All posts by dan

Linear Move On-site

Thanks to Hugh and Sharon Ritchie the MicroFarm now has a linear move irrigator.

The Ritchies replaced the original linear at Drumpeel, and after Hugh made some necessary adjustments, arrived with a truck and trailer carrying a single span linear and a Manitou to put it up with.

Progress Day 1

We followed progress on Day 1, which saw the basic structure erected and the power plant in place.

The next stage is filling the hydraulics, connecting the electrics, and sorting out the plumbing. Rather than use the full span pipe, we intend to carry an under-slung lateral to supply 11 nozzles. We will only be pumping about 4.7 L/s.

And we need to find some wheels. . . .

Buried-drip flushing manifold installed

Our pre-season maintenance reached a milestone when ThinkWater installed a flushing manifold. We ran without flushing for the first season, relying on the high quality of our bore water. But definitely a better plan to have flushing!

Ritchie from ThinkWater finishing the flushing valve installation on the buried-drip in paddock 2
Ritchie from ThinkWater finishing the flushing valve installation on the buried-drip in paddock 2

Because the block is split in two length-ways, we have paired flushing manifolds, each clearing 24 laterals. The manifold pipes are relatively small bore to ensure correct flows carry any debris. We marked each end with permanent posts, as we did for the header, so anyone can see where the buried manifold pipes are.

We are once again grateful for the support of Anthony Waites at ThinkWater Hawke’s Bay for this aspect of the MicroFarm irrigation. Thanks too Netafim for supplying componentry.

thinkwater260     Netafim200


Plant growth regulators and pea productivity

Paul Johnstone, Sarah Pethybridge, Bruce Searle and Christina Waldon, Plant & Food Research

Commercial pea crops can flower for an extended period. When plants keep on flowering, they can put resources into pods and peas that are often underdeveloped by harvest. Conversely, if flowering can be stopped at the right times, more energy goes into the pods that make up harvestable yield.

This 2013-14 summer we conducted two preliminary comparisons at the MicroFarm to see whether plant growth regulators (PGRs) could affect flowering period and increase harvestable yield. PGRs are plant hormones that influence growth and development. There are many different types and each influences plants in different ways.

We applied a selection of commercially available PGRs to plots within early (sown in September) and late (sown in November) pea crops. The products applied included a mix of PGR types (gibberellins, anti-gibberellins, cytokinins and anti-ethylene), rates and timings. We used two application rates: the recommended dosage and double that rate of each product. The application timings were early vegetative growth, pre-flowering and flowering. The demonstration plots were not replicated.

At harvest we measured pea yields and quality in PGR-treated plots and compared these with values from plots that received no PGR application (our control). The results are presented in Table 1.

Total pea yields averaged 9.7 t/ha in the early planted crops and 6.2 t/ha in the late planted crops. We did see some effects of the PGR products on crop yields but these yields were also influenced by highly variable plant populations and crop maturity.


In the early trial, the standard rate of Regalis® applied during early vegetative growth resulted in between 2.1 and2.6 t/ha higher total yields than those in other treatments. The differences were primarily related to more peas per pod and heavier peas.

In the late trial, the double rate of Regalis applied during early vegetative growth achieved the highest total yields (8.1 t/ha), but statistically these were not significantly different from those in the untreated plants (7.6 t/ha).


20131029_webProGibb® caused rapid stem elongation and yellowing for a period, but not a yield benefit

We saw no effect of the ProGibb® treatment on yield in the early planting.

In the late planted crop, ProGibb appeared to reduce pea yields greatly, producing only between 3.4 and 3.6 t/ha. Fewer and lighter individual peas were produced on plants treated with this product.


Two cytokinin products were tried: Exilis® on the early planting and Sitofex® on the late planting. We saw no effect of either product on pea yields.


We applied Retain® to plots in the early planting but saw no effect. It was not used on the late planting.


These initial observations suggest that some PGRs may provide a potential yield benefit, although our results were confounded by variation in plant population, which has a strong effect on yield. Unravelling this interaction is necessary before firm recommendations can be made.


