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Week #2: Cotton in Wee Waa

Day #1:

I arrived in Wee Waa after 9 hours of travel from Sydney, where I’d just spent a week exploring with my brother and friends.  I hadn’t experienced train travel much before, but after the whole experience I’d highly recommend it to anyone.  Tickets were inexpensive, the food wasn’t terrible, and there was a decent amount of leg space available.  I arrived in Wee Waa around 6pm in the dark.  The farmer Mr. David Grellman picked me up at the station.  Before heading to the farm, Mr. Grellman had a Rotary Club meeting to attend, so I tagged along.  The meeting was very interesting.  One of the members was over 90 years old, a member in his 50’s had just invented an important chemical to be used for spraying in the region, and a member in his 30’s was a guy I recognized from the news (his brother was an Australian reporter that was accused or/framed for being a spy in Egypt.  I remember seeing footage from the trial a couple years ago).  After the dinner we headed back to the farm and went to bed

Day #2:

Woke up early in the morning to go to the biggest cotton purchaser in the region called AusCott, which is actually owned by Americans.  They had 4 very large cotton gins in a massive building, hopefully I have the pictures I took.  This particular facility is able to spit out a bale of cotton every 45 seconds, per side of the building.  So it’s actually 2 bales produced per 45 seconds.  What’s mind blowing is the fact that it takes them months to get all of the cotton crop they purchase through the gins.  Another aspect that the particular business struggles with is finding trucks to transport the bales, mostly because Wee Waa is very isolated, much like most towns and villages that aren’t within 2-3 hours of the big coastal cities in Australia.

After AusCott Mr. Grellman (the farmer) and I headed back to the farm for lunch.  On the way over we stopped by the cotton research extension office, where there was a visible IPM trial.  For those who don’t know, IPM stands for integrated pest management.  Integrated pest management is an attempt to make managing pests more economical and environmentally friendly.  In this particular case the researchers are trying to manage a particularly nasty cotton moth.  They do this by planting another plant that the moths like more than the cotton next to the crop load.

Day #3:

The highlight of the third day was the visit to CSD, the cotton seed distributers.  I learned all about the general process of breeding new cotton plants, the timeline from idea conception to actual use in the field, and the many aspects that the manager needs to juggle.  They often have multiple versions of each plant growing at different places around the farm, and each version is being tested in different condition.  Each paddock, or bay, is essentially its own trial, so there are no similar requirements.  The manager also has to take measures to ensure that there isn’t genetic drift of the product into the current varieties.  This is all I’m allowed to include due to confidentiality agreements, but the visit to CSD was in my top 3 favorite experiences for the whole trip.

Day #4:

The next day was spent on Mr. Grellmans second property.  This property was considerably larger than his first one he gave me a tour of.  Not only did he grow cotton on the second farm, but he also had a considerable amount of natural grazing fields that he raised beef cattle on.  We spent the day rounding up the cattle from one of the paddocks to another.  Because it was a natural grazing field, he wasn’t allowed to grow anything on it.  This means that there isn’t always enough food that provides a reasonable amount of nutrients.  The cows weren’t as healthy as Mr. Grellman usually wants them to be, but he had enough feed to get them through the season in a reasonable shape.  After that I had to go and flatten out the dirt roads through the farm and on top of the channel systems.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Well, it is hard to believe that July is over and in a little over a month, we will be moving back to school. This growing season has been a tough one for all growers thus far, but it appears as if the weather may be straightening out. Some early corn crops are beginning to tassel, which brings some relief to farmers who may have just put their planter away a few weeks ago. In the corn fields, things are beginning to dry out in some of the lighter soils, and some of the heavier clays remain moist and often lacking a healthy corn crop.

Corn in Wet Clay Soil

I have come across a few breakouts of army worm in fields that were no till planted later in the season into either rye cover crops or old stands of alfalfa. In the coming weeks, I will begin focusing my corn scouting towards different fungi that develop, particularly in a wet year like this one has been.

Many dairies who, perhaps, were unable to plant the acres of corn they intended are relying heavily on several high quality cuttings of alfalfa and forage grass to fill the void and the empty feed bunk that may be looming in the coming winter months. With high tonnage being harvested in many eastern NY dairies’ first cuttings, many second cuttings were hindered as a result of the potato leaf hopper.

Potato Leaf Hopper

These small yellow/green pests got their name from their original eating preference, the potato plant. With less potatoes being grown in New York State now than in the past, the leaf hopper has found a succulent new host in alfalfa leaves. The leaf hoppers will feed on the alfalfa, turning the leaves a yellow and purple color. The threshold for leaf hopper in new seedings is less than the threshold for established stands, though I have found it in almost every field I have swept. Caro-Vail has treated thousands of acres of alfalfa so far this summer in an effort to combat these insects, and save the alfalfa for the growers.

In the coming weeks, I plan on continuing with my scouting schedule and looking at crops from the sky, via a new drone. More to come!

