Last Round

That’s it we’re done, irrigation is over for another year, so no more walking the rows, no more starting and pulling siphons and no more raking the trash racks, its also my last week for the season before I head off to start uni. But there’ll still be plenty to do in that week between chipping and preparing rigs for ground prep and getting ready to plant winter crops as well as the many other tasks, so we won’t won’t be letting up any time soon.

The last irrigation was finished in record time but it wasn’t with out mishap though, unfortunately we had we blow out on one of the channels two days into the irrigation but it fixed quickly with the loader. We also arrived one morning to find a pump choking on its own air filter, it was blowing smoke so thick that I thought the pump site was on fire when driving up the driveway, but again it was a quick fix with just a simple change of air filter needed.

The cotton is coming along pretty good with all the lower bolls opening up on the plants, the rest should be open very soon with picking predicted to start in about seven weeks. Defoliation will probably start in late February after the top bolls have opened up, defoliation is a process where a chemical is sprayed on the cotton to make the leaves fall off so contamination is reduced during picking. But when picking time comes I’ll explain all of this in more detail.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately, thanks for reading if you have any questions or want to leave your thoughts please feel free to leave them in the comment section, check out our new page “The Lighter Side” and the new photos on “Farming Photo’s“.

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Its A Bit Wet

Well its not flooding in Moree but its still very very wet and its making it a bit tricky to get around the farm or just get any where, including up the driveway where I had water go over the bonnet of my Holden ute (water wasn’t moving only risk was electronics failure and a short walk in the rain). By around lunch time today we’d had 100 millimetres of rain and counting but it seems to have stopped now, worried that it might keep raining and cut the road I made the mistake of going out to the farm to drop in my time sheet and then decided to stick around and take a few photos.  Three hours later I was still there.

I was tagging along with manager and the other two fellas who had came into work, water was backing up into the cotton fields and had to be moved quickly to stop water logging. It is a challenge that is a lot easier said then done as the backing up water wasn’t just from the rain falling on the fields and the farm but it was also from the water that was rushing across from the neighbouring property. Even with pumps going at full pace and the gates fully open water was still managing to run over the drop boxes and blow out some channels. The majority of gates are hand operated but some need a hydraulic pump that it run off the ute’s gear box, its a great help for opening some of the real big gates on the property. The water also made it a real challenge to get around.

Just going up the driveway was a big enough challenge with the mud and the neighbours run off giving my commodore a bit of trouble (again there was no danger even though it was fast flowing water it wasn’t deep and the only risk was getting bogged and a awkward phone call), but the commodore powered through and made it to the shed. When I got the shed I got it the old 1996 Toyota Hilux, its an old thing and really battled in spots to get through when the speedo was reading a very optimistic 30 kmph, the engine revving over 4000 rpm, steam coming off the bonnet and more smoke coming out the exhaust then a steam engine. We didn’t get bogged but there where a few close calls and we got very close to the edge of some channels at various times.

We eventually got all the gates set up and water was starting to drain, so as soon as we were back at the shed I jumped soaking wet into my ute and heading straight out the gate. With over 100 millimetres of rain we’ll be able to skip an irrigation so I’ll have a bit of spare time on my hands, I got a fair bit of video footage so I’ll probably try and put them together into some sort of video.

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A Bit Of Variety

Wednesday night was the last night of this irrigation cycle with day shift wrapping up the final field Thursday afternoon, so it was an early start on Friday to go chipping. Volunteer cotton from last season was coming up in one of the refugee crops and needed to be removed, the only way to remove it is to chip it out so we had to walk up and down the rows and chip out the volunteer cotton and weeds with a hoe. Its not the best job to do but it needs to be done.

Luckily for me I got asked to change the points (the bits that go through the dirt) on a plough halfway through the morning, I always find it amazing that dirt can wear down metal as quickly as they do so its all ways some thing that need to be watched. While the plough was in the shed we gave it a full check over finding a couple of loose tines and a sheared pin, soon it was all fixed and ready to go back to the field.

The last couple of days have brought rain to the area, its not really what you want to have just after irrigation as it can water log the cotton but it can’t be controlled so you just have to look on the brighter side as it’ll help save a bit of water by putting of the next irrigation for a few extra days. More rain is still predicted for tonight and the next few days and should make it very wet and slippery but again it will help to save water and we may even get a bit of run off.

To see all the sights of the farming world check out Farming Photo’s or The Farm Gallery

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Flying Along

With a couple of days gap the between irrigation cycles  we were able to have to weekend off, so I decided to try my hand at a bit of water skiing. It was good fun (when you eventually get up on the skis) but it can leave you feeling stiff and sore the next day, plus I think I’m the only person who’s been able to run over themselves on a knee board. But it was back to work Sunday night.

