While in Johannesburg last year, I was lucky enough to tour Soweto, including a visit to Mandela House, where Nelson Mandela lived between 1946-1962. It’s a modest brick house, much smaller than my own.
Our world is poorer without him. But a better place because of him. Rest in Peace.
A beautiful thing happened here yesterday. It rained. Roughly 16mm of that life giving, morale boosting, profit enabling wet stuff. Now being dry-land farmers (no irrigation) we rely on rain for our income and aside from the short 6-8 week harvest period each year, rain is basically always a good thing.
Rain that falls in the springtime like it did yesterday, is almost worth double. As our crops look like this:
Durum Wheat during grain fill.
Lentils flowering as yesterdays rain rolled in.
The pasta wheat that you can see on the left is grain filling. I went for a walk in it tonight and found some little green and squishy wheat grains developing in the heads. The lentils on the right are getting towards the end of flowering. They’ve set a few pods already and you can see the while flowers contrasting nicely against the green plants.
Last year on this very day I wrote a blog post showing how dry it was in 2012 at this crucial point in the year. 2012 turned out quite well as despite the dry conditions the weather was cool, allowing the plants to mature slowly and still do quite well. 2013 is looking like being something else entirely. Potentially something quite stunning. The best way I can show you what is happening here this year is by giving you a little screen grab out of one of my Excel spreadsheets. This grab shows 22 years worth of monthly rainfall records for where I live. The column on the right hand side called ‘GSR’ is simply a total of the months from April-October of each year. All I’ve done is make the wettest 30% of years appear blue and the driest 30% of years appear as red.
Click to enlarge
Who cares about all these number ‘Nerd Farmer’? I can hear you asking. Well farmers do. What is significant about this year is the number for 2013 is a measly 10mm short of turning blue. We have 1 week left in October to get another 10 mm of rain. If we do hit the magical ‘decile 7′ rainfall, it will just be the 4th time in my lifetime and the first in living memory for anyone my age or younger.
In summary, we’ve had our wettest and best growing season since 1992. Now a lot has changed in the world since 1992, and an awful lot of farming practice has changed as well. I’ve been farming for nearly four years and I’ve never tilled (cultivated) a paddock. Many of these changes including no-till and GPS have been to make better use of the water that does fall on our soil. We’re also much better at applying fertiliser at the appropriate time than we were back then. So what happens to production when we get a high(ish) rainfall year to really push our modern farming systems and see what they’re capable of? Is it more profitable to push these farming systems just because we can?
In this area at least, nobody knows. But we’re excited to find out. With the next 7-day forecast looking good for grain filling, it’s a good time to be farming.
If you are at all interested in Australian Agriculture as I am, then check out this video. It was a talk and Q&A session by Donald McGauchie AO given at the Royal Melbourne Show recently around the subject of ‘Capacity Building and Industry Leadership for Australian Food & Agriculture in the Asian Century.’
While that sounds a bit hard to place and ‘airy fairy’, McGauchie brilliantly summaries both the wonderful opportunities and real threats/issues facing the food producers of our country. Industry leaders should take note.
Thought I would share with you all these 2 YouTube clips. The first one is a John Deere promo that tries to give their vision of Agriculture’s future. Whilst I think the augmented reality tractor glass is still a fair way off, the way that data flows between paddock and farm office here is what’s most interesting and useful.
This second one is an Australian clip produced by the Queensland University of Technology, and shows you the R & D that’s going into farm automation at the moment. The clip is of a small autonomous sprayer spot-spraying weeds in a chickpea crop. The cost and environmental benefits from only applying chemical to where it’s needed are obvious and huge. But perhaps the biggest change here is the change from bigger and bigger machines, to smaller and more precise.
Tom, Sam & myself managed to get our slick looking selves onto the Stock & Land website. Click image to view article.
It seems hard to believe that it’s a month now since I presented at the ‘Social Media in Agriculture’ forum at Marcus Oldham College in Geelong. The forum was put on by the college’s Center for the Study of Rural Australia and there were well over 150 people in attendance to hear from a really great lineup of speakers that I was thrilled and humbled to be apart of.
The speakers were:
- Tom Whitty – #agchatoz & VFF – Gave us an introduction to Social Media and the #agchatoz platform and story.
- Tim Gentle – Design Experts – Really emphasized the immediacy of social media and encouraged us to start using it, or use it more in our business.
- Brad Jenkins – Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria. Showed us how the RASV were using Social Media to build excitement and enthusiasm around the events they run, including the Royal Melbourne Show.
- Sam Trethewey – Fairfax Ag Media. Showed us how to build our ‘brand’. Or tell or story/ message on social media.
My presentation was titled ‘Social Media and AGvocacy in Farming’ and the good folks at Marcus recorded the audio and placed it online.
You can find that, as well as more details about all the presentations on the day on the Marcus Oldham website. I was also interviewed by one of the students who attended and that interview has been put online. It’s come up really well, so big thanks to them for doing it. Check it out below.
One of the main reasons I started this blog was to try and show what life is like for a young farmer on a 21st century farm. The fact is that more than a quarter of Victorians were born overseas, so there are large numbers in our society that will have very little understanding of, or connection to farming and food production in Australia. This blog is my humble attempt to address this. That and the indulgence of writing about things that interest me occasionally.
