Friday, 17 May 2013
Monday the 13th May was another day to remember on my Nuffield adventure. My visit was to the HQ of NIABTAG near Cambridge, who just the evening before had been on Countryfile with a brand new development in wheat breeding! I was met by Bill Clarke, to whom I am very grateful, he spent at least 3 hours showing me around the site and detailing the very valuable work that is being undertaken at the centre. Bill explained about NIAB, what it does with the recommended lists, the Innovation farms and the wider extension work to the farmer members. The membership only make up about 10% of the income stream, with the balance being from commercial work or contract work from industry or the BBSRC. We spoke about wheat growing and the challenges that we face trying to produce more from less, with less. How is that supposed to happen we can't work miracles, especially when you look at the potential to ban some or all triazoles from the fungicide battle.
Something that does resemble a kind of miracle is the work that Sarah and Emma are doing in the labs to multiply up the engineered seeds. It was fascinating to hear them speak with such knowledge and passion about a subject that is quite alien to me and so very specialised. It's great to know that people like this our working on our behalf making our industry better and more productive.
It was a great visit and I was allowed to see first hand the stages that went into the creation of the synthetic wheat featured on Country File the previous day, demonstrating a potential yield increase of up to 30 % over our existing varieties. Although the work is a long way from becoming available on the farm, the genetic engineers and plant breeders are working hard to help feed our growing world population, of that I am sure.
Monday, 13 May 2013
I can't believe where the last month has disappeared too. After Canada, lambing day and the spring work on the farm, things sure have been very busy. Last week we hosted Natasha King, a 2013 Nuffield Scholar, who we met in Canada. So as I was heading to Cranfield University with Tom Sewell to meet Professor Jane Rickson, Natasha came along as well. After half a days crop walking with Dominic the day before, we were slowly converting this Kiwi to a life alongside dairy cows!
The day at Cranfield was fantastic, Jane looked after us really well and lined up a great line of people available to tell us about he various areas of research they were undertaking. Karl Ritz was able to host for a while after lunch which was fascinating, to hear his thoughts on where arable cropping could be heading. We mused about mixed cropping in the same field, seed mixtures not just of different varieties but also of different crop types. In the past livestock farmers could have grown peas and spring barley together as a whole crop, baled and fed to livestock. Karl was talking about harvesting these mixes and then selling it as a blend or separating it out in the grain store. It would be very interesting to hear the industries views of segregation of different crops or selling blends. Does it matter for instance if a group 1 milling wheat is a mixture of Crusoe, Solstice and Gallant if it all makes the specification, but requires less fungicides, with the same yield? I guess these are things that organic farmers use to try and make sure 2/3rds of the crop survives a fungal attack. Maybe now is the time to slacken off the homogenised world of specifics and go with a more natural diverse scenario?
Later in the day Professor Rickson took us to the soil hall which was a tremendous asset to have. The trays above demonstrate how different soils under cultivation behave in different rainfall events with different topography. The tray above shows the effect on soil movement of a buffer strip, slope and tramline. When the water has reached a certain velocity then it moves down the slope taking soil particles (carrying pesticides and fertilisers) with it. These have been stopped by the grass buffer (right) but can this area act as a reservoir for super pollution during a once in a lifetime rainfall event when the soil particles contained in the buffer strip are washed out of the strip? A debate for the future, all about the width of your buffer! It also highlighted Tom's Nuffield topic of direct drilling and some of my previous thoughts, leaving crop residue on the surface through min-till or direct drilling is better for water quality and reduces soil erosion, and that is a fact.
We finally ended up in another area of the building looking at the soil pits that can be used to simulate cultivations and compaction and what can be done to remove or alter these in-field problems. The facility has the option to get any soil moisture level required, by simply simulating rainfall, which will obviously have an effect on the machinery being tested at any one time.
Again, more questions were asked than answers found, and lots of food for thought, not sure when this diet is going to start!
Sunday, 7 April 2013
Lambing is here again as as last year we are hosting our annual 'Lambing Live' Event on the 14th April. It will be great to see lots of people here again as in previous years, there will be so much going on. The tractor and trailer rides will be leaving the Village Hall in Overbury from 10.00, with the final one leaving at 3pm. The last one leaves Park Farm to return to the village hall at 4pm so you can spend as much, or as little time in the pens as you like. Up at Park Farm you will also find our game-keepering team of Paul, Tom and Rod, showing and demonstrating how the conservation and shooting aspects of the farm and hill management work very well together. Our friends from Countrywide Farmers will also be there with some exciting activities for the younger potential shepherds.
There will be displays and Overbury Lamb Casserole available to buy at the village hall; with proceeds going towards the renovation of the village hall kitchen, a worthy cause. We only charge adults £5 per person and accompanied children go for free, to attend the sheep sheds by tractor ride. We must advise that for health and safety reasons we do not allow pregnant ladies to attend the sheep sheds. For the most up to date information please keep an eye on our Overbury Farms Website or for regular updates you can follow No1FarmerJake on twitter. Our FaceBook page will also carry information about the event and what you can expect.
