out of the scrub in the flood country.

And then I was back there my mind was in the NT, flying through the scrub chasing and turning the scrub bulls, micky’s and feral cows back to where they needed to be, the only differences were the distance was a lot shorter and there was no helicopter hovering above my head. Even the Postie’s lack of power didn’t kill the mood, in fact the only time it struggled was when the cattle ran up the wall and into a dry dam.

After we had pushed them back into the floodway, I said to the manager “You know they used to pay me to do that” he then said “I thought you enjoyed that”. With any luck we may end up mustering them between rounds of irrigation so they’ll no longer cause a problem in our cotton.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Good Week

We’ve had a lot of wildlife encounters lately with me running a Koala and Common Tree Snake this week, a goanna the last week along with flocks of whistling kites and hundreds of pelicans.

Last Sunday while travelling back from a friends 21st in Port Macquarie I came across a Koala sitting in the middle of the road I quickly turned around pulled over along with another passer by. I looked at the Koala for a moment then approached it head on to gauge its reaction, it appeared to be a female and unhurt which was great, but it didn’t move as I approached. I then circled around behind it hoping this make it feel vulnerable and it’d remove itself from the road. Unfortunately it didn’t move so I walked up to it a picked it up taking care to keep as much of me away from it as possible, while Koala’s look cute and fluffy they are wild animals with a serious set of claws and good set of teeth that can put you in a lot of pain quickly. Luckily for me my care in picking it up paid off and I put her safely in a tree with only a slight scratch on my arm and nick in one of fingers.

Little Nutsy on the edge of the road

Little Nutsy on the edge of the road

My week of wide life continued today when I came across a Common Tree Snake (also know as a Green Tree Snake, not to be confused with the Green Tree Python) while rolling the driveway. He slithered across the road in front of me and gave me a excuse to get off the roller have a look and take a quick photo. The Common Tree Snake is a long but thin wiry snake that feed on frogs (plenty in the nearby drain), the non-venomous but may produce a terrible odour if they are picked up or spooked. So I just took photos.

Common Tree Snake

Common Tree Snake

Other animals we’ve come across recently include a Gonna that resting in a tree and the birds, hundreds and thousands of birds. As the farm’s dams and channels have become drier birds have been flocking to them for a easy meal. The other week we saw what we believe to be between 500 and 1000 pelicans in the farms main dam, I took the photo below but its quality is poor and only shows about 1/3 of the pelicans on the dam. On top of that I saw more Whistling Kits sitting in one locating than I have ever seen before, resting by the side of channel and feeding on the fish in the quickly drying waters.

1/3 of the Pelicans that were on the dam

1/3 of the Pelicans that were on the dam

In other news we had 14mm of rain at the shed yesterday with similar amounts falling in other places around the farm, while it is not a large amount it was enough to delay irrigation for a couple of days and allow the driveway to be graded and rolled finally knocking out all the corrugations making it smooth and my shocks a well needed break.

Otherwise not a lot has been happening as we’ve just been irrigating while doing other tidy up jobs between irrigations, so until next time I’ll leave you with some of the recent wild life pictures I’ve taken.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Happy New Year

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Unbelievably we’ve had both of these events off this year as we’re running out of water and had to stretch out irrigations. The farms dams were filled in the 2012 floods and helped put in a full crop in the 2012-13 season, unfortunately there hasn’t been significant rain since then and the dams are running. While the farm has six bores they only pump 25 mega litres a day in total which is enough to run a 100 bays at a time which is far from practical as 100 bays is a standard change in a field. While there is just enough water to see out this years crop the 2014-15 season will be very small unless there is a lot of rain between now and then.

The 40 + degree haven’t been helping the water shortage as the plants start to use more water as the days get hotter, the backpackers are also feeling the heat. Having come from Holland where it can get down to -10 this time of year the Aussie sun isn’t being kind to them, at about midday its like the hand break is pulled on and they slow down.

On the lighter side I’ve been working night shift during which keeps me out of the heat but makes the siphons harder to start as the cool air makes them stiff and they don’t bend over the bank, but they don’t burn your hands either. Night shift can get a bit tedious between changes so when I spotted a fox in a supply channel while driving around checking levels I thought I’d try and catch it. I end’d up catching it and got a photo before it bit my hand and got away.

Until next time kick of your next year with a bang.

