General observations of a dogs body worker on a cropping farm.


General observations of a dogs body worker on a cropping farm.

I worked 3 seasons on a cropping farm that grew wheat of various varieties, barley, oats and occasionally peas. They were very good people to work for and considered highly intelligent by their peers and the district in general, and this is remaining anonymous so as to not disrespect anyone.

However, having a close relative involved in organic farming and seeing his results, and the lack of chemical influence in achieving those results; it started me thinking more about why we do what we do.

The cropping farmer I worked for yielded up with the world record boys, 8 to 9 tons of wheat hectare which was considered impressive. But what really gets interesting is how we achieved those huge yields and the costs involved. Really, when it comes down to it, profit should be the measuring stuck, rather than production. I remember hearing regularly that his costs were too high.

So I started casually asking questions to show an interest in what he did and why, and he was only too happy to share his knowledge with me. He used 650kg of urea per crop. Considering a heavy user in the dairy industry is around 150kg/ha per year, this is rather a lot.

My opinion is that this probably increased to this level over time.  Due to the soils hammering and depletion, he had to keep increasing his nitrogen rate to maintain the flash yields. Another point to consider is that Urea was $800 dollars per tone back then, and climbed to over $1000 dollars.

While I don’t know the finer points, I do know that he applied a lot of potassium chloride, super phosphate and I remember seeing yellow sulphur on the ground at various times. As a side note, the local fertiliser store  got a digger in with a pick attachment on and ripped up the crust on the concrete floor that had formed over the years from wet trucks driving on and squashing the spilt fertiliser on the floor. It was 2 foot deep in places, all manner of fertiliser types.

They ran it though a rock crusher from a quarry nearby and the boss got heaps of it spread because it was cheap. It had the consistency of gravel and I have no idea how you actually measured what it had in it.

But the real impression that I won’t forget is the amount of chemicals we used. He used Round-Up before he ploughed; He used Round-up as a straw shortener, and he even sprayed Round-up before he harvested to help lower the moisture percentage of the crop and make it easier to dry. I remember following him as he sprayed treflon on a paddock destined for a pea crop. I had to flexify the grub flat stick behind him to work the chemical into the soil.

There were fungicide applications at timed intervals and even the seed we used had been coated in fungicide. He mentioned aphids once, so I imagine there was pesticide applied as well. All of which costs thousands of dollars and is considered the right thing to do to have a successful crop. I even remember a particularly wet crop of winter wheat being threatened with zillions of slugs that turned up, so he bought 2 x 44 gallon drums with removable lids, full of Mesuril Slug pellets, and spread them over everything. The question was never asked “Why do I have slugs”, it was just, here is a problem, how do I treat it? More poison.

He was not a bad person or anything. It was just the only system he knew, or wanted to know. And he knew it well; he could rattle off obscure chemical products for any weed or pest you could come up with. Knowledge, whether good or bad, is power. There is pride in knowing something that others don’t and anything that contradicts that knowledge is a threat. It isn’t even considered, it is just rejected.

On a sadder note, his father died of bowel cancer while I was working there . He was a great old fella, but I can’t help wonder how much working with all of these farm chemicals, contributed to his own death. I even wonder about my own health now having been exposed to it all.

Another aspect I observed was the state of the soil. I did most of the ploughing, I think it was around 500 acres, P.A. in total, a small home block with the rest all lease ground. I remember his father talking about resting the ground after so many years of crop, and he had run sheep in his system to do this, but the son (my boss) disagreed. He felt that so long as you replace the nutrient, you take each year, you should be able to continue to crop without fallowing any land.

Certainly his results seem to be proving him right, but as his costs continue to rise as the demand for nutrient increase and the pests and problems keep accumulating, I do wonder.

I recall virtually no soil structure on the home block. In winter, your boot would sink to the depth of the plough. It was just porridge. As I ploughed in spring or autumn on this block, the soil would ride about halfway up the mould board and then just drop straight down all broken up.

There were virtually no seagulls following the plough, and it wasn’t uncommon to plough up the last season’s straw, completely preserved, probably due to the fungicides and such on it. The farm was very well drained, but the water just sat on top. One day he dug down to a tile and drained a large puddle, but once he filled in the hole, the puddle returned after the next shower. The tile worked file, but the water just couldn’t pass through the ground to get to it. I’m sure I recall also, a soil test of a lease block revealing a pH of 5.2 but don’t quote me on that one.

All I could do was quietly observe. A worker never knows better than the landowner. But I still maintain an interest in how he is getting on. I think there will come a time when the ratio between how much it costs to produce the crop, to what you actually get for it will make it pointless continuing, but in the meantime, a concern is for the quality of the crop.

Farmers produce food.

The fact that in this case, 2-3 days before harvest, the crop is sprayed with Round-Up (Glyphosate) doesn’t particularly excite me.

Sure it’s probably a low level of glyphosate that we are consuming, but who wants to deliberately ingest that? All these chemicals are recent things as are the modern fertilisers. Is it a coincidence that people are getting sicker lately with cancers and such?

I am lucky to have been able to see such farming practices but also to be able to experience organic farming, and to be able to compare various things and think of them without a mortgage and a bank manager breathing down my neck.

Profit rather than production. Finding causes of problems, rather than treating symptoms. To me, this makes more sense. I’m not a tree hugger or anything, but I do like to call a spade a spade. Factual truth is kind of hard to challenge or argue with. It’s just the way it is.

Unfortunately, if people believe a lie and are not prepared to question anything, they will happily keep paying to poison themselves.

I’m no scholar, but I do believe that our brains have more uses than simply keeping out ears apart.
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