A New Year

2014 has drawn to an end and 2015 has started, I rang in the New Year the only way I know how, starting siphons to irrigate cotton a tradition I have kept up for the last six years. So what will the New Year hold for Agriculture?

First up I think we are hoping for rain, with a large portion of the country being drought declared and a rural debt crisis looming widespread, continued rain is needed desperately. While a subsidy free industry is important for an efficient and financially sustainable farming sector a drought like the one that we are currently experiencing can send many viable farms under and foreclosure isn’t a good option for anyone including the banks. As a sudden infux of farms on the market would drop land values impacting on surviving farms as well. Aside from rain the only way that I can see out of this situation is through low interest loans from the government. So my first hope for the New Year is widespread rain or failing that the continuation of low interest loans.

Secondly I would like to see the strengthening of the farm trespass and immediate reporting of video of animal abuse laws. As animal activists have not only continued to illegally break into and survey farms but some have also upped their agenda to sabotage, such as the recent example in Western Australia where anti live export activists burnt out a truck and cut the break lines on two other trucks. While I can’t imagine that tougher laws will deter these people that are acting out of ideology but it they are caught it may keep them off the streets for a while longer. The immediate reporting of genuine animal abuses would not only be a better outcome animals in distress but would stop groups holding onto emotive footage to use at times of political advantage.

My third desire for 2015 would be the increase of Australian Agriculture’s voice, we have a great story to tell and each year we are connecting with Australians but there is still more to be done. We are still being confronted with waves of misinformation that mislead the general public and fail to accurately portray the image of Australian Agriculture. It is up to us as an industry to tell the story of Australian Agriculture, who we are, what we do, why we do it and fight emotion with fact.

I hope we can achieve these things in 2015, telling the story of Australian Agriculture while getting tough on the illegal activities of activists, but most of all I hope that it rains and the drought stricken farmers get the relief that they need.

Happy New Year to all 🙂

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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.

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.

 

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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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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Getting Wild

The weather has really rolled in the past few nights, with lighting storms hammering the area two nights ago making for some spectacular sights but at the same time causing large amounts damage. Winds that were up to 90 kmph dropped trees all around Moree with some falling on power lines and knocking out the power with them, lighting also took its toll on the power lines blowing up a pole near where we were working. The sight was incredible and all over in under a second even though it seemed to go on for minutes, there was the loud crack of the thunder and the pole lit up like a Christmas tree, then this bright glow travelled across the wire to the next pole before it lit up as well. Understandably we high tailed it back to shed after that, taking refuge for a while until the storm passed.

Last night the storms rolled in again bringing more rain and lightening and once again knocking out the power, although the rain looked promising at the start it was unfortunately not enough to stop irrigation, just enough to make the road very slippery and difficult to drive around on. It also made us busier as the water was getting through the fields a lot quicker than normal, so they needed to be changed more often keeping us in a constant loop of field changes.

So I’m still irrigating on night shift which is why I’ve started to focus more on how we grow cotton in recent posts, other wise I would of run out of things to write about weeks ago. Irrigation is just a cycle and moves around in circles starting back up as soon as we finish leaving not a lot of variety to right about, so I hope you’ll enjoy more articles about how we grow cotton instead of what I’m doing.

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