IG Van Niekerk, one of Sandstone’s farming partners, has produced this wonderful article on Cattle Farming in the Eastern Free State.
Sandstone Estates Arable Report October 2015
Unlike the other wheat crop report this is a general report on activities that are currently happening on the farm.
But firstly we will look at the wheat crop.
The picture above is of the “elands” cultivar.
And the picture above is of the “SST 374” cultivar. As you can see from the pictures, there's not much of a difference between the two cultivars even though they were planted 2 weeks apart. The “elands” were planted in the third week of July and the “SST 374” in the second week in August. The wheat crop has shown a healthy growth since planting due to the fact that we have had some rain - not enough to ensure a bumper crop, but pointing us in almost the right direction.
But as much as the wheat needs the rain it also brings a few problems; namely weeds. I have mentioned “wild oats”, “soet gras” and broad leaf weeds in the wheat crop report. A combination of rain and hot days has caused the weeds to make their presence known. This is a common thing in any form of crop farming but we can eliminate the weeds using a mixture of chemicals and a 3000L towed sprayer.
But - and this is a big but - as I always say we are not fighting but working against nature in the farming business and she can be a handful. Dew, wind and hot temperatures can render a sprayer and chemicals useless. In general a sprayer as in the picture above can do anything up to 90 hectares a day depending on what is being applied. The chemicals are sprayed onto the plant with water and the actual chemical mixture is worked out on a specific amount of water being applied per hectares. I mentioned dew earlier and the reason was because if the plants have dew on them and they are “wet” so to speak the chemicals actually get diluted when they come into contact with the plant and thus lose their ability to kill the plant. What that means is that early morning and night spraying and even aerial spraying are out of the question.
As if the dew is not the only problem. Wind is another very big one for mainly two reasons - the first being that it blows the droplets away from the plant as it comes out of the nozzle. We do have means to combat this. Spraying with higher flow rate nozzles produces a bigger droplet and thus a heavier one and it can stand up to a little more wind than lower flow rate nozzles, but again most chemicals do not work with a too high a rate of water.
Another weapon we have in our arsenal is “air induction nozzles”, shown in the picture below.
These nozzles act as a venturi, sucking in air as it sprays the chemicals, producing a bigger droplet even if the nozzle is a low rate nozzle. But both these “weapons” have their limit.
The second reason why the wind causes problems is because it can blow the chemicals that you are spraying onto your neighbours’ farms and crops and even your own crops and destroy it. So we tend to watch the wind very carefully.
Another contributing factor that we battle against is heat. The reason for this is that if it is very warm and dry the weeds go in to a “slow go” state – in other words they do not grow as actively as they should, and the effectiveness of the chemicals relies on how actively the plant is growing as it needs to be absorbed by the plant to work.
So a combination of the above mentioned element can cause havoc when trying to eliminate weeds in a crop, and almost bring the sprayers production down to zero. We cannot sit in the yard and wait for the perfect conditions as this could cause the end of a crop, so we go out to the land and take every opportunity that we can to spray.
The picture below shows that we have been able to spray some of the wheat lands battling against the elements. The broad leaf weed in the picture has had a taste of the chemicals and is slowly on its way out. The biggest reason for spraying the weeds is because the crop has to compete with the weeds for moisture, and it does not look good when one cannot distinguish the crop from the weeds.
Now onto the other activities happening on the farm.
We are approaching the summer planting season and we are busy with final land prep for it. Maize stubble is being worked in, and along with it some of the weeds that germinated since harvesting. Shown below is an offset busy working a maize land.
The maize lands are generally worked twice with the offset to work in all the stubble as the stubble causes heavy packing problems for the planters. The land in the picture will be worked again prior to it being planted. Our soya lands get a once-only working as we do not have as much material to work in.
Another operation that we are currently busy with is deep ripping to get rid of the compaction or “plough pan” as it is called. For this we use a Radium ripper and a fairly big Case MX 285 tractor, picture below.
The following picture is of a maize stalk that I pulled out of a land that has not yet been worked. You will see that the roots are long and straight down showing that the land does not have to be ripped this year. We only rip lands that have compaction. In general a land would be ripped every third year.
The last operation we do prior to a land being planted is spraying it with roundup. The reason for this is that even though we work in 90% of the weeds with our normal operations we also stimulate new growth. In other words, we stimulate new weeds. The spraying eliminates the weeds but does not disturb the soil, so this will not stimulate new weed growth and because of this we do not lose moisture. Disturbing or turning the soil allows moisture to escape and we need to retain as much moisture as possible.
The picture below shows a land that will be sprayed full of “opslag” sunflowers.
The same principles apply to the spraying of non-planted lands as with planted lands. Dew, wind and hot conditions are holding us back. The longer the weeds are on the lands the more moisture we lose.
Not only are we getting ready for the planting season in the lands, we are also getting ready planters, cultivators and any other equipment used for planting. The planter is the most important piece of equipment – if the planter does not do its job correctly the crop would not germinate or grow properly, thus we do spend a considerable amount of time and money on our planter. The pictures below show new parts that we are fitting to our 18 row Equalizer planter.
New scrapers, seed tubes and furrow opener disk are being fitted.
These ensure that the seed ends up where we want them and that they make good contact to the soil – very crucial for germination.
