NZ Irrigation – Part 4

When we reached the next farm couple of kilometres down from Mike’s property we immediately noticed the centre pivot on either side of the driveway. Manager Craig Wellington met us as we got off the bus and immediately blew us away with some incredible production statistics for the 1200ha property.

Each year they finish off 30,000 lambs and 1,000 Friesian bulls while also cropping a variety of high value crops on their 360ha of irrigated cultivation including tomatoes, sweet peas, maize and sweet corn. The tour was just blown away by those statistics and I think it just goes to show how productive New Zealand and Heretaunga Plain can be, along with how well it is managed by Craig.

As the tour group recovered from the shock of those statistics we ventured out into the field to look at one of the swing arm centre pivots. This type of centre pivot works in the same way as most other centre pivots, in that it followers a buried wire to find its way around the field. The main difference is that instead of it being one rigid structure the end section has the ability to bend or turn. The swing arm on the end of the pivot allows the centre pivot to get into the corners of a field and cover more area. This means that instead of getting the classic circle shaped field when using centre pivots you’ll get a rectangle with rounded corners, this allows Craig to use more of the field’s potential and have less wasted land. The other interesting feature of Craig’s centre pivot system was that if it breaks down the pivot would automatically call his mobile phone to let him know something was wrong.

Classic Centre Pivot (Taken near Inverell NSW)

Classic Centre Pivot (Taken near Inverell NSW)

Leaving the centre pivot we walked over to Craig’s dam via the main homestead’s extensive and impressive gardens. The garden just seemed to keep stretching on as we wound our way through it, the sheer variety and volume of plants was just staggering. We left the garden simply stunned by its sheer size and by the thought that there was just one gardener who was able to maintain all of it.

The Swing Arm Centre Pivot

The Swing Arm Centre Pivot

Craig’s dam wasn’t as big as his neighbours but his was built first and was one of the first properties in the area to have a dam constructed and shares a lot of similarities with Mike’s dam. The dam was built before Craig took over as manager and like Mike’s dam it was built out of a need to increase the farms water security to ensure the survival of their high value crops. Craig’s dam is also filled by water that is gravity fed along a channel from the nearby river. Unlike Mike’s dam Craig’s was built onto to side of a hill instead of between two spurs meaning it took more time and cost more to build with about 1km of wall needing to be constructed.  While Craig’s dam may be smaller than  his neighbours it is more than capable of meeting his irrigation needs and has been able to easily see them through their longest water ban so far.

Craig's Dam

Craig’s Dam

Leaving the dam we walked back via another part of the garden and boarded the bus for Napier, this trip had been an incredible experience and it was great to see how things were done across the ditch.

NZ Irrigation – Part 3

The bus continued to motor on through the passing showers to the other side of the Heretaunga Plain, by now the plains area was distinctly a wine region with grape vines as far as the eye could see in every direction. We were here to see Mike Glasbourgh’s (spelling may be wrong) property in particular his dam and his arrangement with “Constellation Wines”.

Mike’s property was right on the edge of the Heretaunga Plain and was made up of both the plains country and the hills that surrounded it. On his property he ran sheep and cattle as well having some cropping and the vineyards that we’ll talk about later, but the main attraction to the property was his dam.

The need for the dam arose from Mike starting to grow more high value crops and need for more water security that came with. My understanding of way NZ irrigation works (I may be wrong) is that you can irrigate from the river as needed without a total limit on how much water you can use, however if the water level in the river drops below a certain point a water ban is called and no one can irrigate from the river. Mike initially looked at sinking a few bores on his property but in the end he decided that a dam would be the way to go.

The large dam (complete with water ski jumps) was built in a shallow gully between the spurs of two different hills, with the dam wall extending about 100m from spur to spur. The dam is gravity fed (without the aid of pump) from the river via channel that runs for a few kilometres, from the river to the dam. While at the time of construction it would have been simple enough to just bring in the bulldozers and set about building the wall Mike decided it had to be done properly, with a geological survey being undertaken first to make sure the site would be stable enough for the dam and that the wall wouldn’t leak.

Mike talking to us about the dam

Mike talking to us about the dam (Notice the ski jumps in the background)

While in size it is somewhat smaller than the dams you would find around Moree it is more than capable of meeting their needs for protection against droughts and frost, with the biggest test so far being a six week water ban last year that only caused the dam to drop to only two thirds its normal level.

The dam has led to some exciting opportunities for Mike including a deal with Constellation Wines who have leased a large area of his property to grow the grapes for their wines. One of things that attracted Constellation Wines to Mike’s property was the water security that it offered due to the dam; the other main attraction was his close proximity to their winery.

As we left the property we were given a demonstration of its frost protection system, like the other farms that we had visited they used water (from the dam) to prevent frost damage and had sprinklers along the vines. Due to a recent harvest there were a few geysers in the field from where the grape harvester had knocked the sprinkler heads off, but for me this only just added to the demonstration showing the amount of pressure in the system.

After watching the demonstration we were off to our fourth and final property just down the road to look at their mixed cattle and cropping property. Hopefully I’ll be able to get the fourth and final part of the tour up a bit quicker than I got this part up.

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.

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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.

Water Water Water

We can’t live with out it and neither can the cattle which can make keeping the water up to them a never ending mission. The new turkey nest is still not at level were it can supply the troughs so i’m still manually carting water to them 1000 liters at time, although this sounds like a lot of water it disappears quickly when your watering a few hundred head of cattle. One of our main pumps has also been having some problems continually shutting down with out explanation, it turns out the intake pipe has been sucking in and closing up causing the pump to stall, with this fixed its now supplying the dam with water again and not a moment too soon as it has already dropped in level. Their are storms all around Humbert tonight so hopefully one of them will drift onto us bringing much needed rain.

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Keeping Up The Water

As the weather delayed the completion of the final turkey nest the cattle were starting to run low on water so I’ve spent the day running water to troughs, 1000 liters at a time. Its a slow process with the tank taking half a hour to fill each time from the bore, the cattle clean up the water quickly so its a constant and never ending process. Fortunately the nest has been finished and there’ll be water in the troughs again by  tomorrow afternoon. Yesterday we picked up our tractor and post ram from our yards on the outside of town only to find that they had been vandalized, wiring was cut, battery was missing, fuel bowl was broken and the fuel was drained, unfortunately these problems can occur when leaving things close to town for an extented period of time.

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Third Round Over And Out

Third round is over with the last of the mustering finishing up today, all we have to do is hope that the rain holds off for tonight so the truck can get through tomorrow. The desilter arrived the other day to clean out two of the turkey’s nests (small dams that supply water to the troughs) only to hampered by rain that stopped him in his tracks leaving a nest drained and unable to be worked on, as well the problem that it had no compacted earth at the bottom making it impossible to desilt. So the construction of a new nest is underway, which will be a good thing in the long run as it will be much bigger and better than old one with a compacted base and walls allowing it to hold more water for longer. The rain is also causing other issues washing out creeks making it difficult for a ute to get through and nearly impossible in the station truck, we lost nine 100kg lick blocks going through one creek today making for a difficult clean up. Hopefully the new turkey nest should be done tomorrow and the truck will finally arrive so we can get the cattle out. 

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