Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Another visit to a top cropping farmer

Eric Watson, in a high yielding wheat crop
I had the pleasure of spending sometime with a very good and passionate cropping farmer, Eric Watson. Eric farms 490ha  between Ashburton and the coast, growing wheat, grass seed, fescue, plantain, radish, forage maize and other vegetable seeds. We discussed various issues from stubble burning and herbicide resistance to general agriculture. It is interesting how closely New Zealand farmers follow UK farming and are aware of the current issues in the UK, to the point that Eric had one of the latest Farmers weekly at his house. Some of the problems we have at home with herbicide resistance are not seen in NZ, such as Fop and Dim resistance in grass weeds because varieties change quickly and don't get time to build resistance. Herbicides are often used with SOLA's (statutary off label restrictions), as they are not registered in NZ, but are known to be safe from use in the UK.
Triticale grown on light land, currently in a triticale and forage maize rotation. Eric has grown 12t/ha of triticale, but doesn't expect it this year
 As previously mentioned irrigation is a major part of arable farming in NZ, Eric can irrigate 96-97% of his farm. The irrigator shown below is able to cross the road and ditch with the help of strategically placed bridges, it's hard to imagine being able to that in the UK. It is a lateral, ie moves in a straight line, but when it gets to a certain place in the field one end is chained down on a concrete pad and the other end continues and turns the irrigator. Once it has turned far enough the fixed end is released and it then continues in a straight line, this allows fields which aren't straight to be fully irrigated.
A lateral irrigator about to cross the road and access the next field over the bridges.

Eric was an early adopter of VRI (Variable rate irrigation), because of the way his irrigators were set up there was 8 ha (20acres) of overlap on his farm, which is now eliminated by using VRI. A great example of using precision farming to manage variability was highlighted in a field which straddled the old river terrace that has now been levelled off, but is still treated as two fields but with no physical boundary. The top of the old terrace was a heavier soil type and had a crop of peas, which were nearly ready to harvest, whereas the lighter soil below the old terrace was growing forage maize.
Forage maize and Peas

By using VRI, not only is it possible to change irrigation rates as soil types change, it was also possible to keep watering the forage maize without watering the peas which would be harvested as soon as the irrigator got to the end of the field which would be about two days. Eric would then have small window to harvest the peas before the maize needed irrigating again.

Irrigating Maize but not the Peas using VRI

A field trail looking at how much N is fixed by different legumes
The vast majority of crops are hauled from the combines to store by trucks, unlike tractors and trailers in the UK. Eric had modified an old fertilizer truck to be his specification, with twin wheels on the front and triple wheels on the back, to reduce compaction. His trailer was a triaxle and featured a hydraulic tailgate and hydraulic rollover sheet, to make sure any small seeds were not blown out going back to the store.

As compaction is a concern Eric has a tracked combine and also runs a quadtrac to do all his cultivations and drilling, which he was all done by himself last season.

Combining Plantain seed

No comments:

Post a Comment