Tuesday, December 14, 2010

CTF Australia 2010 Wrap-up

We arrive home late Sunday evening after a 30 plus hour travel day. Everyone agreed that it was a great trip and we learned a lot, exactly what we were hoping to do. The group is pictured below. They were a great bunch to travel with. We will be working on a trip report for our partners and will likely provide access to it via the CTF Alberta web site www.controlledtrafficfarming.org

Eleven Albertans went on the trip:
The farmers included:
 Craig Shaw, Lacombe – CTFA and Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund board (ACIDF)
 Tom Machacek, Bow Island - ACIDF
James Jackson, Dapp - CTFA and Alberta Pulse Growers
Jamie Christie, Trochu - CTFA and Alberta Barley Commission
Jack Swainson, Red Deer - CTFA and Alberta Winter Wheat Producers Commission
Kevin Bender, Bentley - Alberta Canola Producers Commission
Mel Stickland, Red Deer - Western Grains Research Foundation
Steve Larocque, Three Hills - CTFA and Beyond Agronomy

Jay Bruggencate, Lacombe - Farmers Edge

 Alan Hall, Lacombe – CTFA and ACIDF
Peter Gamache, Edmonton - CTFA

We sat down the last day to hear a very informative presentation by GRDC and talked about the highlights and learnings  of the trip. Steve Larocque, Beyond Agronomy, has a great summary of what we learned
  1. CTF doesn't have to happen overnight. You can progress into CTF over time as you begin to match up equipment widths and axel widths. Nobody says you have to flip a switch and go all in year one.
  2. CTF equipment set ups don't have to be expensive and I can attest to this. Many of the farms invested less than $15,000 to get into CTF and some took a few years while cash flow allowed.
  3. You don't have to be anal about CTF. For example, if you have to jump off a tram line to unload at harvest because you can't make it to the end of the run, then jump off and unload. The extra wheel traffic created by jumping off the tram lines to unload amounts to a very small percentage across the farm.   
  4. CTF opens up a world of precision application opportunities: inter-row seeding to inter-row spraying herbicides, on-row spraying of fungicides and insecticides, in-crop fertilizer banding, and strip till banding fertilizer in the fall.  
  5. CTF creates spatial awareness. With the aid of application and yield mapping you can begin to eliminate the variables that reduce yield in your cropping system. Once you reduce the randomness of input applications, you can start to extract valuable yield data because the placement of inputs is so precise.
  6. CTF improves the timeliness of input applications. We all know how important timing is in farming. With CTF, growers can get on the field sooner after a rain than conventional farming systems. Improving the timeliness of seeding, spraying and harvest can generate big returns. 
  7. CTF reduces fuel use by 30 to 50%, with big savings during harvest. For example, drive a loaded combine weighing in excess of 60,000 lbs across a soft field and then drive it across a pair of hard packed tram lines. Needless to say, the reduction in fuel use is significant.
  8. On farm research becomes easier and the data collected more valuable with CTF. The pass to pass accuracy in a CTF system allows you to apply treatments and collect yield data knowing exactly how many rows you treated and how many rows you harvested. It eliminates the randomness like input overlap and harvest under lap that skews yield data.
The Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund arranged our trip and provide considerable funding as did the groups the members represented. A special thanks to Alan Hall for all the work he and the ACIDF office did.

I would like to thank our friends in Australia. Tim Neale and Andrew Whitlock of Precision Agriculture were brilliant and Sue McPherson of Travelworld, Toowoomba, was superb. All the famers and machinery guys we met were very accommodating and willing to share what they have been learning.

Hope you enjoyed the blog. If you have any questions please email me. Peter Gamache

Friday, December 10, 2010

CTF Australia December 10, 2010

Today was cool, cloudy and windy with a high of about 15C. So much for the rumors about how hot it is in Australia. We visited several farmers north and east of Ballarat and then drove into Melbourne where we will meet with GRDC (Grains Research Development Corporation) tonight and tomorrow.