IMG_1472

The Fox that Got Away

Birds Birds Birds

We’ve just completed our first irrigation since planting, where there’s water there’s fish and where there’s fish there’s birds. Once again birds have descended on the fields and channels for a easy meal, as each channel is drained large carp are left behind in the receding water while smaller fish can get sucked through the siphons and into the rows.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As some dams don’t go and haven’t been dry in years the fish have a large and relatively contestant supply of water allowing their numbers to be able to build up in large numbers. When we start to irrigate the water and the fish are released out of the dam and into the channels, if the channels are drained through the field like some of our are the fish become trapped in the head ditch and become a easy meal. Only certain fields tend to end up with fish in them, they don’t require a lift pump to get the water to the head ditch as they are largely unsuccessful in making through the pump unharmed.

Fish Trapped in The Head Ditch

Fish Trapped in The Head Ditch

Its not just water birds that are attracted to cotton farms, their is a whole range of bird life that make the farm’s fields, bush land, flood plains and nature corridors. In fact there is even a bird guide for cotton growers that has been put out by a group of industry bodies. A PDF copy is available below.

Birds_on_cotton_farms (2)

I’ll leave you with a quick video that I took off my phone while driving along the head ditch, all I can make out in the video is the pelicans. If you work out any more of them Comment Below.

 

Earth Moving

Since harvest finished we have been levelling out and restoring the slight slope to all the fields that had chickpeas in them, all the fields lose their level and slope over time from irrigation and other farm processes like ploughing. These particular fields were also flooded in the 2012 floods causing a large amount of silt to dumped in various spots over the field destroying the slope.

To restore the slope and level of the field the first step is to go over each field with the grader board to knock out the stubble, level the hills and flatten out all the little bumps and ditches. The grader board goes over each field twice at different angles going across the rows to get the best possible level on it.

The Grader Board in Action

The Grader Board in Action

After the grader board goes though the surveyor enters the field and takes survey heights every 50 metres in the field, these spot heights are then laid out on a map and the slope is worked out. For each height on the map the desired height and the difference is written out on the map to determine whether that height is lower (fill section) than the desired height or if the height is higher (cut section).

IMG_0083

Map of Field 9 with All The Spot Heights Marked

The data is then loaded into the laser, the laser is put in the middle of the field and sends a signal to the bucket that tells it to lift or lower the bucket depending on the height it needs to make that area of the field. When the bucket is full they dump it over a fill section to get it to the level that it needs to be at. After the field has been levelled by the laser bucket the grader board goes back over it to give it the final trim and join up sections that may have been levelled to different heights.

While this process sounds pretty quick and simple it took 8 days for the two laser buckets to do the one field in the picture above, for a video of the laser bucket action see below.

How The 7760 Works

The other week I wrote about the John Deere 7760 and how it has changed cotton picking in Australia, while I mentioned some of its features and its advantages I didn’t mention how it worked. While the 7760 is large machine with many moving parts how it works is pretty simple at a basic level, lets start by looking at some of the main parts.

I believe that their are four main parts that are essential to the piking process; they are the heads, suction (chutes and fan), the basket and the round baler. All of these parts need to work together in order to take the cotton off the plant and build it into a durable round bale (sometimes called eggs) that can be transported to the gin for processing into bales.

Cotton Picker Labeled

The Main Parts Of The 7760

The process for making a round bale starts in the heads where the spindles rip the cotton from the plants as they pass though the heads, the spindles are like of long metal fingers that stick out horizontally and sit on top of one another. While the picker is working they spin at high speeds inside the heads removing the cotton from the plant and delivering it to the back of the heads where they are sucked up by the chutes. The chutes use airflow created by a large fan to suck the cotton from the back of heads and into the basket, while the cotton goes through the chutes it will pass the “Cotton Mass Flow Sensor” that detects the amount of cotton flowing through the picker and will use it help make a yield map of the crop.

Once through the chutes the cotton will accumulate in the basket until it is full, then once the basket is full a alarm will sound in the cab and the operator will use their foot to press a button on the floor of the cab, this starts the belts that feed the cotton from the basket and into the round baler where it starts to form a egg. After repeating this process a few of times a full egg is formed and ready to wrapped. The wrapping process starts with a specially designed non-stick section of the wrapping plastic being fed through rollers to make the initial wrap, this prevents the cotton becoming stuck to the plastic. After the non stick plastic section has made the first wrap a second wrap is made with a sticky section to hold it all together before a third wrap is made with another non stick section to cover the outside. The picker can hold four roles of wrap in storage while using one working wrap, they are easy to load and can be done with only the push of the button.