So I was very excited to be offered an opportunity to be the inaugural farmer on a new twitter account @MyAusFarmer. @MyAusFarmer is a ‘rotation curation‘ account. (I only learnt that phrase on Sunday) which means that the person in charge of the account changes every week. The idea is that by following the one account, over time you’ll get a basic overview of a large cross-section of Australian primary production. I’m on it until Sunday, then another farmer will start tweeting about what it is they do.
We’re off to a great start with almost 300 followers and the account has only been active for about a week. If you’re on twitter, check it out.
If you’re an Aussie primary producer and would like to have a turn on @MyAusFarmer, let myself or Adam know.
My dad got me to dig a hole today. I assume he went home and told mum about it in a scene reminiscent of that in the movie ‘The Castle’.
‘Guess what Jonathan did today love?’
‘What’s that dear?’
‘He dug a hole.”
Thankfully, unlike the famous hole at 3 Highview Crescent, my hole didn’t start filling with water. There was however, plenty of water in the dirt that came out of the hole. Which was why I was digging in the first place. We’re having a delightfully wet winter and we were looking to see just how far down this great rain had soaked. The pleasing thing we found was that the soil was quite wet down to about 70cm and was still damp when I got down to 1m.
The crop is durum (pasta) wheat, and was planted into last years canola (cooking oil) stubble. Now this season is of course a long way from being complete, but these are perfect conditions for plants to grow and send down roots into this soft damp soil.
I’ve been asked by a local journalist to write a short article for the Wimmera Mail-Times periodically for a section of the paper they call ‘In My Paddock’. It’s basically a short editorial about what’s going on around the farm at the moment. With the papers permission I’ve posted it here. It’s a good summary of what’s happening at the moment.
Wow. What a difference a month can make. What started out as planting canola with the air-conditioner going because it was 30 degrees outside turned into scrambling to get seeding done 30 minutes before the rain started falling again, courtesy of another upper level trough which came through to dump another 10-20mm on our emerging crops. Kaniva has recorded 128mm of rain in June this year, which has taken us from the driest and worst start to a season in this my 4th year of farming to the best. It is also by my reckoning the wettest June on record for this area, with Friday nights 22.6mm taking us past 1988s 126mm. I was only 1 back then, but it allegedly turned out to be pretty wet that year. With another week of June still to go the record could be extended yet.
But what to do all these stats and this rain mean for the farm? Well, as I said we managed to sneak the last paddock of our cropping program in the ground just before the rain on Friday. All this rain having delayed our finish to seeding a little compared to the last couple of years means that no sooner am I getting out of one tractor than into the next. We’re now chatting with the agronomist about nitrogen applications, and will be expecting to spread a fair bit of snow (urea) on our young canola crops in the coming week or two, should the forecast look good for some more rain. All the crops are looking really good at the moment, apart from the lentils and chickpeas. But this is mostly because we can’t see them yet as they were the last to be planted. Hopefully they’ll be germinating over the next week or two as well.
Apart from that we’ll be heading up to the BCG Expo in Birchip next week. I encourage you all to do the same. In addition to the ripper egg & bacon rolls that make the early start a little more worthwhile, there’s usually something interesting to hear up there about the weather, markets, technology, agronomy and other related things.
As I sit here on the tractor at the start of another 1.5km pass, I’m planting chickpeas at about 8.5km/hour. Our 17m seeder bar, which has 56 tynes will cover 2.5 Ha while completing that pass. We’re planting chickpeas at 135kg per hectare, meaning that in the 10 minutes it takes me to complete this pass, I’ve planted nearly 350kgs of Chickpeas.
I make the turn at the end of the run and I can resume my blog post because the Steering Controller informs me I’ve got 19 satellites & a base station keeping me on the straight and narrow. So narrow it deviates less than 5cm off straight most of the time. So straight I will be able to seed in between the 300mm rows next year. The controller also passes my exact ground speed onto the seeding controller, so that in addition to the seed, the fertiliser, innoculatant and snail bait is all metered out at the right rate.
We also put phosphorous fertiliser out with the chickpeas. We don’t need to put out nitrogen, because chickpeas are a legume that fix their own N. The ‘innoculant’ I mentioned earlier aids in this process of fixing nitrogen into the soil.
All going well we’ll put nearly 17 tonnes of chickpeas into the soil in this paddock. That’s enough for a lot of chickpea salad, or curry. At the moment we don’t know how many chickpeas we’ll get back at the end of the year. They’re fussy little things. If its too wet they die. If its too dry they die. If it’s too humid they get disease and die. Last year they went pretty well. They yielded roughly 1.8 T/Ha. Another way of thinking about it is we harvested about 15 seeds for every one we planted. Not bad odds. You’d take an annual return like that on the share market.
These numbers may seem impressive and maybe they are. But wheat can return 100 seeds to 1 sown, and canola nearly 1000. But you don’t often hear farmers talking about these sorts of numbers or technologies, because to us there’s nothing extraordinary about them. Far from cutting edge, the GPS tech I mentioned above is older than the iPhone, Blu-ray and the Xbox 360. But all this and a lot more is what goes into something as basic as your chickpea salad lunch.
Picture that appeared with the Weekly Times article.
At risk of being accused of selling out to traditional media, I was featured in the ‘In Focus’ section of The Weekly Times newspaper a week or so ago. The article appeared in the May 8th edition and writer Peter Hemphill did a great job. I was stoked to be able to provide a ‘good news’ story around farming. Because all too often it seems agriculture is in the media for all the wrong reasons.
In the paper the article was titled ‘Revenge of a Nerd’, but it has since appeared online under another heading. If you’re so interested, check it out.
Logging onto Farm Success