16 August, 2010

Homeward Bound

I am on the flight home having being woken up at 3:30 by the bus company taxi who picks every one up to get to the bus station on time to catch the bus from Rosario to Buenos Aires. I was booked on the 5:30 bus but they decided to pick me up for the 4:30 one. The bus trip took longer than anticipated as someone threw a rock or brick at the bus and smashed a window. They sent for another bus and ¾ of an hour later we were “back on the road again” thanks Willie. I got off ant the airport at 10 o’clock with four hours to kill. I am glad they had a One World Lounge. The flight left at 1400 and we are following the sun so we have not had any night or sleep time. The main reason that I am writing and dribble is lack of sleep but I just saw Antarctica. There were no clouds we could even see the cracks in the ice. I think we saw the ice shelf around the Argentinean section of Antartica. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

15 August, 2010

3 Day Congress

Sponsors Section
What a fantastic conference, 2800 people with a large percentage of farmers. The whole congress was professionally run. With numbers of farmers attending, the agro-companies were out in force. They all had booths and some were very fancy with young models handing out the pamphlets and running competitions for prizes with the company logos on them. They had 3 sessions running concurrently. The topics ranged from crop nutrition to water footprints. They sessions started at 8:30am in the morning and finished between 6:30 and 8:00pm, but they did have a 2 hour lunch break.

Aerial Gymnists
The basics of ZT were not talked about as ZT is now the standard practice. There were a number of good sessions on crop nutrition and the fate of the different elements in the soil. The whole nutrient cycling system was discussed and it really only starts becoming a large component of available N:P:K after 5-7yrs of ZT. In particular Nitrogen can take longer as the now valued residue, along with the micro-organisms tie up quite a lot of this N.

A new area for benchmarking for me, was a ratio of fertilizer : yield. Fernando Garcia talked about the efficiency of crops in terms of kilograms of N:P:K applied compared to what yield was achieved. As an example he said that 1kg of N produces on average (a horrible term) 34 of Wheat where the same kg produces 144 of Maize.

As ZT has minimal disturbance the Movement of P through the profile is very slow with this eing carried out by roots when they grow and then die. This is a very small amount so it is very important to continue putting the Phosphorous in close proximity to the seed. Over time the P will be quite evenly spread through the top 5-7 centimetres as the fertilizer applied P and the P residue will be released whilst it breaks down.

There were a number of workshops on biotechnology, with Round Ready featuring well. The biotech companies are working on a number of the GM crops with drought resistance a key goal. At present a couple of companies had done this. The crops achieve good yields whilst stressed but in a normal type of season do not achieve higher yields.

The Argentinean farming is being squeezed at present by the government as they want agriculture to subsidize other industries . At present if they grow Wheat they get taxed up to an incredible 70%. This is shown as 35% tax on sales of wheat for export and then 35 cents in the peso income tax. Soybeans are not far behind. They are not even allowed to export their beef. As a result the numbers of cattle has dropped dramatically as the price has dropped sharpely.

12 August, 2010

Santa Fe & Cordoba States

City Gate for Corral de Bustos
I’ve got 5 days left then home, three will be spent at the AAPRESID congress. I am really looking forward to it. I have had a road trip for a couple of days looking over the area west of Rosario. Even though it has been relatively wet I only say one paddock of lucerne and 2 of wheat. The farmers tell me that they cannot make money on the wheat. The government actually taxes them if it is exported. That may seem a bit screwy but the government may want it internally to feed the population.

I called into another disc seeder manufacturer in Monte Maiz - Agrometal. They make both precision planters and seed drills. They did not have a lot different to the other companies with their current machines, but have some interesting prototypes, which revolves around large machines which fold or swivel for transport. The machines were well built and were typically Argentinean with a coulter then a double disc of identical sizes. All of the Brazilian machines only had coulters as an option, relying on the offset double disc of two sizes. Usually these were 15” & 16”.
Dual Swiveling Drill
For soaking up the local flavours there is a supermarket down the road that sells a lot good wine and a bottle shop 2 minutes walk the other way.It is good here, $4.50 Pesos for a Bottle of Corona ($1.50 Aussie) from the supermarket. They even have a vending machine down stairs with cold beer in it.

09 August, 2010

In Rosario

I'm back in Argentina with a bus trip from Buenos Aries to Rosario. It was a far better way to travel than car through the ludicrous traffic and mad drivers. I booked a car on line for a couple of days to do a bit of touring before the conference. On the website they were open all weekend 8-8. Today I went to pick the car up and no show, so I went for an expensive guided tour of Rosario by Taxi looking for other hire cars. I’l try again tomorrow.

01 August, 2010

Back to Argentina for AAPRESID Congress

Well, I thanked Nuffield and GRDC a bit too soon for the wonderful opportunity they have given me. With my travels accruing enough frequent flyer points I am off back to Argentina for the No-Till Congress.

