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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

I’m Back!!!!

My last exam was Wednesday morning so as soon as it was over I packed my room loaded up my ute and headed straight back to Moree. I started back at work first thing Thursday morning riding my new Postie bike out to work for the first time, I got it to cut fuel costs hoping I could cut the $70 a week fuel bill for my ute down to under $20. I’ve probably picked the worst time of year to do try this out as harvest has begun and there are semi trailers, b-doubles and road trains all around, you really notice the drop in speed (up to 10km/h) as a road train comes rattling past.

As I mentioned earlier the harvest has begun around Moree and we’ll be starting to harvest the chickpeas on either Tuesday or Wednesday this week, so over the last two days (yes we had the weekend off) we have been checking over the grain and chaser bins. As they where immersed in flood water in early 2012 the bearings have attracted particular scrutiny, all the wheel bearings have been pulled apart checked over and repacked with grease. While other bearings that help with the auger have been replaced completely, to help them slide onto the shaft better all the paint was removed and the stainless steel polished to a high shine removing all and any imperfection making it a ease to put the new bearings on.

Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the process as some heavy fella fell on my phone crushing the screen (guilty as charged) and my other camera wasn’t as waterproof as claimed, so until I can work out an alternative my posts will be picture free. Later in the week I hope to have some video up from the chickpea harvest.

The Kangaroo, A Icon, A Pest and A National Identity

Old Skippy is never shy of a bit of publicity, he appears on our coat of arms, he had his own TV show and appears on countless other Australian products along with some that are trying to be passed off as Australian. But has our attachment to this national identity clouded our sense of reason when it comes to managing this animal?

While the kangaroo is a iconic Australian animal it can also be a major pest to farmers particularly in dry years as large numbers of kangaroos can quiet easily decimate a wheat crop and compete with stock for feed; leading to overgrazing and land degradation. This was highlighted when a military base out side of Canberra had to cull kangaroos to put a stop to the overgrazing and land degradation, however while there was a genuine environmental reason for this cull it still attracted world wide coverage and protests by mostly well meaning but ill-informed people.

I always known that there has been opposition to kangaroo culls and the kangaroo trade but I never really paid much attention to the information they were pushing with it until someone retweeted a tweet from @Boycott_Aussie. The twitter page Boycott Australia has put out over 20,500 of pure rubbish to their 40 followers (how they have that many I don’t know), including there latest example “Do you know Australia tells it’s citizens to kill every kangaroo they see because they are garbage?”. Where’d they pull that from? Activists have been know to be a bit loose with the facts but that is taking things to a whole new level in my opinion, however this group is probably the most extreme of the extreme and is reflected in their following on twitter.

However some things they claim is reflected in many other activist websites, the main claim is that they are near non-existent and on the brink of extinction; I’ll just quote The Kangaroo Protection Coalition “Many Australians who have lived in rural Australia for several years, cannot remember seeing a single kangaroo in the wild”.  Again where do they get this information from? Tabloids do a better job at fact checking. A quick drive out of town would soon put that myth to rest as it usually doesn’t take long to spot one on the side of the road. Just from my own experience last weekend when I went out pig shooting, I failed to find a single pig (plenty of signs though) but saw countless kangaroo’s resting under trees and grazing the grass (In case your wondering I only shot them with my camera). Now if we’re going use peoples personal experience of animals in the wild to assess their vulnerability lets use mine; I’ve only  ever seen 5 Koalas in the wild and its official listing is vulnerable, I’ve seen four Short Billed Echidnas which are classified as Least Concern and one Bare-Nosed Wombat is not listed on the threatened species list (accidentally set up my hoochie next to its burrow, I was left wondering what the red eyes belonged to that were staring at me as I climbed into my sleeping bag). So really a persons individual experience bares little relevance on the animals population.

