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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well its not flooding in Moree but its still very very wet and its making it a bit tricky to get around the farm or just get any where, including up the driveway where I had water go over the bonnet of my Holden ute (water wasn’t moving only risk was electronics failure and a short walk in the rain). By around lunch time today we’d had 100 millimetres of rain and counting but it seems to have stopped now, worried that it might keep raining and cut the road I made the mistake of going out to the farm to drop in my time sheet and then decided to stick around and take a few photos. Three hours later I was still there.
I was tagging along with manager and the other two fellas who had came into work, water was backing up into the cotton fields and had to be moved quickly to stop water logging. It is a challenge that is a lot easier said then done as the backing up water wasn’t just from the rain falling on the fields and the farm but it was also from the water that was rushing across from the neighbouring property. Even with pumps going at full pace and the gates fully open water was still managing to run over the drop boxes and blow out some channels. The majority of gates are hand operated but some need a hydraulic pump that it run off the ute’s gear box, its a great help for opening some of the real big gates on the property. The water also made it a real challenge to get around.
Just going up the driveway was a big enough challenge with the mud and the neighbours run off giving my commodore a bit of trouble (again there was no danger even though it was fast flowing water it wasn’t deep and the only risk was getting bogged and a awkward phone call), but the commodore powered through and made it to the shed. When I got the shed I got it the old 1996 Toyota Hilux, its an old thing and really battled in spots to get through when the speedo was reading a very optimistic 30 kmph, the engine revving over 4000 rpm, steam coming off the bonnet and more smoke coming out the exhaust then a steam engine. We didn’t get bogged but there where a few close calls and we got very close to the edge of some channels at various times.
We eventually got all the gates set up and water was starting to drain, so as soon as we were back at the shed I jumped soaking wet into my ute and heading straight out the gate. With over 100 millimetres of rain we’ll be able to skip an irrigation so I’ll have a bit of spare time on my hands, I got a fair bit of video footage so I’ll probably try and put them together into some sort of video.
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.