Technology Moving Straight Ahead

Last weeks post came to you live from the tractor, which I think just goes to show how far technology has come to allow me to write a post and publish it on the Internet with pictures all while sitting in the seat of a working tractor in the field. While that shows the power of the smart phone, how was I keeping the rows straight? With most of my attention focused on writing the post the rows must be wonky, but they weren’t, why?

The GPS Will Kept The Tractor Running Straight Night Or Day

The GPS Will Kept The Tractor Running Straight Night Or Day

Well firstly I didn’t put the rows in I was on the roller so the rows were already there, secondly I wasn’t driving. So who was driving? Well the tractor was, via the GPS. During normal work in the field the tractor steers itself using the GPS system, multiple satellites work in conjunction with a ground station which has a fixed location to work out the exact location of the tractor in the field and where it should be in order to keep a straight line. The GPS computer then tells the tractors steering system which way to turn and by how much so it can keep a straight line or at least with in two centimetres of it which is more accurate than any operator can drive. How ever a operator is still needed to turn the tractor around at the end of the row as well as monitor temperatures, pressures, levels and the such. So where to from here?

The Green Star Unit Is What Keeps A John Deere Running Straight

The Green Star Unit Is What Keeps A John Deere Running Straight

Well in an exciting development coming out the USA we may soon have fully automated tractors that not only keep straight but turn around as well thanks to the development of the Spirit Autonomous Tractor, while it may look like a German WWI tank minus the guns it is jammed packed full of the latest technology and doesn’t even have a cab or need operator. This diesel-electric tractor is fully autonomous with only one controller needed to control up to 16 tractors with in a 40km radius, you can even have multiple tractors working the same field. While these machines are not in the production stage yet there are working prototypes. While this technology is promising and shows great potential I do have some questions about it, how well can it dodge an obstacle like a tree or power pole with the twelve row rig it could be potentially taking to the field? And how well can the controller identify a problem such as a broken pin on the rig or a the rig clogging up with trash from his control room? I guess only time will tell and I’ll be very excited to see a working model in Australia hopefully very soon.

 

The Future?

The Future?

 

Thanks for reading and as always please feel free to leave your comments or questions in the comment section below.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

They’re A Bit Feral

Its been a while since my last post and I’m sorry about that but I’ve been fairly busy with uni work. With no farm work to write about I’m going to try and write at least one post a week focusing on farming practices and issues around farming, so this week I’m writing about feral animals.

Feral Animals have been building up in the wild since the colonisation of Australia in 1788 when the first fleet introduced 7 horses, 29 sheep, 74 pigs, 6 rabbits and 7 cattle to Australian environment. Since then goats, foxes, buffalo, donkey’s, cats and wild dogs have taken hold in the Australian environment decimating stock numbers and causing huge amounts of environmental damage, the cost is so great that the Invasive Animals CRC estimates that feral animals cost Australian’s $720 million each year. But there are some that I think do more damage than others.

Feral Animals Come In All Different Shapes And Sizes

Last weekend I went back to our family farm at North Star in Northern NSW, recent rain has left it green and full feed but it has also given the local population of pigs a place to play. Everywhere I drove there where signs of pig activity with tracks, wallows and rutted up ground littering the property. Feral pigs destroy infrastructure (fences), damage crops, spread disease, contribute to soil erosion, water purification while competing with live stock for resources. Feral pigs have even been known to prey on lambs as well as other native animals, their impact on Australia and its environment is so great that they are estimated to cost Australian’s $100 million a year.

Fortunately there is a market for feral pigs which provides an incentive for people to trap them, helping to lower their numbers and potential damage. But this isn’t always enough and other measures often need to be used such as baiting and aerial culling, baiting can be a effective and cost efficient method if carried out properly over large area with the cooperation of multiple landholders. Aerial culling has also proved to be an expensive but an effective method of controlling feral pig numbers if used in conjunction with other land holders, we have used it a couple of times on our own property and it has always yielded great results with over 200 pigs taken in a hour on our small 2000 acre farm.

The rabbit has been the blight of farmers since 1859 when Thomas Austin first released 24 rabbits into the Australian bush for sport on his Victorian property “Barwon Park”. While in hindsight his efforts to make Australia more like England is one of the worst decisions in Australia’s environmental history but at the time it seemed to be a reasonable idea as rabbits had been released into England from France with no major effects on the environment and were a popular form of sport hunting. Unfortunately Australia has a completely different environment to England causing the rabbit to have a huge destructive impact on the Australian environment.

One of The Most Famous Photos of Rabbits in Australia

Rabbits cause of wide range of damage to the environment and farms across Australia, they reduce carrying capacity on farms by competing for feed, damage crops, eat shrubs and plants reducing ground cover adding to erosion. This all cost Australian farmers over $110 million in damages and control.  Biological controls have proved to be the most effective control option for the rabbit population with Myxomatosis (1950) and the Calicivirus (1991) both having a devastating impact on rabbit populations when they were released into Australia, however after the release of Calicivirus scientists said there was a ten year window to find another biological control and finish them off once and for all, but now that window is closed and rabbit numbers are back on the rise. So other control methods  such as fumigation, baiting, shooting, trapping and warren ripping are used with varying effectiveness.