Australia Week #1: Russell Pell Dairy Farm

My name is Rhys Moller.  I’m heading into my junior year at Cornell University where I’m in the Agricultural Sciences degree.  I’m still not quite sure why I chose to study agriculture, I think mostly it’s because at the time I liked working outside and hated the idea of sitting in an office all day.  I came into university with no knowledge of anything agriculture related, so I decided to contact my uncle in Australia, who works as an irrigation expert at a company called Rubicon Water.  We decided that after sophomore year I should go to Australia for my internship credit, and go on a six week working tour across all kinds of agricultural entities in Melbourne, Brisbane, Shepparton, Sydney, Wee Waa, Echuca, and a handful of small towns in Northern Victoria.
The goals for the internship being to solidify what I’d like to do for a job, identify any classes I should take to be better prepared to enter the workforce, and to get a close up look at how Australian farmers handle the unique issues they face with limited water supply, droughts, extreme flooding, and heavy government regulations on water.  The first stop in this tour was a dairy farm half an hour out of Echuca with a Farmer called Russell Pell.  He’s a very interesting guy.  He started the dairy with his brother in the 70’s, he meets with politicians to discuss water regulations, and is one of the first farmers in his region to start using modern irrigation technology and automation.  I was excited to meet him and spend time on the farm, though having no farm experience what-so-ever, the learning curve was huge.


Day 1). The first thing you should know about Victoria, a southern state in Australia, is that it can be quite cold.  The first day on the farm there was frost and fog, none of which I was expecting.  I instantly regretted my decision to not bring a winter jacket and for the entire first day I unfortunately wore jeans and a t-shirt, I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold.  To make matters worse, the farm was so large that ATV bikes were the only convenient way to get around.  If there’s one thing you take away from this blog, it should be that going 40-50 kilometers/hour on a ATV in the middle of winter with only a t-shirt is the most miserable thing you can possibly do.  Especially when it’s so foggy that you end up hitting a fence and get launched into the pond nearby.  Learn through experience I guess…  Because it’s winter in Australia, farms are relatively inactive in terms of crop growth.  The farms dry feed had been harvested a few weeks earlier, the irrigation of winter crops had taken place a week before I arrived, and a couple crew members were on vacation.  However, there was still much to do.  The first big job was to cover the dry feed with plastic and tires to prevent pest damage.  It may come as a surprise to Americans, but cockatoos are considered a farm pest.  They have very sharp beaks that damage feed covers, which results in a significant loss.  Because of this farmers are allowed to shoot them, and that alone should say how much of a pest they are since Australia has very, very strict gun laws.  They had started swarming around the dry feed stores, so Russell decided it was time to put the plastic cover and tires over it.  Covering the feed took close to 3 hours of hard work in very muddy and wet conditions.  I was so sore at the end that when I was walking to my ATV my legs gave out from exhaustion and I fell into a large pit of mud.  Luckily it was pitch black so nobody saw a thing.


Day #2). This was a very busy day.  We had to first move an excavator that was stuck in one of the irrigation panels.  We drove the big tractor out with a bed to put the excavator on for transport.  The excavator got out from the mud in no time, but when we put it on the trailer it was so heavy that the tractor couldn’t get out of the muddy pathway.  We decided that I was going to have to drive the tractor out of the mud, while Mr. Pell was simultaneously used the escalator, stored on the trailer bed, arm to push the tractor out.  Somehow this worked, and looking back it was actually very unsafe, having never driven a large tractor in my life.  Not to mention the fact that the escalator constantly looked like it was going to fall backwards off the trailer with Mr. Pell in it.  Good times…  After that we had to round up some cattle that had been sold a couple weeks earlier for pickup.  Not much action really, but it was good for me to see the whole loading process.  The rest of the day was spent getting a view of the above ground water transport systems, which in Australia are huge channels of dirt, and the overall farm irrigation plan.  In Australia, the use of flood irrigation is very common, and generally thought of as less expensive that lateral movement irrigators and pivot irrigators.  The problem is that flood irrigation isn’t very efficient with water use.  A farmer has to judge how quickly the water is moving across a field in order to judge when to stop the water flow in, and closing the channels can take time.  Mr. Pell recently invested in automatic rubicon irrigation channel doors (pictured above), that are all connected via the cloud.  Now he can simply use an app to close the channels, and even better, each time he irrigates the data is all collected and eventually averaged out.  This means that he can open the channel doors, and with all the previous irrigation times stored, the doors will close on their own when the field is properly irrigated without wasting as much water as he would have previously.