A couple of other interesting features about the 7760 is that unlike most other farm machinery it’s auto-steer doesn’t run off GPS, instead sensors in the heads detect to the rows of the cotton plant and follow them instead. How ever it still will use GPS to detect where it is in the field and will create a yield map of the field with the data collect from the “Cotton Mass Flow Sensor”.

The Display With Field Map

The Display With Field Map

I hope this helps to explain how the John Deere 7760 actually works to pick the cotton and create a egg, as always if you have any questions or want to leave a comment feel free to do so below. Also be sure to check out some of the new photos on Farming Photo’s including one which recently won a prize at the Moree Show, and make sure you also check out  this weeks Cotton Career.

Back At It

Yes that’s right I’ve got two weeks break from uni so I’m back in Moree and back at work. Which means that today’s post is coming to you live from the tractor. Unfortunately because its live from the tractor there’s bound to be a few typos due the bumpy ride as I type it on my iPhone, so I’ll apologise in advance.

20130415-122028.jpg

It’s all go go go here at the moment we’ve got the cotton picker charging ahead in the field with the three tractors following up behind preparing the soil for the next crop.

20130415-124045.jpg

When the cotton is picked the cotton picker leaves the plant mostly in tack so the first machine to go through the field after the picker is the slasher-root cutter. This machine slashes the cotton plant above ground and cuts the roots below ground to stop it coming back in the following season. After the cotton has be slashed the ground needs to be prepared for the next crop.

20130415-125104.jpg

As this is a irrigation property we don’t use zero till in the irrigation blocks, instead we need to put hills in so the plants have a good seed bed and there are furrows for the water to flow down. To do this we run a plough through once and figs the furrows while building up the hills. However these hills still aren’t a great seed bed and need one final machine to finish it off.

20130415-130239.jpg

When the hills are formed the tops are narrow, uneven and filled with clods of earth. To fix this and make it suitable for planting a roller needs to be run over them which flattens out the tops and helps to break up the clods of firth leaving it ready for next season’s crop.

20130415-131123.jpg

Again I’d like to apologise for any typos as it is difficult to type while in the tractor. As always if you have any questions or want to leave a comment feel free to do so below and make sure you check out the latest Cotton Career this weeks is Ag Pilot.

John Deere 7760, A Picking Reveloution

This was originally going to be a post about the process of cotton picking but as I started to write I thought it should be about the John Deere 7760, the machine that has changed the way cotton is picked in Australia.

The John Deere 7760 Round Baler is a textbook example of how a technology can be taken up and embraced by an industry, since its release for the 2008/09 cotton season  it has taken hold in the industry with nearly 100% of operators now using it over traditional methods. This uptake has not even been seen in the USA where many smaller operators (under 4000 acres) still use the traditional picking crew, the success of this machine has been so great in Australia that it has been said that the John Deere Dealership in Moree has sold 16 of these machines in the past year, not because they could only find 16 buyers but because head office capped them at that amount (I can’t confirm this as I haven’t spoken to the dealership, its just the word around town).

The main reason for their success is that they have been able to cut a eight person crew down to two or three as there is no longer the need for a boll buggy, module maker or the many tractors needed to run these machines. Before the release of the Round Baler cotton picking was a very labour intensive process, the picker would pick the cotton before dropping it into the boll buggy being pulled by a tractor similar to a header unloading grain into the chaser bin. The boll buggy would then empty the cotton into the module maker which would then compact the cotton into a module the size of a truck trailer, once the module has been built the module maker gets towed on and a large tarp is fitted across the top to protect it from the rain. The Round Baler reduces the labour required and simplifies the process by making the module on board while still picking the cotton, when the module has been completed it is wrapped in plastic by the machine to protect it from the rain and dirt and dropped out the back. If the picker is still working the row the module can be carried along on the back of the picker while it continues to make another module on board, if the picker completes the second module while still in the field the module on the back can be dropped in the field to be picked up by a loader or tractor and the new module gets the piggy back ride.

