Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

We had a very early morning! We packed up the bus and left Hamilton at 6:45 am. We had a 3 hour drive to Birchip, which is right in the middle of the Wheat Belt of Australia. We first met Chris Sounness, the CEO of Birchip Cropping Group (BCG). Birchip Cropping Group is a highly respected farmers led research organization that mainly does research on crops and crop yields, but also some livestock raising.  BCG is a nonprofit organization that employees 22 people from the Birchip area. There are 430 families in membership of BCG.

We then drove out to Tim McClelland’s farm, who is a member of BCG. Tim McClelland farms 6,000 hectares (~13,200 acres). Of this, two-thirds is cropping, and one-third is pasture for his sheep. Tim runs 4,500 Merino breeding ewes as well as runs a sheep feedlot, which he fattens to sell.

The automated chute at Tim McClelland’s family farm used to weigh sheep.
We were able to see the workers sort the sheep into three different groups based on weight: heavy-weight, average (49 kilos), and light-weights. They were able to work quickly because of their fully automated chute and scale system. This was something that none of us had ever seen before and we really enjoyed watching it in action. The automated system caught each sheep, weighed it, and then directed it to the appropriate pen.

Next, we went out to Tim’s field where there was someone in the process of seeding (planting) wheat. Most farmers in BCG produce 30-40% wheat. Tim uses a rotation of wheat, barley, and pasture in his paddocks. They even stopped the tractor and seeder to let us check their equipment out. The McClelland’s have all auto-steer tractors to 2 cm accuracy. They are looking to incorporate more precision agriculture into their operation, including variable rates regarding phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers.

SDSU Students with Tim McClelland with their tractor and seeder while planting.
In the field, some student saw that there were strange things on the ground. Tim told us that they were actually Patty and Mickey melon pods. These melons are actually weeds that cause problems for the farmers.
A Patty and Mickey melon pod pictured in Brian’s hand.
Before hopping back on the bus, BCG supplied us with sack lunches, sandwiches, muffins, fruit, and a vanilla slice for dessert. All which was delicious! We then headed for Boort Estate, part of Boundary Bend Limited (BBL).

The olive harvester collecting olives from the trees.
Boort Estate is one of Australian’s largest olive groves. At Boort Estate, they have 1.1 million olive trees.  BBL only uses their olives for oil production. The facility operates 24/7 during harvest season, which lasts about 2.5 months. Everyone really enjoyed when we got the chance to tour the operation. The process begins with the olive harvester. It is transported back to the plant in a large trailer, and dumped into a hopper which separates the large leaves and sticks from the olives. Through the plant they are cleaned, heated, crushed, and separated to extract the oil. It only take ten minutes for an olive to move through the plant. On our way out, we stopped at the storage facility which contained numerous, massive tanks.
Olives going up the conveyer belt before they are washed at the plant.
Macey watching the fresh olive oil complete its final step in the plant.
We drove two hours to Shepparton to check into our hotel for the next two nights.  We gathered together to eat as a group at RSL Shepparton.

We were all ready to hit the hay after a fun, busy day!

-Paige, Marilyn, and Maggie

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