Day #3). The third day was uneventful.  Russell Pell had to leave for Australia’s capital, Canberra, to meet with politicians to discuss water policy related problems.  While he was over in the capital, I went and did various jobs with the farm hands,  I sat in the tractor with Peter, the head herdsman, and fed the cows.  I went and cleared out the dairy after milking, which smelled awful, and mustered the cows from the dairy all the way across to the other corner of the farm.  Herding the cattle was actually quite fun, even though these cows were obstinate to an extreme level.  The farm hands looked on in laughter as I was standing on my quad bike, waving my arms and making as much noise as possible, attempting to get those cows to move.  They showed me a video afterwards and I looked pretty ridiculous.  Something of note, an immediate difference I noticed from how American dairy cows are raised to Australian cows is that Australian cows are always outside, and are only brought in to structures of any form to be milked.  Though, I will admit that the only reason they can do that is the warm climate.  A result of this is that there is lots of foreign investment and purchasing of Australian dairy products from China, who views Australian dairy products as clean and in much higher standards of quality than most Chinese produced milk.

Day #4). Woke up early again to go and clear the cattle sheds after milking, which ended up being cut short.  One of the water pipes had apparently broken (shown above) and had to be fixed.  It turns out that the original structure wasn’t put together very well, and that particular pipe was only half welded into place, so they’d been leaking water for a couple years without noticing.  It took a couple hours to sort that issue out, mostly because the pipes in this particular dairy are also connected to the wiring, so in order to replace the pipe they had to also remove the wire cords.  Once that whole drama was over, I went to go explore the intake pipes by the river.  Farms in Australia are only allowed a certain amount of water, in Megalitres per year, to draw out of the water.  Their intake is measured by a device placed inside the piping at the intake point.  The first and second sets of pictures have examples of what the intake piping looks like.  The water is drawn up into channels that then spread the water across the farm.  Also present on a typical Australian farm is catchment dams.  These are unregulated, which means that whatever water these dams keep after rainfall is yours to use.  I’ll show some pictures of those in one of the next blog posts from the cotton farm.

Day #5). My last day on the farm was spent learning how to build fences, which is something that I never thought was going to be very difficult.  Having now experienced that, I can comfortably say that it would take lots and lots of practice to finally string up a fence properly.  I really enjoyed the experience on the farm, but I can comfortably say that i will not be pursuing a career as a dairy farmer.  I’m not sure I could handle the constant smell, somewhat monotonous routine, and constant worrying about the international precise of dairy, but in the short term it was a great experience and I learned lots of practical skills for later in life.  So yeah that’s week #1, next week I head to Sydney to go exploring.  Even though I’ve done it too many times to count, I’ll likely do all the typical touristy things around the harbor area, but I’ll also be heading out to the Blue Mountains to explore what is in my opinion one of the most beautiful areas in the whole world, Katoomba.  Next blog post will be from the cotton farm based out in Wee Waa.

Animals All Around!

I remember when I was younger, I could never grasp how fast time went by at my county fair. Last week, I had the same feeling. The Cortland County Junior Fair kicked off on July 4th and ran through July 8th. The fair week was jammed pack full of activities like animal shows, an adorabl animal costume contest, a dairy birthing center and special contests like a Jr. Iron Chef, Dairy Challenge and Judging and Tool Identification only to touch the surface. The 4-Hbuilding was full of nonperishable exhibits from awesome crafts and baked goods, to my favorite, an amazing picnic table built by one of the 4-H members! I spent a majority of my time with the animals, one way or another. Whether it was checking registration papers, doing a daily herdsmanship check, helping with the annual 4-H market sale or helping out at the animal show of the day, I definitely was busy! Seeing how the fair runs from the inside-out was an eye-opening experience; no longer an exhibitor, but now an individual making sure the fair runs as smoothly as possible. This gave me a different lens to look through and a new perspective that taught me much respect to those who work all year to make one week as successful as possible. The exhibitors all did a great job and overall the fair went very smoothly and planning for next year has already begun! The biggest news of all though, is that about 19 eggs hatched! I incubated them for about 21 days in my spare bedroom and was so nervous that I had messed them up and that there were not going to be any eggs hatching at fair for the kids to see! I must’ve done either something right, or only a few things wrong though, because we had chicks! Of course, I don’t have pictures to prove it though, so you’ll just have to take my word for it!

The Monday morning after fair, Betsy, the dairy specialist, and I had another tiestall barn to go to for the project we have been doing. We have to go and put the data loggers on while the cows are in the barn, which is usually during milking time. We had to be there by 6 AM and finish putting them on before it was time for them to go outside after milking. We have done three farms so far, and have two more to do during this round of the study. Again, we will be tracking lameness through lying time, standing time and just overall how the cow is able to get up and down and move around (locomotion).

Lastly, the summer tours put on by the South Central Dairy and Field Crops Team are beginning. Last night, we kicked off our first Twilight meeting, which we held at a local farm during the evening and covered cow comfort. These workshops/tours are open to producers/agriculture business people in the surrounding counties that the SCDFC team cover. A couple different speakers came in last night to cover topics such as animal handling, barns and facilities and the on-site veterinarian and partner talked about different cow comfort topics like the stalls and bedding and such. After going through the presentations, we all took a tour of the different barns. It was neat to see how each barn actually does differ, depending on when it was built and what the industry wants were at the time of building.  We got really good feedback from the attendees and I’m looking forward to the robot farm tour, which is coming up next week.

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