My Spanish is not good enough to listen to the speakers, but after chatting with Dwayne Beck and Agustin Bianchini, I have decided to go. Whilst each speaker is doing their talks, they have three power point displays going on the screens in three different languages; Spanish, Portuguese & Australian. They also have on-the-go translators into those three languages as well. So with the expected crowd of 2000 it will be just like the United Nations.

I am really looking forward to it as I leave this Wednesday for 10 days

08 July, 2010

Family Reunion and Skiing in NZ

We got to the flight in Concepcion with lots of time to spare. Carlos had his timetable perfect from their many visitors to Chequen Farm. We were very thankful for our great stay. We got into Santiago at 9:30 but our flight out to NZ was not until 23.05 so off to the Qantas One World lounge.
But alas on the one day we need it the most. Sorry we don’t have an agreement for Ruby level Qantas Club members. So we slumped around the airport for 14 hours but we got a fair bit of work done.
We got the flight to NZ and we met the boys, Henry and Sam later in the day and then Megan on Friday. It was great to see them and we were up to 5/6 of the family. It was now off to the snow for a family get together. What a great week no matter what we say about our cousins across the Tasman, they put on a great show of scenery. We have a cabin on Lake Hawea for $140 a night and it would cost $1000 anywhere in Europe a night for the view.

Morning View From Our Balcony
We got up to Cardrona with plenty of snow on show. It only took us 45 minutes. We all got into the skiing and snowboarding for 4 days, all in the sun. We went out to Albert Town for dinner and there was a quiz night and Team Wallabies cleaned up. $50 to help pay for dinner.
Nikki, Henry, Sam & Megan
Travel Companions Enjoying the Sun and Snow

Hoare Frost On The Way Back To Lake Hawea
It is now back to Christchurch for the flight home to return from a fantastic journey. We have met a lot of really nice people and learnt a lot along the way. The people, food and hospitality has been wonderful. Now we need to put some of the learning and practices in place on our farm. Also to open our home for others to visit.

I would like to thank NUFFIELD and GRDC for the opportunity.

02 July, 2010

Carlos In Chile

Carlos is one of the few, who can be considered a pioneer of No-Till. He lives in the foothills above Concepcion in Chile a few hours south of the capital Santiago. Nikki and I caught up with Carlos and his wife Doris at their famous Chequen Farm. He runs a modest farm with a large portion of their income coming from eggs from 60,000 chickens (all white). The farm has made a miraculous comeback from devastation at the hand of the plough. He stopped ploughing in 1968 and put in permanent pasture but went back to cropping in 1978 but this time with a disc seeder from Allis Chambers’. He started but it was not without problems;

1. There Were Areas Of Erosion
Same Gully But Looking Down Gully

2. Extremely Poor Fertility.
3. No Adequate Herbicides For Weed Control, Leading to Weed Blowouts
Carlos bought himself a bulldozer and went to work on the area of gully erosion and reclaimed a lot of land. He set up his rotations to include medic and grain legumes for nitrogen fixation and grew large bulky cereal crops to start putting organic matter back into the soil but more importantly to keep residue on top of the soil and he was never going to cultivate or plough the land again.

Carlos had an ace in the hole, as he could access large amounts of chicken manure. As a diversification, Carlos has a large egg laying business. So, all of the manure from the chickens and a small feedlot goes onto the paddocks.
The Hens In The Cages
The soils on the farm are a sandy loam with a strong gravel feel in some areas. The pH is neutral. The phosphorous levels have been lifted from approximately 10 ppm to 70 ppm. He contributes this to both the manure and the rate of cycling of the organic matter by micro-organisms. The Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF) helps convert inorganic Phosphorous to available plant soluble Phosphorous. Carlos loves his soils and really appreciates how the soil has changed over the years to become more productive. The soil structure has returned and with it the fertility of the soil through increased levels of organic matter as this in turn has increased the Cation exchange capacity. He is always trying to increase his biomass whcig in turn increases the soil organic matter. Both above ground and below ground.

Multiply Years Of Crop Residue = Biomass Above Ground

Excellent Biomas Below Ground
Carlos, now, when asked about his 3 main issues included these;
1. Soil Compaction.
2. Permanent lack of Nitrogen.
3. Loss of Earthworms in some areas.

Hardy Checking Soil Compaction
He has tried doing some delving to break up the compaction in the lower soil profile, but this doesn’t seem to be very effective as we were in the paddock with a steel rod and there was no noticeable difference between the delved and non delved areas. Over time as the nutrient cycling became quicker and the yields improved, Carlos found that he still was short of nitrogen, so he has been using more manure per hectare. He likes to see his soil alive and has recently notice the absence of the once large numbers of earth worms. Carlos think that it may be due to higher levels of poultry manure???.
In their part of the world Carlos and Doris receive 1100 mm of rain per year. It mainly occurs during winter. He has constructed a couple of dams. He says he knows there is going to be runoff and as long as it is not taking soil with he may as well use it. They irrigate Corn on part of their property and it yielded 15t/hectare when reapt early this year. He uses the corn in both his chicken and cattle TMR’s.
Nikki and Hardy
We got around to talking about disc seeders and one of the good parts about being a pioneer and one who is watched by others to learn from is that companies like you to use their products. Both Semeato & Agro-metal have given Carlos seeding machines to use. Brazilian disc machines tend to have a double offset discs which are different diameters to ensure the cutting of the residue and Argentinean machines have triple discs with one coulter and two even discs, where the coulters do most of the cutting. It is an interesting argument about which the better way to go. Carlos had another guest who is a farmer in Southern Chile. Hardy used to work for Semeato for 10 years and is now an agent for Bertini in Chile. You can guess who he favours, but I like their machine as well after a visit to their factory in Rosario. Both Carlos and Hardy thought that the Bertini and Agrometal were the pick of current machines.