Most of our visits were on the treeless plains (original state). Troy Missen has a CTF system similar to Ruwoldt’s. He is using an Excel disk seeder. He has a down to earth operation and suggested that we need to be practical and not to let the details and highly accurate measurements drive us batty. It’s probably not worth the worry.

He has been experiencing problems with rabbits, and slugs. Slugs are particularly bad this year due to high moisture and high residue. The baits have been ineffective. Annual rye grass is also a problem in some fields.

He uses liquid fertilizer and has gone to applying several times during the growing season. It has saved him money over putting most of the fertilizer on at seeding.

Our second visit was to Rowan Peel’s. He is the farm manager. He started no till and CTF journey in 1996. Raised beds sort of forced him into CTF. Raided beds were established because of excessive moisture. He moved to 3 M CTF recently and removed the beds. However he plans to establish 3 M beds on about 40 to 50% of his land. He will also increase his row width to 12 inches. One interesting thing he does is windrow his canola with his combine header but will likely straight cut in the future.

Josh Walter manages a 1200 ha farm that also has an outdoor farrowing enterprise. For the most part they do not mix the livestock and cropping land. Only 100 hectares is used for the pigs and sheep. It was the first place we got to see a seeder in operation.

Josh is probably the most enthusiastic user of GPS/GIS data on farm I have met. They are able to integrate the pig manure into the cropping but it does compromise the CTF a bit. However the results are outstanding. He uses yield data, proximate sensor data, high resolution satellite data and identifies and attempt to solve issues that show up. He sees endless possibilities and used the phrase “special awareness”. It’s important to know what is going on your crop land, capturing that information and using it to your advantage.

He has up to 14 or 15 experiments going on each year. He says trials are not hard to do and not time consuming. Of course Andrew and Tim of Precision Agriculture are able to help him gather and analyze his data.

We visited with two brothers who, Ben and Tom Jenz, are just getting into CTF. They have very small equipment but are able to cover a lot of ground. Unfortunately their crops had taken a beating from the rain. Andrew has a SenTec moisture probe on the farm. It takes readings to one meter depth and sends data via cellular every 15 minutes. Ten years of drought have left these guys with very little money to spare and loss of this year’s crop is heartbreaking.

Our last visit was to Chris Sharkey’s plots. Andrew is working with others to try some ripping, ripping and lime and ripping and compost trials on their sodic soils. Lime or compost is put down behind the ripper shank. The manure has given good results.

                                                 Andrew trying to explain things to Canadians

Overall a good but cold day. We did see more rocks than I have ever seen. A lot of back breaking work went into this land to get it farmable.

I am not sure if I will be able to get a blog out tomorrow. I will try to do a wrap-up in the next few days. We have had a great experience here, learned a lot and seen some very interesting farms and country side. Tim and Andrew of Precision Agriculture have been brillant.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

CTF Australia December 9, 2010

The day turned out pretty good, no rain although we did have grasshoppers hitting the van and sounding like hail. We visited three farmers in the Horsham and Ballarat areas.

The Postlethwaithe’s are pioneer in CTF. They have built most of the equipment they needed and that has led to a farm fabrication business. They build shielded sprayers, build, revamp and repair headers and sell, service and install GPS guidance systems among other things.

They have changed some tramline to go across the slope to reduce erosion. They also have a similar problem to Robert Ruwoldt. As the biological activity has increased in their fields, decomposition of residue has increased. Sounds good until you start harvesting crops and lasts year’s stubble, which is still standing won’t cut because it is barely attached at the surface. It plugs up the knife and drags along instead of cutting.

The shielded sprayer design was very innovative and flexible. We wanted to take some units home. One of them will work on 13.5 inch rows. There is potential for a lot of savings using these in crop.

Our second visit was to Steve Lanyon’s. He and his father farm about 10,000 acres. He is much more relaxed about his CTF system, and has set it up on 3 M trams and then 10 M equipment widths. He has a 20 M shank seeder (66 feet), 10  M header, 30 M sprayer.

