Page 98: a fascinating visit to a wheat farm.
     
   
  A beautiful London Plane Tree (of the genus Platanus), one of many in the caravan park. A deciduous tree,
it has a dense, lush foliage which provides good shade in summer (and a lot of mess in autumn).
 
     
   
  More of the trees in this very beautiful park on the banks of the Peel River.  
     
  An extremely interesting evening  
 

Pam has a very good friend, Roslyn, with whom she works. Roslyn and her partner, Allan, have a 5,000 acre farm about fifty five kilometres west of Tamworth as the crow flies. Not being crows we took the road which doubled the distance flown by the crow.

Roslyn met us at the turn-in to the farm and showed us where to park, out of the sun; it had been a real stinker of a day with the mercury pushing 40° Centigrade. It was nearly six o'clock when we arrived but there was no hint of a let-up to the searing heat. We hopped into Roslyn's 4 x 4 Prado for a tour of the farm.

Allan and Ros have no animals except chooks, dogs and Roslyn's horses. Allan has elected to grow crops - mostly grains - instead of rearing sheep or cattle. This choice was mainly dictated by the type of soil in that region. Following several very hot days the current crop of wheat had ripened unusually quickly and Allan was frantically harvesting it before a change in the weather could spoil it. One severe thunderstorm could wipe out all the remaining crop; one flash of lightning could set it ablaze. Until it was safely in the silos nothing was certain.

As we toured the farm with Ros we could see two 'headers' (combine harvesters) working in the paddocks.

 
     
   
  Two headers gathering in the wheat. If you look carefully at the right header you can see the blue 'chase bin'
pulled by a yellow tractor running alongside the header. The header's discharge pipe is unloading grain from
its hopper into the blue bin even as it continues to harvest the wheat without slowing down.
 
     
  After the tour Ros took us to where two large trucks were ferrying the wheat from the paddocks to a row of shiny new silos that Allan had recently completed. A large trailer, coupled to a Mack prime mover, was being filled from a temporary storage bin close to where the headers were operating.

I'm relating this in the sequence that I experienced it rather than the progress of the grain from paddock to silo. I hope it will fall into place. The photos are not necessarily in sequence however. For example, the sun had set in the picture above and below.
 
     
   
  An auger, powered by the tractor, lifts the harvested grain from the field storage bin and drops it into the Mack's trailer.  
     
  Ros asked me if I'd like to ride in the truck and watch the driver, Mark, unload at the silos. She didn't have to ask twice!

The view from the Mack's cab was a bit obscured by a grill across the windscreen designed to deflect stones thrown up by other vehicles. I took the following picture before Mark set off. The other truck can be seen approaching after delivering its load to the silos.
 
     
   
  Looking through the Mack's stone guard across the flat plain to the distant hills.  
     
  The ride was quite bouncy due to the truck's 'air bag' suspension which is designed to provide a smooth ride on bitumen. It couldn't seem to come to terms with a bumpy dirt track across a huge paddock. When the Mack began to bounce, Mark slowed down until it settled.

The Mack had eighteen forward gears which I gather are supplied via a nine-ratio gear box plus an arrangement to select a high and low ratio for each gear, thus giving eighteen separate ratios. Mark made it look quite easy to drive.

It was only a short trip to the silos where Mark drove up a ramp and stopped with the rear of the trailer above an underground hopper which was covered by a grid of bars. Mark opened a gate at the back of the trailer and grain began falling into the hopper. Beneath the hopper a continuous conveyer belt collected the grain and carried it up a vertical pipe and across the top of the silos. Each silo has an entrance valve which can be opened to allow the grain to drop in.
 
     
   
  The trailer parked ready to unload. The grain falls into the below-ground hopper and is carried up the pipe attached to the framework tower then across the top of the silos until it finds an open valve. It will then drop into that silo.  
     
  As the back of the trailer emptied, Mark raised the front end to slide all the contents backwards towards the dump gate.

The pipe you can see dangling above the trailer is used to transfer grain from any silo to a truck for delivery. The same continuous belt, travelling back under the silos, picks up the grain draining from a silo and carries it beneath the delivery truck, up the pipe attached to the framework tower, and gravity feeds it down the pipe and into the trailer via an open valve.
 
     
   
  The silos with the feed pipe running across the top. The spare outlet pipes are to feed a
second row of silos to be built alongside these, should the need arise.
 
     
   
  Above and below: With the front of the trailer raised, two axles at the back of the trailer found themselves off the ground.  
     
   
     
   
  Grain pouring into the hopper from the trailer's dump gate.  
     
   
  So bound up was I, watching the very clever grain delivery system, that I didn't even notice
the view behind me as the shadows lengthened across the plain until Mark pointed it out.
 
     
   
  When we arrived back at the loading point the sun had set. Mark immediately began reloading.  
     