With the terrible effect the weather has had on many livestock farms across the north of the country we are supporting the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution with collection boxes. Any donations will be gratefully received and passed on the the charity to use in helping many struggling farmers who have lost many sheep, lambs and cattle in the snow. I am looking forward to meeting you all at Park Farm, stay tuned all this week for more details of what you can expect to see and do.
After the Grain Farmers of Ontario March classic I met up with Steve Twynstra who owns a very impressive cash cropping business near Ailsa Craig, situated about 25 minutes drive North West of London Ontario. Steve's business revolves around soybeans, corn and wheat and is spread over quite a large area surrounding London.
I met Steve at the conference before I hired a car and headed out to meet him at the farm. The workshop and office where we met were immaculate as was every piece of machinery I could see. The tractors were polished clean, all the machinery goes through a very thorough process in the workshop through the winter period. Steve also had 3 lorry units that he uses to haul, grain and fertiliser at certain times of the year. The size of the equipment was very impressive as well. A cultivator, similar to a germinator, with tines and rollers with levelling bars was tucked away and was 50' wide (15.25m).
In the last couple of years Steve had put up some very impressive on farm round silo's to hold the crop grown on the farm. Steve has been using variable rate technology since the mid 1990's and has done a lot of research work on using yield maps to create the variable rate plans.
After a lovely dinner cooked by Mrs Twystra (Dianne), Steve and I headed out in the snow in the truck to a neighbours farm. Here the group meet up once a month to have a general agricultural discussion. The group started as a marketing group and over time it has morphed into more of a general discussion usually with external speakers in attendance. This is where I met up with Peter Johnson again and so we talked wheat for the next couple of hours. I also had a few slides about being a LEAF Demonstration farm so I showed those off as well.
The farm hosting the event also produced maple syrup form the maple trees on the farm. About 100 acres of trees are tapped each year to produce the sap. The sap only rises at certain times and needs a specific temperature pattern to get it going. A cold frosty night should be followed by a warmer day. The sap is collected and reduced down using wood fires. The final process uses gas heat so that more control of the temperature can be obtained. The native Indian population in Canada thought the first settlers how to do this using hollowed out trees filled with sap and then dropping hot fire stones in to remove the water and concentrate the syrup. The process in reduced by a value of 40. i.e. 40L of sap is required to make 1L of Maple Syrup!
The darkness of the syrup depicts the different amount of flavour. The darker the colour the more intense the taste. Different flavours occur during different times of the season, depending on how the sap rises. It was a fascinating end to another great day. The next I was on the road, getting up at 3.30 for the 7 hour, 400 mile drive East and then North to Ottawa, Canada's capital city, to meet up with my wife Andrea and daughter Jorja.
Friday, 5 April 2013
Monday and Tuesday I was very lucky to be included in the Grain Farmers of Ontario March classic. An event aimed at bring the latest information and some great comedy to grain producers in the region. The event also hosted a trade show with over 50 exhibits from soil sampling to crop breeding and husbandry. I was met by Crosby Devitt, a Canadian Nuffield Scholar who works for the GFO and who put me in touch with the organisation. The event was top class with speakers covering a range of subjects, but not just agricultural. I was very impressed to hear stories from Ron MacLean, who hosts a TV show in Canada called 'Hockey Night in Canada'. As you can imagine he is quite a celebrity and although I haven't seen the TV show the recollection's and stories were very amusing indeed.
It was great to see support from the catering staff who were serving food and drink through the day. I particularly like this shirt that states quite clearly the benefits of having a vibrant farming industry on your doorstep, producing quality home grown food.
I was also very lucky to be invited to the evening dinner banquet where I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with the Premier of Ontario and the Minister of Agriculture for Ontario, Kathleen Wynne. Kathleen had only been in the position for just about a month when I met her; but she realised the importance of agriculture to the economy of the Province, and so took on the Minister of Agriculture role as well. We'll see how she gets on but made quite an impression on the evening walking round the tables of farmers introducing herself and listening to what they have to say. Our politicians could learn a lot! I met lots of interesting people over the two days including Barry Senft the CEO of the Grain farmers on Ontario who spoke to us during the first day of meetings at the CSC. I also met Peter Johnson who is the Provincial Cereal Specialist and we had a great conversation about growing bigger yields of wheat. I actually met up with Pete the following day at a local event, more to follow. You can follow Pete on twitter well worth a look!