It was good to see something much closer to where we are in Alberta. His row spacings are 13.3 inches. Steve tries to keep things simple, like pulling off the tramline to unload or turning the chaser around in the middle of a field if need be. He showed us one field that was 1800 acres in size, 3.5 km runs I think.

Steve also built his own Weedseeker 20 M spray rig. It is attached via a 3-point hitch. The savings in chemical can be very significant.

All of the guys in CTF seem to be saving fuel and are very pleased with their ability to get on the field in tough conditions, the traction packed trams have and the general operating efficiencies and ease.

Our last visit of the day was to Highleaze Seeds. They have their own cleaning plant and market grass, legumes and cereals. There are looking to move to CTF but current only inter-row seed on 10 inch rows.

Our day end late again with a show called “Blood on the Southern Cross”

Tomorrow we are off to see four famers as we work our way to Melbourne and home.

Ballarat area

CTF Australia December 8, 2010

We arrived early at Robert Ruwoldt’s farm for breakfast. His agronomist Andrew Newell was there too and a few neighbours. Unfortunately it was raining and had been all night so Ruwy was not able to harvest. We were able to look at his machinery including his new super secret openers – no pictures allowed. Hopefully we’ll get some to try in Alberta in the next few years. Ruwy has spent many hours designing these.  He has also designed a new toolbar.

He has a 3:1 system – 120 inch trams, 30 foot seeder, 30 foot header and 90 foot sprayer. He seeds canola and fababeans on 30 inches rows and it looked very good. Cereals and pulses are on 15 inches rows. He does seed his tramlines. His soils are cracking clays and red loams. The red soils are coarser in texture, do not hold as much water and erode easier. Most of the land we saw was fairly level and erosion in the wheel tracks was almost nonexistent.

Ruwy is probably a CTF purist so he pays close attention to details and getting everything right when setting up his equipment. However he compromises where necessary. So for example headlands are a bit of a sacrifice. Tramline repairer

Peter Walsh is a neighbor of Robert’s. He has a 7 M system (35 feet) and uses a Daybreak seeder. He has added an extension to his chaser. Like most of the guys he is pretty handy in the shop.

Our last visit of the day was with another of Robert’s neighbor’s, Robbie Cowan. He is gradually developing his system and does quite a bit of custom work. He has a tine seeder and is very cost conscious as he makes changes. He has a liquid fertilizer system and mixes product at home. Robbie has a 12 (40 feet) meter planter. He is working on residue spreading issues and unloading issues with the chaser, given his wider system.

We are quite interested in the moisture probes being used to track soil moisture, water use and rooting depth. There is a potential to see if changes are occurring over time in the soil profile. This could also be tied into a weather station.

Quite a few of Ruwy’s neighbours came for an evening BBQ. It’s pretty stressful for them, given the deluge of rain, extensive flooding, harvest difficulties and crop loss. This comes after around 13 years of drought and the promise of great crops that were almost in the bin.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

CTF Australia, December 7, 2010

Correction: King toad is actually called Cane toad

After a day off and a travel day we arrived in Horsham. The drive from Melbourne west, northwest to Horsham (about 3 hours) was very beautiful. There is lots off grazing land up to Ballarat and then more cropland after that. Sheep and cattle were grazing in grass that was up to the back of the sheep. We also saw lots of forest plantations. Unfortunately its raining here. Likely they have had around four inches in the last four to five days.

Andrew Whitlock of Precision Agriculture has taken over as our guide. He has done a lot of CTF research and trials. One of the more interesting ones was showing the impact of the combine wheels on yields. He mapped out where the wheel tracks were and then measured yields the next year. Most of his results showed around 30% yield loss and in one case up to 50%. Andrew said some clients have been adopting parts of CTF but have been reluctant to include the combine in the system.

They have also used moisture loggers to measure soil water with sensors spaced about 10 to 20 cm apart down to 1 M. This has enabled them to track water movement and use as well as changes over time.

The crops around here are more like home but winter crops – wheat, barley, canola and some oats. If summer crops are grown it is usually for biomass.

