What a week

Washington DC – and back in the business suits!

After 24 hrs on the trot, a car booked from the wrong airport, hotel booking non-existent, meeting up with the Brazil GFP group at 3.30am, we get some complimentary rooms at the Marriott Hotel (I’d like to think I had something to do with this but it really wasn’t the case!!).

A day off the next day was well received as we ventured into Washington to check out all the amazing historical and political buildings (I can’t believe I said that with so much excitement). But it was really fantastic to see where Obama lives and works, where the ministry buildings are, and where Forrest Gump gave his speech!

A follow up night out in DC with the 9 scholars from the Brazil trip was not hard to take. With way too much to catch up on and enough energy to supply a small town for a night, the hours just seemed to get away on us! I think if time could be paused, we would still be there.

The next two days saw us meet with embassy personnel, MLA reps, political staff, party members and other interesting contributors to the US political arena. I’m still getting my head around the Farm Bill and what impact it actually has on the US economy and farming. Other topics of discussion included the role of GM crops, the conversations we must have with the misinformed population, China’s hold on the worlds economy and US water management just to name a few.

A fantastic couple if days in Washington DC, from hear we headed back to the rural areas – this time, Nebraska! We said our ‘see you laters’ to the Brazil group, and we set on our way.

Who’d of thought corn field after corn field and thousands of pivot irrigators could be so interesting?? – I guess that’s the benefit of Nuffield and this Global Focus Program – we really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The scale, genuine nature of the people and consciousness of having profitable businesses to attract the next generation into farming, added to my already highly energised vision for a strong future in agriculture.

One of the more memorable visits was the Agricultural campus of Nebraska State University in Lincoln. At the time, they had 4000 school kids around 15-16 years old on a program called FFA. We got to talk to 5 of these kids who were from farming and non farming backgrounds but were all so excited about the opportunity agriculture offered and could see the longer term big picture of how important it was to be in an industry that would continue to feed the worlds population in a sustainable way. Four thousand kids!!! And that was just in the one state!

We talked to the head of the University and he said enrolments have increased 70% in the past 10 years with the last three years being stand outs. When asked ‘why?’, he said – positivity in the farming community and profitable farming businesses. Why would young people come into an industry that is negative, complaining and not profitable? – I think we need to take a couple of leaves out of this book!!

So it’s with sadness and a huge amount of satisfaction that this is the end of the GFP. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this blog and look forward to continuing the journey of looking, listening and learning! (Not to get too deep).

Below are the fabulous people that formed our GFP group. A mix of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland and France nationalities helped make it the best trip I’ve ever done and the most memorable 6 weeks. I’ll miss you all!

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From top left – Sarah, Jennifer, Wayne, me, Ben, Dan, Simon, Darryl, Tommy.

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Eastern Europe in a nut shell.

We have just had the best week going through Russia, Poland, Czech Republic and Germany. Starting in Russia sent mixed feelings throughout the group. Apart from the lack of smiling and manners, it is still a place that intrigues me and the two days we had there definitely wasn’t enough. Being the end of snow melt and before any start of new spring life, it was probably the least picturesque it could be too which didn’t help. I think I’ll have to go back to Russia to get full benefit from it.

So a lettuce production facility, hydroponic flower operation and two dairy farms later, we moved onto Poland.

Now if you want picturesque – Poland and Czech Republic are a good start! Very productive country with cropping in particular. There was hardly any land that was not being used. The crops are all grown in long strips of rotation of mostly canola, wheat, maize and potatoes or sugar beet. Their yields are something to feel seriously Ill over – 8-10 T/Ha of wheat. No fences so no stock visible outside – mostly sheded apart from the high country which we didn’t get a chance to see.

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32000Tonne of Potatoe for crisps and chips stored for up to 12 months monitored electronically in each shed to avoid spoilage.

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Dairies are all indoors, predominantly Holstein cows, milk production is monitored by sensor collars and up around 9000L/head/yr.

The last two days involved going to the Horsch and John Deere manufacturing plants in Germany. Both extremely different and both extremely efficient and professional. The spare parts facility in both plants was the thing that blew me away. They had 10’s of thousands of boxes on shelves, each with parts in them. When needed, the computer would identify the specific parts and know exactly where they were stored.

Automatic forklifts would travel down rows that were 90meters long and 17 meters high and collect the box that had the right parts in it and put it on the conveyor. The most amazing thing though – no human in the whole business knew where a particular box was stored, only the computer knew!

The amount of technology used in the industries we have visited is an indication of what is available and an indication of how it can help improve efficiency in a business through time saving and maximising accuracy.

The diversity of Europe is an exciting thing to see!

An Ideas Man

I need a seeder, and there’s not one around that is appropriate for the job………. So I’ll make one myself!!

In 1981 a farmer in Germany started his business of making seeders which has now expanded to be a major world player of excellent quality machinery. Michael Horsch farms in Germany and Czech Republic and his success has been through identifying the thing most limiting his farming business, finds out what he needs to overcome this problem……and implements it.

This has been true with various pieces of machinery Michael is now manufacturing – he produces products for a purpose to fix a problem.

Michael would be up there with the best thinkers I’ve ever met. With such foresight, vision and practicality, his business is a true representation of character – quality and innovation!

During the discussion, Michael shared some of his thoughts with us.

Making the decomposition engine work:

Crop residue in wheat is much different to crop residue from legumes and will take a lot longer to breakdown in the ‘decomposition engine’ (soil and it’s contents). 10T/Ha wheat yields in European soils create a large bank of material that is very slow to decompose. This means it is near impossible to plant next years crop which can be planted from one day to one month after harvesting.

Discing this residue into the soil gives more horse power to the ‘decomposing engine’ to breakdown the high carbon content wheat stubble. He doesn’t believe there is one right cropping method as long as it’s the best way of making the decomposition engine work the hardest and therefore maximising soil health. Temperature and rainfall will help determine the best way for this to happen and is why best practice in one country may not be best practice in another.

Precision management through controlled traffic and no till in Australia is allowing our ‘decomposition engine’ together with rotation of legumes, brassica and cereal to operate at its maximum capacity.

– Europe is becoming nutrient rich while other countries are becoming nutrient poor:

Consider this – The chook manure from holland is spread on European soils that comes from chickens, fed grain imported from the US or Brazil!…………..

Being a major export country ourselves, do we need to start thinking about the cost associated with the amount of minerals we are also exporting from our country along with the grain and meat? Are we applying the true value of nutrients back onto our soils that is necessary for long term farming operations?

Some very thought provoking discussions were had this particular morning and I can’t thank Nuffield and Chris Graf Grote enough for lining up such a wonderful and worth while meeting.

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