Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Farming in the Deep South

I met up with Simerjeet and some students from Auburn, at the research farm. We all headed out to a farm in southern Alabama, as the farmer wanted them to check the calibration and spread pattern of his fertililzer spreader. (Probably out of SCS area, even for Jim!) This kind of extension work is very valuable to all parties involved and would be standard practice here.
We arrived at Autauga Farming Company, and meet Andy Wendland who is running the family business. The Wendland family have been farming in the area since 1919.

A great example of a farm sign
Autauga Farming Company farm around 6000acres near Autaugaville, Alabama. The crops grown are Cotton, Corn, Soya Beans, Winter Wheat, Winter Oats and new this year sesame. Cotton is the main crop and the family used to run their own cotton Gin, but it is now uneconomic to do so. The wheat harvest was complete, and had been good with yields 30% higher than normal, at 1.6 T/ac. Most of the wheat fields were now replanted with either GM soya or Sesame. Both of these crops will be harvested this year and another crop of winter wheat will be planted again, which effectively is a double cropping rotation. 
The Fertilizer spreader to be calibrated
Andy wanted to get the guys from Auburn to check the calibration and spread pattern of his spreader as he was concerned it was not accurate enough. As he was using the spreader to apply fertilizer variably he need to know it was accurate, otherwise the application rate would not match the prescription.
Whilst the spreader was being calibrated, I went on a "Windshield" tour of the farm with farm manager, Bill Lipscombe, who had been on the farm for 38 years. We toured all round the farm checking all the rain gauges as it had rained the night before, their annual rainfall is 52" (1320mm). Bill was a great guy and I had an enjoyable couple of hours with him
1st Stop on the "Windshield" tour
This crop of GM Soya Beans, nearly all soya is round up ready, these had been direct drilled into a winter wheat stubble 3 weeks ago, and will be harvested in time to plant wheat again. Considering the majority of soya grown in the US is GM, and exported all over the world and used as animal feed, with no known health risks, isn't about time the EU allowed GM crops so we can compete.
The 1st crop of Sesame grown

The sesame is being grown for topping bread buns, and is an alternative to soya to plant between two crops of winter cereals. It will take 120 days from planting to harvest, with the daily temperatures and plenty of rainfall crops grow very quickly. This field is in the river valley, and a few years ago it was under 10 feet of water when the river flooded.
A game cover crop of corn and narrow strip of wheat
The farm has a successful hunting reserve, this is one of many game strips around the farm, people come onto the farm to hunt deer, Quail and Doves, from 1st September until March 15th depending on what their are hunting.
Pecan Tree Orchard
There are approximately 1300 Pecan trees on the farm, some in orchards and some on the roadside. The nuts are picked once they have fell off the tree by hand, it can be done mechanically but the cost of separating the nuts from other everything else picked up is too high at the moment. They are looking at ways that the orchards can be better managed. 

Bill with some of the Cows Grazing
The farm also has a "Cow Calf" herd, of 800 cows, one of the largest in the state. The herd is made of 3 different crosses of cows, Angus X Charolais, Angus X Simmental, Charolais X Simmental which are breed to either of the 3 breeds of Bull, and then divided into 11 separate herds, this increases the hybrid vigour in the herd. The cows calf in the fall (Autumn) as there is lots of grass available and the calves are sold the following august into a strong market, because the local supply in the main cattle feeding states is tight and it is cheaper to move the cattle north to the corn than truck the corn south to the cattle. Cows are pregnancy tested in the fall, and culled if they are not in calf which leads to a tight 10 week calving period.  All of the steers will have a hormone implant put in their ear which costs $1, lasts 100days and results in an extra 30lbs weight gain, worth $45/head, its easy to see why they are used. None of the heifer calves have a hormone implant as many of them are sold for breeding.
Andy Wendland, Me and Bill
I asked to borrow a hat for this photo, but apparently a Cowboys hat is like his wife and not for sharing!
After some lunch I had to drive to Decauter in North Alabama. Unlike the bright sunshine in the photos the 1st hour of the drive was in torrential ran worse than anything I had driven in before.
I had an appointment with Shannon Horwood, Integrated Solutions Manager (I had to ask what it meant!), at Trigreen Machinery. Shannon's role is to help Trigreens customer get the most out of their John Deere AMS (Integrated Solutions) equipment. Shannon can help with everything from getting equipment working to collecting and holding yield data for future use, to a complete service of processing yield data from multiple years and cross referencing that data with soil data to produce prescription maps for inputs. Trigreen has setup its own RTK Network for its customers to use if they do not have there own bas station, the customers pay a subscription to Trigreen. The network is being used to control the end swinging arm on centre pivot irrigators, and also through JD Link (a telematics connection) and the use of moisture probes the level of irrigation can be controlled.

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