So instead of devoting time and resources to a animal that is doing well for itself why aren’t these people out promoting some lesser known and lesser iconic but still critically endangered Australian species; have you ever heard of the Short-nosed Sea Snake? I hadn’t till five minutes ago, no specimens have been sited since 2000, yea I know what your thinking but that’s a snake its no where as cute as a kangaroo. Well then what about the Gilbert’s Potoroo? There’s only 40 left alive, again I had never heard of until five minutes ago. Endangered animals include the Woylie, Quoll, Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, Dibbler, Various species of bandicoot and the list goes on. Surely these lesser known but endangered animals are worth as much if not more time than the kangaroo.

While I still believe and maintain that the kangaroo is a icon of national importance and must be protected to a extent, their is still room for culling programs and harvesting to help protect the environment, crops and pastures. I also believe that the people who campaign so hard for the Kangaroo should work to direct their effort towards raising awareness and promoting the protection of other lesser known endangered Australian species. Feel free to leave your comments and opinions below as I’m keen to hear what people have to say on this issue.

You'll Step In Front Of A Truck For Me

You’ll Step In Front Of A Truck For Me

But Have You Heard Of Me?

But Have You Heard Of Me?

A New Member To The Mustering Crew?

On Friday I was lucky enough to be able to go for a burn in a gyro and I have to say it was the most fun I’ve had in a while, by the time we landed I had a ear to ear grin that would have rivalled the Jokers. So what is a gyro and why did it leave me so excited?

A gyrocopter (also known as autogyro or gyroplane) looks like a cross between a plane and helicopter, the power provided by the rear mounted engine powered propeller while the lift is generated by the free spinning rotor. Today’s gyro’s have evolved into thier own type of aircraft, they are a far cry from old “build Sunday crash Monday  home builds and even further from their distant 1920’s ancestors that looked like a mongrel cross between a helicopter and a plane.

The Original gyro

The Original Style

While today’s gyro’s may look a bit like a helicopter it flies and handles more like a fixed wing aircraft in the air but it there are some key differences, particularly during take off and landing. During the take off roll you start with the stick fully back and slowly push it forward to keep the nose just off the ground it gets airborne, on landing is different in that you land with a very steep approach and very little speed due to stall speed of zero. These characteristics give it some advantages over both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft that may be of use in agriculture and farming.

The New Generation

The New Generation

The gyrocopter that I flew in was the MTO Sport by the German company “Auto-Gyro” (bet thought long and hard about that one), it seemed to be a very stable aircraft in level flight but if you started to play with the stick you’d soon find out that it could be as manoeuvrable as you wanted it to be, with the only disadvantage being  that it can’t go negative g with out losing its lift. One of the biggest advantages is that it can’t stall, the aircraft can fly at almost any speed, with it being able to even drop back to zero without the aircraft plummeting from the sky, instead it just gently drops giving you plenty of time to apply the power (I know I was nervous watching the air speed indicator steadily drop back to zero). Another advantage is the incredible amount of visibility, the open cockpit and lack of wings allow for a brilliantly clear picture of the ground below as well as the surroundings making it easy to spot cattle, check fences and turkey nests. While the cockpit may be open the windshield keeps you well protected from wind and even the rain (so I’ve been told).

300ft

300ft

The hard deck for a gyrocopter is 300ft above ground level (AGL) which is 200ft below a what RA-Aus registered aircraft will be allowed to do, however if you get a low level endorsement you can go as low as you want over your own property (you here some stories of the grass brushing the bottom of the aircraft). Cost factor has to be the biggest advantage of all as a brand new gyrocopter will only cost you somewhere $80k-$100k depending on the options you choose and has a running cost of about $60 a hour compared to the $400 a hour a R22 would cost.

I believe the gyrocopter shows great potential for use on stations for mustering as well as other station duties, I’ve even seen you tube videos of one with a spray boom set up on it. But there is one thing I know for sure and that is I’m defiantly getting my endorsement when I can.

As always feel free to leave your own thoughts and comments below, and enjoy the videos of some gyros in action.

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.

 

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