Thursday, 4 April 2013
Sunday morning arrived all too quickly after a late night in the bar; continuing the discussions after Steve Larocque's excellent presentation; dancing, talking and letting our hair down (those of us that have any). We even got restricted in the bar to one drink per person per hour, but that didn't dampen anybodies spirits. Over the week I have made some incredible friendships and had some very interesting conversations and discussions about farming, global threats, encouraging new entrants into agriculture, trying to strengthen the appeal of agriculture to our customers and how we can feed people more sustainably. I have also learnt that other farmers around the whole world are having the same discussion that we are, we are not alone and that by talking about problems, solutions can be found. Soberingly I also appreciate the small part we, the UK, have to play in the global production of food. However our part is becoming clearer to me, we need to be more productive, more efficient, more environmentally aware and better linked to our customer, whether that is the supermarket selling our lamb or the flour miller grinding the wheat that we grow. Just the right time for my study topic, 20T/ha in 20 Years time, Fact or Fiction?
I also have 78 new best friends. You might think that is impossible after only a week, but I know that if I wanted to go and visit any of the #Nuffield13 scholars doors would be wide open in all four corners of the globe and that is something very special. Of course that is mirrored here at Overbury. The washing machine will be maintained regularly to make sure it's ready to be pressed into service.
It really was a great week and one that will stay with me forever. I know that we all felt the same way, and it was hard to say good bye to everyone; assuming that, as a group, we will probably never be together again. There will be reunions from time to time but I sadly doubt all of us will be together again.
For some it was on with the Global Focus Group Tour, something I plan to do in the future. Blake Vince (above) from Ontario is part of that group who headed to Washington DC very early on Sunday morning to continue the 7 week world tour. Next week (8th April) they are in the UK so we'll meet up again, which will be fantastic to hear their stories from California and Brazil, having seen some facebook pictures and comments.
For others it was heading back to Toronto airport and back to the UK, but for me; I headed North West with Karen Daynard (CDN), Julian Raine (NZ) and Karen Brosnan (IRE) back to Guelph.
We stopped along the way at Sue-Anne Staff's winery, you could say for 'one for the road' and then after dropping Julian and Karen along the way, Karen (CDN- next to me) headed to her parents house. Terry and Dot Daynard had very kindly offered to put me up for the night.
I have to say it was a great feeling to be in a proper home and not living out of a suitcase for a change. Terry and Dot cooked a lovely meal (on the BBQ in the snow, proper Canadian's) and we were joined by Karen and her sister Kelly, who spoke earlier in the week on social media. After a great nights sleep and Dot doing some washing for me (thank you so much), we had a look around the farm buildings and the outside corn store
which was used to store corn (maize) on the cob over winter. The cold dry air would keep the crop safe gradually drying it out over the winter before it was sold. Terry and Dot showed me some pictures of the store being filled. In a dry year the cobs would flow easily up the elevator but if they were wet almost every one had to be prodded up into store. We also has a sneaky peak around the machinery shed and saw this little beauty..
tucked away. I guess it was a sign, once entangled in the Nuffield world there is no escaping!
Tuesday, 26 March 2013
The final part of the conference was arguably the best. We were split into 6 groups to work together on a presentation for the other groups. We were given two hours to work out a plan; in our case, "Telling the Story of Agriculture", then we had a 15minute presentation and a 10 minute grilling from everyone else. We looked at the voice that agriculture has in the world, from Facebook groups promoting agriculture to those in opposition and it really was frightening the balance of opposition to agriculture. We looked at Twitter, at YouTube and how we as scholars can help influence the positive side of our great industry. What amazed me was that all the scholars are having the same thoughts and issues, no matter where they come from in the world. The rural population is in decline, the age of our farmers is increasing and our voice is getting lost in the general 'noise' of our modern world. It's not all doom and gloom though there are some beacons shining in the darkness telling our side of the story. We need to do more of it, maybe with one international agriculture brand? It was a very good finale to the Conference and one that inspired a very good 'take home' message to us all. Some were really shocked at the statistics.......
The evening was spent in the Skylon Tower over looking the Niagara falls where we all mulled over the information we had taken in during the week. I was amazed at how quickly the week had gone, spent with a really tremendous group of friends. Friendships that will last a life time even though we've only just met. Friendships that will be built on over time, meeting up around the world, during our individual studies and long into the future.
The view form the tower was a stunning setting for the final talk of the week from Steve Larocque who owns a company called Beyond Agronomy. Steve was a Nuffield Scholar from 2008 and manages over 30,000 acres in Alberta. Steve has taken his Nuffield experience to the highest level, looking after a wide range of crops, including wheat, barley, canola, beans, lentils and peas, as well as setting up his own farming business. He is a huge advocate of Controlled Traffic Farming and looking after the soil at all times. It's a system that has the greatest resilience to climate change and one that we need to be looking into more and more in the UK. It will be a nice side line as part of my 20:20 project!
Steve gave us an example of one of his spring barley fields with 650 ears/m2 with 60 kernels/ear which when harvested yield 12T/Ha. Now that is very impressive and a target to aim for and one that needs more investigation. What can I learn for the UK situation?