I started back at work Sunday night and we’ve been flying along since then, with four fields on the goon Sunday and then six on the go last night, more than enough to keep us busy all night trying to keep the water up to the paddocks while running around doing the changes. Fortunately even with all the fields going we didn’t blow any channels but we did start to fall behind in the changes and had to leave a couple for day shift to do. Hopefully we’ll be able to get through all paddocks and be done this cycle by Australia Day.

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GM Lets Get The Facts Right

Recently Mark Lynas, a leading environmentalist and leader in the campaign against Genetically Modified crops announced he had changed his position, he stated that he was wrong, mislead and was misguiding the public through the anti GM campaign. What made him change his mind? Science, he stated that science, peer reviewed papers and looking at the facts are what has changed his mind. So what is GM? What are the myths? What are the facts? And where does its negative image stem from?

In my opinion GM’s negative image stems from a lack of understanding, lack of reasoning and a bit of fear mongering. I remember GM being discussed at school as an ethical issue, the discussions always started with the notion of yes it can help feed the world and it can reduce chemical use but…. what if this or what if that, so the discussion always ended with GM was just us playing God, it was unsafe and we were probably going to create some mutate animal by mistake. The discussions had no fact behind them, just the reasoning of a child’s mind into which were sowed the seeds of doubt, about the safety, the ethics and the potential benefits  When really it couldn’t of being further from the truth, GM is the way forward, it has reduced insecticide use and has helped to produce better crops. So in detail lets look at what GM is.

A genetically modified organism is a organism that has had its genetic material modified, so what does modified mean and how long has this been going on. The modification of genetic material can be anything  from natural breeding and evolution to scientists splicing genes between plants, so its been going on forever. But how long have humans being involved in the process? Humans have been involved for for as long as we have been domesticating animals, we’ve been selecting and breeding the best varieties of crops for our use, so effectively all crops whether they are GM, conventional or organic have been genetically modified by humans. Now some people argue that when scientist start splicing genes it becomes unnatural, unsafe and we are playing God, but what we are actually doing is speeding up the process  and reducing variability. How this works is a few hundred years ago humans realised that if they kept seeds near radium the radium would cause mutations in the seeds and therefore the plant (although they didn’t know it at the time they were altering the plants DNA) creating a wide variety of plants, some where better others weren’t and in many there was no change. So this process was a real hit and miss affair, it was also very time consuming with many generations of plants often needed for the desired effect and it was also unsafe for the researchers. So that’s what GM is and where it started from, so lets look at some of the myths.

I’ll start by using cotton as an example, cotton has been a shinning example of what GM has to offer but a quick Google search will show you that there is still a lot of misconceptions about it. Number one being that nobody wants it and that growers are forced to have it, THIS IS WRONG conventional cotton seed is still readily available to growers but the reason why nearly 100% of the Australian cotton crop is GM is because of the benefits it offers to the growers, in fact GM cotton was even pirated and smuggled into India where it was banned because a farmers were that keen to use it. Myth number two is that it has caused an increase in pesticide use, THIS IS WRONG the use of Bollgard (Bt) GM  cotton has actually seen a reduction in pesticide use of over 80% in the last decade. Myth number three is that GM cotton has lead to an increase in weeds and weed resistance, although it is possible IT IS STILL WRONG. Let me explain, any weed or pest  can quite easily build up resistance to a control method if only one method of control is used, farmers have know this for many years before GM was about and have always used a variety of controls including physical, chemical and biological. Since the introduction of Roundup Ready cotton we are no different we still use other control methods along with herbicides (Roundup) to control weeds and avoid resistance. Roundup Ready cotton also has the added benefit of protecting farmers against spray drift (always read the label and never spray when conditions aren’t right) as you’ll see in the photo below with the Roundup Ready cotton on the left and conventional on the right. Myth number four is that GM is dangerous, THIS IS WRONG even after three billion GM meals have been eaten world wide there are still no links between it and any sort of disease or illness and on a side note while researching for this post I can across a article on a anti-GM website that stated that the use of GM cotton has caused mysterious rashes on growers and people who wear GM cotton (nearly everyone) THIS IS WRONG there is no evidence to suggest this has even occurred let alone a link to GM cotton and as I sit here typing I’m wearing underpants, shorts and shirt all made from GM cotton, combined with working all day around the GM cotton the only redness I have is sunburn (so remember slip, slop, slap  and stay safe in the sun).

Other myths surrounding GM crops include that terminator seeds prevent farmers from keeping seeds for next the season, while this is true naturally bred hybrid crops eliminated that option years before GM. Another myth is that mixing the genes of two totally different species such as a fish and a tomato is totally unnatural, but while the concept may raise a few eyebrows its totally natural and viruses do it all the time, the process is called gene flow. But I believe the most important misconception is that GM crops only benefits big corporations when really it doesn’t, in the end it benefits the farmers and the environment through lower inputs and reduced chemical use among other things.