To add to the elements mentioned in the spraying section, the pictures below show the windy conditions.
Note the “waves” on the water and the bending trees.
As I mentioned before, we might be looking at a very warm and dry year end. I have included a few pictures showing how low our dams are and what looks like a promising sight we see almost every evening. This combined with maximum temperature reaching 35 degrees Celsius and above, and average wind speeds of above 15 km/h and gusts of up to 40 km/h makes it a difficult task to farm.
Wheat Planting Report
We decided to plant wheat for the first time in some years this season and, based on experience from the previous plantings, we have planted two different cultivars – one called ‘elands’ being an all rounder we have had good results with in the past. The second is a newer ‘spring’ cultivar that has been planted in our area in previous years, as late as 20 august, namely ‘SST 374’.
Apart from planting a later ‘spring’ cultivar we decided to start planting later, meaning that we did so when most of the farmers in our area had already finished. Our reasoning for this is that we noticed that our rains are later than those we are generally used to, thus we are trying to synchronise that when the wheat plant needs water the most we will have rain. If we can do this we should have an above average crop, making the wheat financially viable. Below are some pictures of the planting process.
We started planting with the ‘elands’ at 35kg seed per hectare. Elands is usually planted at 25kg seed per hectare, but because we planted late we had to lift the planting rate to accommodate for the days and nights getting warmer. With warmer days and nights, the plant changes and a single seed produces less sprouts, hence the planting rate is increased so that we end up with the same total of plants per hectare.
Below are some pictures showing the germination of the seed.
The wheat seed has almost doubled in size in the picture above and it becomes soft as it fills up with moisture. When this happens a reaction is triggered in the seed and it starts pushing out the plant. It does not matter which way the seed lies; the plant goes up!
The ‘eland’ was the first to show above ground as shown in the pictures below.
As the pictures display, we had very good germination and a healthy plant population.
The pictures below were taken 3 weeks after planting and they again show a good germination and healthy plant population.
We will follow up this report in a week’s time to show progress on the ‘elands’ and to show germination and development on the ‘SST 374’.
Article and pictures by Des Clarke.
Anguish as drought leaves trails of havoc
Below is a Sunday Times article by Prega Govender subtitled 'Harvests of Ruin' - 'Parched lands, stunted crops and billions of rands in losses take farmers to the brink of despair'.
Click here to view the article - JPG
Birding at Sandstone
Keith and Heide Wetmore have produced an excellent guide to the bird life at Sandstone as a further attraction to our Stars of Sandstone 2015 event. Click here to view the booklet.
Harvesting has been underway for some weeks now at Sandstone Estates and the surrounding area. The Vrystaat Mielies bunker installation installed at Sandstone Estates nearly 2-years ago is feeling the strain. Trucks are coming in day and night and offloading white and yellow maize. However, due to the calibre of the staff from CMI (Collateral Management International (Pty) Ltd ) who actually manage the silos, things are proceeding smoothly and the maize mountains continue to grow.
Our photos below tell the story:
Truck and trailers arriving at the Weighbridge.
Yellow maize being discharged into the yellow maize bunker.
Trucks offloading on the site using the specialised handling equipment designed to fill the bunkers.
White maize is now starting to come in and this is what the white maize bunker looks like at the commencement of the filling process.
Almost full and ready for covering and if necessary long-term storage.
Winter is a special time at Sandstone Estates
Everything is the same colour – the cattle, the mountains, the grass etc., but that adds a certain charm. At this time of the year we are busy combining maize. Our cattle are not far behind because they spend most of the winter time grazing on maize stubble as one can see from the photos below.
We also bale large stocks of fodder as an emergency drought relief measure in case our cattle are faced with a situation where for some reason food stocks run low. 2014 has been a bumper year and a good time to make provision for the lean years.
Maize Harvesting – Sandstone Estates – June 2014
Moisture levels have remained a little high this year so we are struggling to find lands where the moisture has dropped below 15% which is the cut-off point. However, so far by moving around we have been able to maintain production.
We started at Sekonyela, which had some of the short growing varieties. We have two John Deere STS combine harvesters and one Case Axial Flow harvesting maize. This brings in an average of about 350-tons per day.
Close-up pictures of the John Deere STS Combines.
Our Axial Flow with a John Deere header working in tricky terrain
Always under the shadow of a big 200 million year old mountain. The top of that mountain was the bottom of a seabed so our combines are working below pre-historic sea levels.
The axial flow in the thick of it
One of our two big trucks standing patiently in the lands
The John Deere and Case working together.
We have a fleet of 6 Richard Western 15-ton grain trailers which are quick and efficient
Despite its bulk carrying capacity our big Fruehauf grain trailer can easily be filled in half an hour by the combines
The front end of the rig
Our STS filling a Richard Western. The combine harvester holds about 7-tons before it has to discharge.
The Richard Westerns are drop and go trailers. They can be left as is and picked up mechanically without direct involved by the operator from the cab. This means one tractor can operate multiple trailers.
The grain mountain grows daily
A Richard Western offloading in the special discharge unit at the big Kommandonek bunker at Sandstone Estates
As always the men and machines continue through the twilight into the dark and only stop when the dew causes the moisture level to rise too high.