The short loop out from Christchurch is entering its final stages. Only one more day to go and then back home. I’m going to change the format slightly here, and not go into too much detail unless it is specifically interesting or different from something I have seen or written about beforehand.It took me a while to find Simon Osborne’s farm, as although I had an address, none of the driveways actually had numbers visible anywhere. Simon farms 230ha of irrigated land, on what they call clay soils, but aren’t really very clay-ish compared to what you can find in the UK. He is a very keen on machines (“if I hadn’t become a farmer I would have been an engineer”), and he has at least 4 sheds full of them. They may be more, but I didn’t see them.
This combine was imported from Australia, although it started its life in the USA. It is quite ludicrously wide – at least 4m. I asked if he had any problems getting it down the road; “Yes, and once I got caught speeding”. [I am tempted to write ‘LOL’ here, but will refrain]. You can tell it is from a country with a lot of space as under the covers there is enough room to camp out for a few days, and in some comfort.
I think it was John Baker of Cross Slot fame who pointed me in Simon’s direction, so I was more than a bit surprised when he didn’t own one of the drills. Instead, he has made his own design. It is a variation on the knife drill, similar to a Seedhawk/Dale type opener. The most peculiar thing about it is that the knife is angled round to the side, so that the wheel goes right over the top of the seed trench, whilst keeping the distance between these two points as short as possible. This is desirable as the wheel also sets the depth, and so the shorter the distance, the more accurate the control. It is a simple design with few moving parts, and apparently needs very little maintenance. There is no capability of placing fertiliser, which Simon thinks is unnecessary almost all of the time.The farm has been in no-till since 1977, and is currently growing wheat, ryegrass seed, peas, linseed, phacelia, mustard, spring barley, and radish. Simon claims average soil organic matter levels of around 10%, which is pretty incredible. The field in the picture above has not been cultivated in over a century, and has SOM of 15%. Needless to say, the texture was excellent and I could see a worm or two. Or maybe even more than that.
I was impressed last year by some photos I saw of some Westerwolds ryegrass that had been planted as a cover crop in the UK (thanks Richard). Seeing the kiwis using annual ryes as a short term winter cover has made me think maybe it would work for us too. Simon is an expert on these types of grass, and so we had a good chat about the feasibility. He thought a traditional mix with vetch would work well for us, even planted in 10″ rows. Certainly worth an experiment this year, if the price is right.
To continue on the old thread of Cross Slot vs JD750a (sorry), I had arranged a visit to see a local contractor, Tim Ridgen. He runs a company called Ellesmere Agriculture, which started off by running 4 balers – there are now 7, most of which were out working when I arrived. There are also 8 JD tractors, which are not just used for baling, but also cultivating, hauling, drilling, and whatever else needs doing. Tim is a big fan of the 750a, in fact it is the only piece of machinery he has ever replaced like-for-like when the first one wore out.
What was more interesting, and not at all relevant to my Nuffield project, was the dairy that Tim is also involved in. His business partners run one of the biggest dairies in New Zealand. Currently they are milking about 8,400 cows on two sites, and will to be up to 9,000 soon. The main farm is the 2,400ha (1,600 farmed area) Rakaia Island Dairy where there are 6,000 cows, split into 4 semi-independently managed 1,500 cow units. The scale is mind boggling (“running a dairy this size is just like running a normal one, just with a zero added on the end of every number”). Here are some of the figures I can remember.
- 241 individual paddocks
- 60 members of staff, all living on the property
- 23 pivot irrigators
- 1 full time man working the irrigators
- 2 full time carpenters
- 250 calves born per day at the height of calving
I spent a couple of hours riding in a lorry carting 1t lucerne bales to the dairy site. Here they put them into stacks and then cover with plastic sheets. This is a cheap and easy way of ensiling them, and then over the winter they are fed out to the cows as a supplement. To do this, two feeder wagons are run all day, every day. Each wagon also has two motorbike outriders who go around opening and shutting gates so the tractors don’t have to stop. On a busy day they will get through 120t of lucerne as a supplement.
Some of the fields have 2m tall polls every 20m, with sprinklers on the top for irrigation. This is the stuff of nightmares, can you imagine having to drill, mow, roll etc a field with hundreds of posts stuck into it? This really is a fascinating place, I could have spent days looking around. I must have an inner dairy farmer trying to get out.