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).

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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.

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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.