John Deere was not the first company to release a module making picker as the Case IH Module Express 625 was released a year before in 2007 but it never took off in Australia, I have only ever seen one on display at Ag-quip in 2008 and as far as I am aware only one has ever been bought in Australia. It had couple of problems that left it uncompetitive with the John Deere 7760, one was that it was never able to get a heavy enough weight in the module meaning you needed to make more modules for the same amount of weight, another issue was that it still needed to have tarps put over it unlike the round baler were it is wrapped in the making process. But the biggest problem with the Module Express was that it didn’t offer non-stop picking like the Round Baler does, it has to stop to empty the module at the end of the row when it was full and then start picking again.

The John Deere 7760 Round Baler has changed the Australian Cotton Industry to the point where in five short seasons it has totally replaced the old methods of picking, thanks to the increase in efficiency, reduced labour requirements and the enhanced protection of the module.  If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them below, check out the last post to see some video’s of the of the John Deere 7760 in action as well as the a chain bed truck being loaded with cotton modules.

P1030994

If you look carefully you can see a completed module riding along behind the picker

Defoliation

By now most most cotton producers have finished defoliating their crops, so what is defoliation in cotton and how is it done.

Defoliation is the process where leaves are removed from the cotton plant in order to allow for effective picking, as well as lowering the risk of boll rot, it also promotes even plant development and allows for earlier picking. This achieved through the aerial application of a chemical onto crop, the chemical works upsetting the hormone balance in the leaves of the plant causing the abscission process to begin. The abscission process involves creating an imbalance in hormones and enzymes that cause the cell walls to dissolve causing the leaf to fall off, however if too much chemical is applied to the crop the leaf may die before it falls off leaving it stuck to the plant. To minimize this problem defoliants are often applied in two lots with the first application is to remove the upper canopy and the second application to remove the lower canopy.  There are other factors that can affect the how well defoliation works.

Defoliated cotton on the right next to non-defoliated cotton on the left

For defoliation to work effectively a least seventy percent of the cotton bolls should be cracked, there should be no new leaf growth, most of the nitrogen in the plant and soil has been used up and the application needs to be applied on a warm sunny day. If these these conditions are not met it the poor level of defoliation can cause stuck leaves leading to staining of the cotton and high level of trash.

The plane that that is most often used in Australia to apply the defoliants to the crop is the Air Tractor, while this remarkable plane is mainly used in agriculture different versions of them are also used for fighting fires, aerial surveillance and even aerial attack. They use GPS technology to accurately and evenly apply chemicals to the crop, this helps to avoid the overlapping of sprays and excessive chemical usage.

Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below, hopefully if the weather holds out I will be able to write about cotton picking next week and will have some new pictures and video’s to put up as well but until then please enjoy this video I found on YouTube today, it doesn’t involve the spraying of cotton but is still an excellent video. Also if you’ve never visited them please feel free to check out my other sites Farming Photo’s and Cotton Careers’s.

Over And Out

Its been other great season working at Norwood in Moree, we finished the last irrigation on Monday which fitted in well with me finishing up on Friday  So between Monday and Friday it was a mixture of chipping, shed work while flying in the afternoon to build up hours for my licence.

We were chipping because it was a CSIRO plant trial for new varieties of cotton and was surrounded by conventional cotton so neither of them could be sprayed with round up. This means large weeds have been able to grow in the cotton which could damage the cotton picker and  the cotton samples.

The slasher and root cutter was in the shed to have all the blades replaced and the root cutting disks measures and adjusted so they would have the correct overlap allowing them to cut efficiently for the upcoming picking season. This was a slow process made even slower by getting the fork lift bogged, with the heavy rear end and the small tires it made it really easy for the fork lift to fall through the soil causing it to bottom out. A quick tow with the tractor and it was back to work.

Because of all of the rain in the past few weeks we hadn’t been able to do any slashing and the airstrip was becoming over grown along with other some spots. The old tractor had no radio, the only air con was a open door and it struggled to hold the three point linkage at hight but it got the job done and the airstrip cleared.

Now I’m about to start my next challenge; starting university hopefully it’ll go alright but I’ll still be going back to Moree from time to time so I can write about what they’re are doing. In the mean time I’ll be writing about farming issues or other aspects of farming, feel free to leave a comment or check out my other websites Farming Photo’s and Cotton Careers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.