Farm Ireland

Sunday 17 December 2017

pushed to the limit -- BUT that is needed to plant 10,000 acres

Having worked in the USA last year, Robert Deacon, Wexford mechanic Robert Deacon gives us the latest instalment of his farming experiences in the central Canadian state of Manitoba

Robert Deacon

On May 1, Mother Nature gave her last reminder of Canada's winter, laying four inches of snow across the Hiebert farm and the state of Manitoba. The winter had dragged its heels well into this year and we were all hoping to finally get a chance to put the machines to work planting this year's crops. We were frequently reminded, during the thaw, of Ron's farming motto -- "When the sun shines, jus' give 'er."

On this farm, they usually use a fertiliser system in autumn, which injects anhydrous ammonia into field stubbles during the 'deep-tilling' of the ground before winter sets in. This system has two advantages. First, working the ground allows the fields to dry a lot quicker in spring so that planting can get under way sooner. The other advantage is that it cuts down the work of applying fertiliser during the already chaotic season of seeding.

However, last year's harvest ran late into the year, leaving no time for the deep-till system to cover the farm's massive acreage, so the fertiliser rigs were first to hit the fields this spring. The new John Deere 4930 sprayer was applying liquid fertiliser, mainly to perennial ryegrass and some wheat fields. The rest of the acres were spread with granular fertiliser using a 60ft Airboom spreader on a John Deere 8345RT.

A lot of effort goes into reducing ground compaction to improve yields which brings the tractors' auto-steer systems into their own. All the fields are already mapped and recorded so, when spreading fertiliser on a field that is going to have a row crop such as maize planted in it, a common line is picked between the two operators.

Both spreader and planter are 60ft wide so the planter tractor will run directly on top of the ground already packed by the spreader, this system means that maize is never planted in ground that was packed by a tractor, except for headland turns.

By the middle of May, all the equipment was flat out seeding 10,000ac. Two 60ft air- seeders were planting wheat, oats and some of the canola.

For heavier land, where the air-drills had difficulty working, the canola was harrowed in afterwards. A 24-row precision planter was used for soy-beans and maize. In good conditions, each machine is capable of planting around 600-700ac a day. To keep the necessary volume of seed, and sometimes fertiliser, constantly supplied to these machines is a big job.

The farm has invested in a large five-compartment tender unit trailer complete with its own unloading belt. The tender unit is fully remote controlled and capable of unloading nearly three tonnes of seed a minute into the seed carts that are towed behind the seeders.

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During any normal day, two or three men are involved in collecting, dressing or bringing seed to the field for planting.

Over the next few weeks, men, machines and the farm's much-appreciated chef were pushed to their limits. But, during that time, we managed to plant 2,560ac of maize, 1,600ac of wheat, 2,080ac of soy-bean, 3,040ac of canola and 800ac of oats. All in all, a total of 10,080ac. The perennial ryegrass is planted in the previous year with wheat as the cover.

Even as the crops were breaking ground, the flat land of Manitoba throws up another obstacle to the farmer's season.

With occasional rain storms dropping anything from 12-62mm in a short period, getting this water to run off the land is important. Even though all fields have drainage ditches graded into their surface, it still needs a little help to get going.

The farm uses ATVs, fitted with narrow tyres, to drive from waterlogged areas in the field to the drain's edges. The wheel tracks produced are enough to allow the water to drain across the flat land. This simple task is capable of saving acres of crops from being destroyed, with most crops generally only capable of coping with two days underwater.

As the middle of last month rolled in, the seeders were retired as spraying took over. An extra John Deere 4930 sprayer was hired from the local dealer to help during the busy season of applying fungicides and herbicides to crops.

The canola and maize are both genetically modified crops which are 'Round-up ready'. This means that they withstand being sprayed with Round-up chemical, which makes it easy to have a field free of weeds. I was surprised to see that after spraying, Round-up did not slow the crops' growth at all.

As this month brought temperatures into the mid-30°C range and humidity rose well above 80pc, crops can be seen growing day by day. All available hands were kept busy with many projects going on, including extending the existing grain handling and drying system, and building more yard space for handling the farm's growing yearly export of straw bales to the US.

Balers, grain trailers and trucks are all passing through the workshop now to be ready for harvest. The four new swathers and five combines are expected to arrive next month with perennial ryegrass first on the cards for cutting. Even with their short annual window of opportunity for crop farming in Canada, they seem to have adapted their equipment and thinking well. Now for the harvest.

Indo Farming