GM is the future of cropping and is essential to meet the worlds rising food demands, so please go out there and spread the good word clear up the myths and misconceptions, tell the world why we need GM, why we want GM and why GM is the future but most importantly tell them that GM IS SAFE.

Feel free to comment if you have any questions.

To view Mark Lynas speech and apology click here

Spray damaged cotton GM is on the left conventional on the right

Spray damaged cotton GM is on the left conventional on the right

Checking The Probes

The moisture probes are critical to running of an irrigation property, they tell us how much water is in the soil profile, how much water the crop is using and most important it tells us when we need irrigate the cotton. There are a couple of types of moisture probes about; one type is a electrical probe that works by measuring the conductivity between two wires in the ground, the better the conductivity the more moisture.

The type of moisture probe we use is called a Neutron Moisture Probe we have been using it on the farm for years and find it to be simple and effective method, it works by lowering the probe down a aluminium tube in the ground, the probe then release fast neutrons which lose energy and slow down when they collide with hydrogen the slow neutrons are detected and give a reading. The probe then takes more readings at different depths to give a complete picture of the moisture profile, then once all readings are completed the probe is plugged into the computer which makes up a graph showing the moisture level, usage and how long till irrigation is needed, making managing the crop a whole lot easier. Unfortunately because it uses radiation the operator needs to be accredited so its usually done by the farm agronomist.

If you have any questions on the moisture probes or anything else just leave a comment.

For more amazing sights in the world of farming check out Farming Photo’s

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Fertiliser It’s Not All Shit

The key to a good crop is good nutrition, just like we need to eat food so does the crop the only difference being it gets its food from the soil. A crops nutritional requirements can range significantly depending on the soil and its composition, but there’s one nutrient a cotton crop always needs to make it as good as it can possibly be and its nitrogen.

Nitrogen has the chemical symbol N, is number seven on the periodic table and makes up 78% of the earth’s atmosphere, but what does this have to do with cotton? Nitrogen is also essential to building the amino acids that make up protein, making nitrogen essential to all life on earth.

So how do we get it into the fields you may ask, some of you may have noticed large tanks in my previous posts well these large tanks aren’t for holding water there for holding nitrogen liquid fertiliser (not liquid nitrogen), this fertiliser can range anywhere from 4% to 42% nitrogen. The nitrogen is then added to the channels in regulated amounts and enters the field when it is irrigated (one of the reasons why water from farms can not be added back into water ways), the nitrogen then enters the ground and is absorbed by the roots of the plants, the plant then uses it to make protein and grow.

Other ways of adding nitrogen to the field is through the aerial application of urea just before rain so it is watered down into the soil and won’t burn the plant. Another method is gassing the field, this usually occurs before planting or in the early stages of plant growth and involves adding liquid nitrogen  (yes this time I do mean the really cold stuff) directly into the soil were it turn to gas and remains for the plants to use. A natural way of adding nitrogen is through crop rotation of legumes such as the refuge crop pigeon peas (see last post “Taking Refuge”), legumes naturally create there own nitrogen through a bacteria that lives on there roots, the nitrogen then remains in the soil after the plant is gone.

I hope this answers more questions about modern farming and if you have any more questions please comment.

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Taking Refuge

Everyone takes refuge from something, just like I take refuge from the sun and heat by working nights the bugs take refuge from pesticides and GM cotton in a refuge crop such as pigeon peas. Refuge crops are crops that are not sprayed and provide a safe haven for both beneficial insects and pest insects such Helicoverpa, this forms part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program for cotton. So what is Helicoverpa and IMP and why do we need refuge crops?

Lets start with what Helicoverpa and IPM are, Helicoverpa is a moth that lays its eggs on the leaves of the cotton plant, the caterpillar then eats the leaves moving its way up the plant until the start to eat the cotton boll (the fruit of the plant which contains the cotton), the plant then discards the cotton boll and the yield suffers. An integrated pest management (IPM) program is a way to effectively control pests using a combination of controls such as biological, chemical and mechanical. Using a variety of controls prevents resistance building up and allows for more effective controls. So what does this have to do refuge crops?

With the introduction of GM cotton we have been able to reduce the use of pesticides by over 80% because the cotton plant has had a gene spiced into it that gives it a natural resistance to Helicoverpa. If the only control method used is the GM cotton than the Helicoverpa will build up resistance and it won’t be as effective, the same goes if only GM and pesticides are used, the resistance will build up to quickly. So if we allow populations of Helicoverpa to live in refuge crop unaffected by pesticides and GM they will mix and breed with resistant Helicoverpa and help to lower the overall level of resistance in the species, allowing our methods of control to work for a longer period of time.

I hope this helps to explain more about what we do and why GM is benefiting farmers. If you have any questions feel free to comment.

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