30 June, 2010

Argentina to Chile Across the Andes

We left Argentina to head to our last South American counrty - Chile and catching up with Carlos Crovetto. But Carlos had to wait as we got to see the Andes. Last time we saw an outline in the dusk, but this time. We only saw a small section of them as they run the entire length of South America.
Simply Awesome and Inspiring
Roads at 18,000 ft
Even Out The Window & Our Camera They Really Are Fantastic to See


The following day I went South again to see a corporate family farm at San Nicolas and caught up with Frederico Arostegui and Jorge Staffolani. Frederico is the specialist seeds manager and Jorge is the overall farm agronomist/manager. Even though the farm is a family farm it must operate in a hard and fast business way with profits returning to the family shareholders. The farm only owns a few utes and one utility tractor. All of the operations are carried out by contractors who have been regulars over the past years. The farm pays over the award rates for these contractors which ensures that they get to Uranga at the right time. I think this is a good strategy. They also supply the contractors with letters of agreements for future contracting which helps them when buying new machinery and when seeking funding.

The Agrometal Assembly
On this particular day there were 3 different contract seeders there all seeding corn. One Bertini, one Georgio and one Agrometal. The Agrometal certainly looked the biggest and best constructed machine but I thought that the seeding positioning and singulation was not as good as the others.

 A New Planter Sowing Horizontal Precision Box
 To keep getting a good return the managers and farm company attracts a premium for the crops that it grows in its seed selling role played by Frederico. Some of the seed crops that they grow are popcorn, yellow corn, green peas, chick peas and beans. They like using these crops as they are still classed as a specialty grain and do not attract the same export tax for commodities such as wheat. This is one of the issues the farms have in that even though they are attracting money from overseas, if they grow wheat they have to pay the 30% tax to the government.
As mentioned in the APPRESID visit, there is a lot of problems with soyabean over use as it is an easy cheap crop to grow and most of the land owners want the soy beans as their payment. This means there is too much grown in the rotations in Argentina. At the Moment the specialty crops haven’t attracted this tax although Frederico feels that in the near future they will start to. The best rotations are with green peas, soy then corn or wheat, soy then corn or utilising popcorn instead of the normal yellow corn. At present 70% of the farm is double cropped and they want to have 100% double cropped by 2015. At the moment they are even getting 5 crops in 2 years in some areas. The farm is looking to find a good spring crop replacement for wheat and they feel durum might be an option but not while the US have their subsidies in place.

Back in Rosario at Garden of Flags Monument

Not too Many Flags But Some Good Statues

Bertini's in Action

Puken Alvares lives south of Rosario and due West of Buenos Aires so we set off early in the morning and went to see a number of the model 32 seeders in action on his farm. The sowing width was just over 8 metres with a seed and fertiliser box along the entire width of the machine. This would mean that for us going from a 2 compartment airseeder box which is filled from one location to needing a movable auger and truck system for loading the combine.

Filling Seeder
When viewing the machine in action it had particularly good cutting (although a bit aggressive) by the coulter through a thick corn residue with a very even sowing depth and distance between seeds. The large wavy coulter was being used and on the soft sandy soils in that area there was too much soil throw.

Definite Path to Show Some Disturbance (No Trick Photography)

Seeder With Marker Arms
The machine has an ideal length and also had a tow hitch on the end to drop the transport width down to 3.5 m. With the assemblies fully lifted it gave an excellent high clearance for transport.

High Lift for Transport
 Farm Manager, Enrico Bertini, Puken Alvares, Me (No Name to Balance Manager) 
The contractors gave the machines a good recommendation particularly in the area of low maintenance. Their rotation that we saw was corn corn legume legume winter cereal winter cereal. This type of rotation is known as a double stacked rotation. The two corns give a very good control of weeds and produce an excellent amount of biomass. It was good to see the drills in action and it gave me a good idea of what Enrique and Luis had been talking about. We made our way home late at night but the time passed quickly as we had some good discussions regarding disc drill setups.
One area of debate is the setting of the front coulter as to whether it should be set deeper than the double disc seeder unit or if it should be set shallower. As the double disc has the depth control wheels attached I feel that the front coulter should be set 5 – 10 mm shallower than the double seeding discs.