  We hadn't been back long when Allan drove his header over and offered to give me some driving instruction. (Passengers are not allowed to ride on the header for safely reasons but there's a spare seat so drivers can be given instruction. I sat in the spare seat.)  
     
   
  Allan returning through the wheat stubble to his header.  
     
 

Although the picture above looks bright and clear, the light was fading fast by the time it was taken. From inside the moving header I was unable to select a fast enough shutter speed to take a successful picture which was very frustrating.

The five-bladed assembly you see in the picture spins anti-clockwise (as seen from the camera) when in operation. As the header moves through the ripe crop it bends the top of each stalk towards the header and an oscillating cutter below it slices off the stalks at about 30 cm. above ground level. The top of the stalks are thrown onto an auger, a metal shaft with a worm-like blade wrapped around it which winds the resulting litter to the centre of the header. The worm is visible through the thrasher blades in the picture above. Naturally the worm on the left side is wound opposite to the worm on the right side so all the wheat is brought to the middle.

At this point I have a 'black hole' in my knowledge of the header's operation. The tops of the stalks, which carry the seed or grain, are transported into the header where the seeds are separated from the husks in the thrasher. The chaff is exhausted through a large outlet at the rear of the machine. Most of what has been cut is therefore returned to the paddock to rot down and return its nutrients to the soil. The seed is collected in a grain hopper behind the driver's seat.

When the grain hopper is 75% full, the on-board computer sounds a warning to the driver and illuminates flashing amber strobe lights on top of the header. This is a signal to the driver of the tractor towing the 'chase bin'.

The 'chase bin' is a steel container on large wheels which is towed behind a tractor. The bin, which was painted blue, had a capacity of 30 tonnes of grain. When the tractor driver saw the flashing lights on the header he would come in on the header's left. The header driver would swing out a large pipe with a chute at its outer extremity (see picture above) until it was at 90° to the header and above the height of the 'chase bin'. The header would not slow down and the tractor driver would manoeuvre the front of his bin beneath the chute. The header driver would activate the auger in the pipe and grain would begin pumping out of the header's hopper into the 'chase bin'. The tractor driver towing the 'chase bin' would very slowly overtake the header so that the grain was loaded evenly into his bin. It was all a matter of teamwork and experience that no amount of training could replace.

When the header's hopper was empty the driver would stop the discharge auger and hinge the pipe back along the side of his machine. Or perhaps the computer did it for him? These machines are very 'high tech' and the computer monitors everything, reporting any problem to the driver.

The 'chase bin' tractor driver peeled off and went about his business. When his bin was getting full he would dump its contents into the much larger stationary field storage bin from where the trucks transported it to the silos. It was a continuous operation. The two headers, the chase bin and the two trucks ran all day and into the night. In fact it became pitch dark during the time I was 'training' on the header. The powerful lights that Allan switched on at dusk made daylight unnecessary.

Gee, I wish I had more pictures for you!

Anyway, on the occasion that I was on the header the outside temperature fell quite suddenly. As a result the wheat absorbed moisture from the air and became much tougher for the header to process. A loud warning tone kept sounding to warn Allan that the header was unhappy, and groaning noises emanated from the guts of the machine. Allan reduced speed to take some of the load off the mechanism but the warnings persisted. Fortunately the two headers were were working an ever decreasing block of wheat so, after a radio consultation, the drivers decided to quit for the night as soon as that block was finished.

In the meantime, Ros and Pam had arrived with a lovely picnic in the back of the Prado which we made short work of by the lights of the header. Ros had prepared chicken pieces, prawns, oysters, bread, fruit and Allan's favourite cheesecake - it was his birthday.

It was hard to believe how fast the temperature had dropped and with a light breeze blowing it was quite chilly so we packed up and Ros dropped us at our car for the long drive home. Many thanks, Allan and Ros, we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

Footnote: Through working very long hours for many days, Allan and his team safely harvested the wheat and stored it in the silos before the weather could change. But this was only the wheat; soon the linseed will be ready followed by the oats. The sorghum has only just been sown so that will be a while yet. It's a whole different world out there and it certainly opened our eyes. Go, Allan!

There are plans by BHP and Shenhua (owned by the Chinese Govt) to mine coal from this area - known as the Liverpool Plains - and the surrounding hills. There is no knowing what the effect on the water table could be and what the resulting outcome would be on the fertility of this food bowl. No-one has bothered to find out.

Coal results in thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases and riches for the Chinese. Wheat becomes bread on your table. Think about it and support our farmers; they need our support more than ever. Don't let the politicians - who are already selling exploration licences for hundreds of millions - to literally sell the farm. They are already greedily anticipating mining royalties. Anyone who still imagines the NSW State Government has one gram of integrity left is dreaming! Once this land is polluted, it's gone for ever. China doesn't care, our politicians don't care, it's up to us.


I hope to be able to take some more pictures in due course to add to those above.