Day 50 – Liquid delivery & snakes

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 11.42.05It’s the third time in three days that I drove this road, in hindsight I should have stayed out here really. First of all this morning I had a quick visit to Liquid Systems, who live in an industrial estate in the Adelaide suburbs. They are a small company, started by serial engineer Pete Burgess.

The testing bench

The testing bench

He claims to have developed the world’s best system for delivering liquids fertilisers into a seed trench. Actually it doesn’t have to be fertilisers, they can also put down fungicides, inoculants, acidifiers etc etc. One of the main distinguishing features is how the whole setup is under positive pressure, not gravity fed like a lot of the competitors. This means blockages are less likely, and the flow can be started and stopped much more quickly and accurately. It isn’t quite as quick as an air cutoff sprayer, but not far away; there’s maybe a 1-2 second delay from flicking the switch. The other claim to fame is a much higher working speed range, and all whilst keeping a constant stream as well. John Deere have measured the coefficient of variation between nozzles at 5%. This compares to 75% with some other machines.IMG_4088Section control is available – this means that instead of turning the whole drill off and on, there can be up to 8 different sections, which allows more precise control. Perhaps more interestingly, they are also developing a direct injection system, so that up to 6 different chemicals could be independently applied with variable rates. I suspect this could also have an application with sprayers?

Of course, the bigger question is what chemicals do we want to put down the drill?

My second visit was back out towards the coast again, to see 6th generation farmer Rich McFarlane. He’s another one who has gone away from arable and tilted towards livestock. Again, it was to get away from the spiralling arable input costs, and the very uncertain returns they were making.

Lucerne is pretty much the only bit of greenery around now, aside from a few native perennial grasses that are starting to come back

Lucerne is pretty much the only bit of greenery around now, aside from a few native perennial grasses that are starting to come back

Rich has been rotationally grazing his herd of Angus for the last three years, and is just starting to see some of the native grasses coming back. Amazingly, pretty much all of their pasture is made up from annual, cool season, species. I guess that speaks a lot to how the grazing has been managed in the past. The result is that over summer, the only thing that really grows is lucerne.

They use an interesting variation on rotational grazing that I haven’t heard of before, called the Drewes system. The idea is to vary the intensity of grazing that each field gets each year, to try and increase the overall biodiversity. At the start of year 1, the most productive field becomes the “Primary” grazing field, and the least is the “Sabbath” field. The animals start on the Primary, and then move onto the next in line, and the next,  always moving towards the Sabbath. However, whenever the Primary has recovered enough, the animals are immediately sent back there – and it all starts again. Unless conditions are very bad, they will never reach all the way to the Sabbath, and that field will have an entire year’s rest. The following year, the Primary become the Sabbath, and a new Primary is selected. I’m not sure that is an entirely good idea, but it will be interesting to see how it goes anyway.

Compost extractor

Compost extractor

In the last few years of cropping, Rich had started to use a liquid injector in his drill, similar to the ones I saw this morning (not sure if it was made by the same guys or not). He had been putting down liquid calcium, and phosphate – these apparently don’t mix very well, and often used to block up, but the results had been generally positive. Anyway, in the final year they had started to add into this an extract of compost. It is similar to a compost tea, but without the added bacteria. Basically a few buckets of compost are agitated with water, and out it comes – brown liquid bug food. This went down the drill at 100l/ha, to apparently satisfactory results. No data though, and the next year all the machines went and more cows arrived. End of experiment.

I haven’t see any, but it’s real snake country in this part of the world. Especially next to the lakes, where Tiger snakes like to live. In honour of that, I thought I would just park this amusing video here for some light relief.