April 2008

View from the Hill                                                           28th March 2008


Eating dirt

The spring beans we sowed last month are now just poking through, a hopeful sign of spring?  We have also sown all of our spring barley, which should emerge any time soon.  It has been a bit cold in the last couple of weeks, and at the beginning of March it was easy to think we were sowing it too early.  The trouble is, if you don’t get on with it when the weather is good, you may not get another opportunity until April, which in most years is too late for spring barley.  The risk is that there won’t be enough rain to keep the crop going for the season if you sow it too late.  If you sow early however, you can suffer from early infections of disease, which can be hard to get on top of for the whole season.

                                                             Winter dog

                                                           Summer dog

Farming depends very heavily on computers these days, the obvious place is in the office, for accounts and field records, however most modern tractors have computers in them, for governing the engine and fuel system predominantly.  More sophisticated tractors will also have computers that control the gearbox, and can vary engine revs or ground speed to suit the ground conditions, and driver preference.  You can also have a setup which, by using a satellite navigation system, linked to the steering, will steer the tractor (or combine) for you, it will drive straighter and more accurately than most drivers can, this reduces the strain on the driver, which means he can cope with longer hours, or else goes home less tired than previously.  At any one point in the field, you can call up a screen on the monitor which shows you how many satellites the unit is talking to.  There are usually up to a dozen within range, but only about 7 or 8 are used to locate the tractor, the signal from those quite near the horizon is not very useful.

Our new combine of last year has a system like this, and we have got hold of extra wiring looms which allow us to put the ‘magic box’ into two other tractors as well.  At the moment it can only guide the driver to follow a particular course using arrows on the screen, and a series of beeps.  This is particularly useful when spraying a field.with no tramlines, it is very hard trying to judge 25 metres form the last wheelmark, if you can even see it.  The sprayer has another neat bit of equipment, it has sensors on the boom which sense the boom’s height above the crop (or ground), and then communicate to the control system, which operates the relevant hydraulic rams to adjust it to keep it to the right height to give even application of chemical across the whole width of the sprayer, and to help reduce spray drift, which increases rapidly if the boom rises too high.

This week we have been laying some concrete, and we have discovered a firm in Stur Newton who have a machine which mixes up just the amount you need, and no more.  It’s a very clever machine, which conveys the gravel, sand and cement to a mixing area at the rear of the lorry, from where it is then augered uphill to a hydraulically controlled extending chute.  By the time the ingredients get to the top of the auger, they have become properly mixed concrete, which then slides down the chute to where you want it.  Fantastic.

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