Tomorrow we will be visiting Robert Ruwoldt's and neighboring farms.

A couple of 'bus' pictures on the way to Horsham.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

CTF Australia, December 5, 2010

The weather was spectular today, about 30 to 35 C and humid, with an impressive thunderstorm around 5 PM.

We were able to discuss our proposed on-farm research with Tim and have some better ideas on how to proceed. After the discussion we headed out to the Dululu area to visit with two CTF farmers.

Joe and Rhonda Reddy and daughter Claire were very gracious hosts. They have come through a long drought and have managed to survive due to no-till and CTF. The systems really mesh together well.

Joe crops 460 ha and has about 360 ha of grazing land for his 100 cow/calf herd. The rainfall is very variable, with extremes like 4 inches per hour. Joe very seldom puts cattle on CTF cropped land.

He has a 3 M tram system and 9 M seeder on 15 inch rows. His advice was to develop long term goals for the farm, create a matching system such as a 3:1 system and move toward it quickly.  He would also like to go to 20 inch tracks on the header (combine). Interestingly his wheel slip dropped from 24% to 10% when he removed the tines (shanks) on each side of the tramline tracks. When he moved from contour farming to up and down the slope with GPS he saved 20% on chemical.

He will grow two crops of Mung beans and one of wheat this year (12 month period). The cereals are important for cover/residue. Nothing like tripling your farm size by CTF, no-till and good management along with seeding three times.

Lunch was at the Dululu Hotel built in 1928. Rather quaint.

Our second visit of the day was to Neal Johansen’s. He has a 3 M tram systems and 12 M header and seeder. His header is a MacDon and the seeder a JD 1895 on 10 inch rows. He also has a large Mother tank. It is the collector bin that is parked at the end of a field and to which the chaser delivers grain. The Mother bin grain is transferred to a truck.

Neal grows mainly Mung beans and wheat. He is the first farmer we visited who had gone to 10 inch rows and was happy with that. He moved to no-till and CTF at the same time and will triple crop like Joe this year. An agronomist for his area was out to show us some trias on Mung beans.
Unfortunately our superb guide, agronomist, precision ag expert and driver Tim Neale of Precision Agriculture departed this evening. He has done a great job and we will keep in touch, tapping his expertise. Thanks Tim!

We saw a pretty song bird today with the name of Wonky Wobbly. Our naturalist, who shall remain unnamed, pick up a King toad last night. They happen to be poisonous – oozing from the skin. Fortunately he did not suffer any ill effects. The picture below is of a bottle tree.

The next blog will be in two days from Horsham, Victoria.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

CTF Australia, December 4, 2010

Today was the nicest weather of our trip, mid 20s, humid and sunny. Unfortunately we spent quite a bit of time indoors.

Lots of questions have been generated on our trip so Tim took the time, along with Steve’s help to work through our questions. A few of the twenty or so we had were harvest logistics, RTK systems issues, metric vs imperial, residue spreading, axles sizes, track widths, measuring compaction and economics.

We learned a new term – Distance of Squash (DOS), a Tim Neale expression for compaction. Another expression was ‘mongrel soils’, meaning poor soils. Tim has explained the Australians have come up with lots of unique names such as brown snake for a brown coloured snake and red back spider for a spider with a red back. Australians have a great sense of humour.

Tim strongly recommended that we try to establish a standard for wheel stance. It would be best in the long run to choose between metric or imperial. Three meters is not the same as 120 inches.

He also encouraged us to do a farm layout – topography and drainage among other things so that the tramlines can be planned for efficiencies and slope conditions.

Traction may be another thing we need to rethink. Going from duals to singles sounds like a problem but packed tramlines provide greatly increased traction.

All together the day was highly profitable. Tomorrow we will be visiting farmers in the Rockhampton. The flooded road will not allow us to go to Emerald.

Rockhampton is a beautiful area and I have included a few pictures including one of the Fitroy River running at about 36 feet deep due to the rain and for those who like fruit bats (hanging in the trees).