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“Why is the crop so much heavier at this end?”


By Malcolm Campbell

The deluge from the Taupo Eruption 1800 years ago brought long term benefits demonstrating how nature can be cruel and kind at the same time. The amount of silica and other minerals brought the long-term benefits, but the devastation at the time must have been shattering. At times pieces of trunks 150 to 200mm were unearthed and thought to be old mature Kanuka. There was not lots of it, but when unearthed, it was saturated and when dried made fine firewood. However, the fallout deposit became a game changer.

 

In the early stages of development of the peat farm, conventional practises were followed. Help was enlisted from the late Fred Sawyer (Thames Aerial Topdressing). Fred was happy to try landing on the peat when we laid out a runway. Pilots Cyril Hall, Johnnie Houlton and Lyndsay Wheeler all contributed to operations and Fred himself flew the Tiger Moth sowing grass seed on neighbouring properties. Until the peat gradually firmed, the aerial sowing was a godsend as wheeled heavier vehicles just could not operate on newly cleared areas. With development around our property on neighbouring land in one season, over 2000 tonnes of fertiliser and lime was spread from our runway. In the early stages of development there were spectacular results from spreading 30% potash-super phosphate in the period 1960’s to 1980. However, there was a point reached where there was no longer any obvious response to the fertiliser we were using. Annually, we were planting 16 Ha (40acres) of maize for supplementary summer feed and as a means of renewing poor pasture. This worked well using chicken manure before ploughing the land and then another dressing on the cultivated soil prior to planting. Even then we were attempting to avoid using nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides. Although we did not have the right equipment, by improvising with what we had, we were able to inter-row cultivate successfully for weed control.

It is interesting that in the USA while staying on a farm near Indiana in the mid-west corn belt, our hosts were using inter-row cultivators for weed control in 1980. By now, more and more, we were seeing that where the silica rich deposit from the eruption was mixed with the peat soils, it was making a dramatic difference to not only the pasture, but also the maize crops. Hay baling and maize silage contractors were all asking the same question, “Why is the crop so much heavier at this end of the paddock and not so good at the other?” It was time for yet another intensive investigation. Accordingly, soil tests were taken very methodically in a number of paddocks with two samples from each paddock – an A and B sample. The A sample was taken where the pasture was strong and vigorous and the B sample where the pasture was poorer. All these samples were sent off to the Department of Agriculture for testing. The feedback from that Department was simply astonishing. There was no discernible or any real difference between the samples even though every man and his dog could visually see a difference.  A phone call was made to the  Department of Agriculture stating there had to be a difference, but this was met with indifference. “There must be some other reason.” There was no interest in investigating further into why, what and how?

 

 

Caption: 

From left to right: Bill Johnston, Fred Sawyer, Managing Director of Thames Aerial Topdressing Co., Malcolm Campbell, and Cyril Hall.

 |  The Informer  |  ,


By Malcolm Campbell

The deluge from the Taupo Eruption 1800 years ago brought long term benefits demonstrating how nature can be cruel and kind at the same time. The amount of silica and other minerals brought the long-term benefits, but the devastation at the time must have been shattering. At times pieces of trunks 150 to 200mm were unearthed and thought to be old mature Kanuka. There was not lots of it, but when unearthed, it was saturated and when dried made fine firewood. However, the fallout deposit became a game changer.

 

In the early stages of development of the peat farm, conventional practises were followed. Help was enlisted from the late Fred Sawyer (Thames Aerial Topdressing). Fred was happy to try landing on the peat when we laid out a runway. Pilots Cyril Hall, Johnnie Houlton and Lyndsay Wheeler all contributed to operations and Fred himself flew the Tiger Moth sowing grass seed on neighbouring properties. Until the peat gradually firmed, the aerial sowing was a godsend as wheeled heavier vehicles just could not operate on newly cleared areas. With development around our property on neighbouring land in one season, over 2000 tonnes of fertiliser and lime was spread from our runway. In the early stages of development there were spectacular results from spreading 30% potash-super phosphate in the period 1960’s to 1980. However, there was a point reached where there was no longer any obvious response to the fertiliser we were using. Annually, we were planting 16 Ha (40acres) of maize for supplementary summer feed and as a means of renewing poor pasture. This worked well using chicken manure before ploughing the land and then another dressing on the cultivated soil prior to planting. Even then we were attempting to avoid using nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides. Although we did not have the right equipment, by improvising with what we had, we were able to inter-row cultivate successfully for weed control.

It is interesting that in the USA while staying on a farm near Indiana in the mid-west corn belt, our hosts were using inter-row cultivators for weed control in 1980. By now, more and more, we were seeing that where the silica rich deposit from the eruption was mixed with the peat soils, it was making a dramatic difference to not only the pasture, but also the maize crops. Hay baling and maize silage contractors were all asking the same question, “Why is the crop so much heavier at this end of the paddock and not so good at the other?” It was time for yet another intensive investigation. Accordingly, soil tests were taken very methodically in a number of paddocks with two samples from each paddock – an A and B sample. The A sample was taken where the pasture was strong and vigorous and the B sample where the pasture was poorer. All these samples were sent off to the Department of Agriculture for testing. The feedback from that Department was simply astonishing. There was no discernible or any real difference between the samples even though every man and his dog could visually see a difference.  A phone call was made to the  Department of Agriculture stating there had to be a difference, but this was met with indifference. “There must be some other reason.” There was no interest in investigating further into why, what and how?

 

 

Caption: 

From left to right: Bill Johnston, Fred Sawyer, Managing Director of Thames Aerial Topdressing Co., Malcolm Campbell, and Cyril Hall.