The Old Days

Wild dogs and foxes are estimated to cost Australian farmers $65 and $35 million each year in losses and control, they are a major contributor to stock losses in both sheep and cattle, they increase stress amongst the heard and have the potential to host disease. The fox was originally introduced to Australia for sport hunting and since spread right across the Australian mainland, while the feral dog is the result of interbreeding between domestic dogs and the dingo which was brought to Australia from Asia by the Aboriginal people. The impact of feral dogs can clearly be seen when cattle are brought into the yards, many are missing ears or tails and are covered in scars. The impact of foxes on lambs is just as significant, as young lambs are no match for the quick agile foxes that easily take them down. The main control methods for foxes and dogs are shooting, trapping and baiting; they each work to varying degrees of success depending on how well they are carried out. In 2011 the Victorian government committed $4 million to the establishment of a bounty on wild dogs and foxes with $100 dollars being paid for a wild dog and $10 for a fox, while it met opposition from various groups bounty’s have proved to be successful with the 2002-03 bounty turning in 198,000 foxes.

Feral Dogs on a cow carcass, taken with a remote camera

Unfortunately I don’t have the time to write about all the feral pests threatening Australian farms and the environment but I feel these are some of the main ones. Please feel free to comment, ask questions or share your own stories below. I’ll try and keep writing at least one post a week.

One of My Own Feral Encounters

One of My Own Feral Encounters

Under Threat And Under Water

In late 2011 I was working as an irrigator on a Cotton property just outside of Moree in Northern NSW, everything was pretty constant so when one cycle finished the next one started with their sometimes being a day or two in between. Smoko time consisted of working out if there was going to be a gap between cycles so we could have a day off and staring at the weather forecast on our phones. But there was something different about this week, Friday had a ninety percent chance of over one hundred millimetres of rain or one sixth of our annual rainfall in one day, there was nothing of note leading up to Friday so we assumed it was a typo or glitch. But as the week progressed the prediction didn’t change and then sure enough on the Friday the skies opened up dropping inches of rain. So the rush was on to open up the irrigation gates and starting the pumps so we could get the water off the fields and into the dams all while trying to drive around the slippery roads without sliding into a channel, then during the afternoon the call came through that they were shutting the road to town, two people had to stay to check the pumps and stop the water building up too much but the rest of us were wasting no time getting into our cars and high tail it back home.Pic_1125_027

 

The rain continued over the weekend with the flood water rising up threatening the town, people where stranded with two people even getting airlifted off a tractor. I ended up getting called up and asked to help fill sandbags that were distributed around the town, with nothing else to do I imminently agreed and after a quick trip to town I was soon filling sandbags with other volunteers. We got a good system going that allowed us to keep up with demand where we had six people lined up in front of the Bob Cat bucket and filling them straight from the bucket, although some people would deem it unsafe no one got hurt and it was the only way we were able to keep up with demand as it was quicker than using the sand bagging machine and way quicker than using the shovel.

The Team

The Team

 

At Work

At Work

 

After a few days the road was reopened to four wheel drives only (I didn’t know that at the time) so I got in my Mum’s trusty commodore and started driving to work, when I came across the flood water I was lucky enough to be behind a road train so I sat right up its tail which helped to push the water away with only a bit of the muddy flood water seeping in through the door. It wasn’t the biggest trouble of the trip though, that came when I tried to get up the farms black soil driveway. The two wheel drive automatic struggled for traction as it slipped from side to side and it even managed to push through even more flood water until I reached the shed.

I'm Sure There Was A Cotton Field Around Here

I’m Sure There Was A Cotton Field Around Here

The farm was still that coved in water that the only way to get around was by boat, the old tinnie was getting a real work out traveling along the flooded channels while dodging the submerged cement structures and pipes. This was the only way we could get around to check the pumps that were essential to moving the water off the cotton fields and into the dams as some of the fields were completely under water. Between checking the pumps we were just working in the shed, taking care of the odd jobs that had built up over the year. After a couple of days we thought the farm may have dried up enough to start driving back around the farm, we were wrong; after a couple of kilometres we were bogged axle deep in the soft black soil. Luckily the whole farm has mobile reception so we were able to call for help and a tractor was soon on its way to pull us out and pull us around the farm for the rest of the bore run. Eventually it all dried out but the damage was done and were left with the aftermath.

Getting Around Moree Style!

Getting Around Moree Style!

The flood did a lot of damage dropping massive amounts of silt on the paddocks as well as knocking the squares (flowers) off the cotton that was growing in the river paddocks, levee banks were washed away but the most significant damage was done to a pump site by one of the dams. One of the large underground pipes had dropped a couple of inches and opened up a small gap, even though the gap was small the large amount of water  that ran though it had created a large hollow cavern which we only discovered when a bloke stood on top of it and the ground gave way beneath him. To fix it we had to dig out all around the pipe, jack it back up and support it in place while cement was poured around it encasing any remaining gaps. On the positive side on things all the dams on the farm were filled up including one that had only been full once before.

Big Problem, Big Hole

Big Problem, Big Hole

Shortly afterwards I went on a month long hike from Canberra to Bairnsdale in Victoria, after a month’s hiking I emerged from the bush and started talking to a person at the campsite we ended up at only to find out the Moree had been hit by another bigger flood.

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.

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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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