The trial was sown by Patrick Nicolle (Nicolle Contracting) using seed supplied by McCain Foods. PGR products were supplied by BASF Crop Protection and Agronica. Tim Robinson (Peracto Ltd) applied the various PGR treatments in both demonstrations. Additional assistance was provided by Issy Sorensen, Nathan Arnold, Matthew Norris, Tony White and Colleen Reid (Plant & Food Research) during the harvests.

PGRSponsors nicolle_contracting_100 McCain120

Autumn Open Day

Website Open Day StripThe LandWISE MicroFarm held its second Open Day in April 2014. The two crops for discussion were sweet corn and green beans.

MicroFarm IrrigationWeb

Green beans are a relatively new crop here, and questions over best management remain. The MicroFarm Discussion Group selected a few options this season.  Some may require following up with more investigations.

Plant arrangement and population

Tasman Harvesters Director, Gary Cutts returned from a trip to Europe where he saw most green beans are planted on 15” or 381mm rows. Gary was very keen to try the narrower row spacing. He has noticed smaller canopy crops that do not fully fill the allocated row space are difficult to harvest well.

This season we have planted one MicroFarm paddock at 15” or 381mm spacing, increasing the in-row spacing to keep the population near the norm.  At half the usual spacing for crops such as process sweetcorn or maize, fitting tyres into the mix is a challenge.

McCain Foods Field Officer, Ben Watson was interested to know what plant population might be optimal. He set up four rates from 300,000 to 370,000 plants per hectare.


Ballance AgriNutrients’ Mark Redshaw has used double rate phosphorous in one half and no phosphorous in the other. Other nutrients are the same, at rates determined following soil testing at Hill Laboratories.

Herbicide strategy

Scott Marillier and Vaughan Redshaw at Fruitfed Supplies selected a standard herbicide programme for most of the area. Haydn of Greville Groundspraying applied 600mL/ha BASF Frontier and 500mL/ha Magister as a pre-emergent spray. This was followed by 3L/ha BASF Basagran (Bentazone) at two trifoliates.

In two half paddocks, they left out the pre-emergent, and applied 1.5 L/ha Basagran (bentazone) at cotyledon stage, then 3 L/ha at 2 trifoliates.


By the end of February the buried drip installed by ThinkWater had applied four 10mm irrigations. That was enough to keep just above stress point. In early March the crop justified 10mm applications every two days. We are seeing some bypass as the deeper soil shows increasing moisture. The outside rows planted are outside the area irrigated with drip. The differences are very evident.

HydroServices’ soil moisture monitoring showed the un-irrigated paddocks were stressed from early on. Funding constraints have prevented us getting the dream irrigation system so we started using our mini-gun, applying 35mm at the end of February.  While adequate on pasture, it is not ideal for crops.

Irrigation has continued with a second round in early March applying another 35mm. Windy conditions at the start of the month affected application patterns, and some days we did not bother irrigating at all. View the edges of the paddocks to see the difference!

The Netafim dripline extends under the first part of the sweetcorn in paddock 3. Again, the difference between irrigated and unirrigated is extremely obvious.

More information on the main LandWISE website

Many thanks to:

Centre for Land and Water, ThinkWater, Netafim, HydroServices, McCain Foods,
Ballance AgriNutrients, BASF Crop Protection, FruitFed Supplies, Agronica NZ,
Nicolle Contracting, Te Mata Contractors, Drumpeel Farms, Greville Ground Spraying,
True Earth Organics, Tasman Harvesting, Plant & Food Research and Peracto Research for support with this work.

Foundation MicroFarm Sponsors

Ballance web150  BASF web  CLAW-light-150

Pea Inoculants

Ballance web150 BASF web
Foundation MicroFarm Sponsors

Our first look at inoculation of peas left us asking more questions. We got a high level of inoculation on one paddock but very little in another.

Everything pretty much the same: Both were the same pea variety planted at the same rate on the same day with the same equipment using the same inoculator.

  • Why did we get different effects?
  • What encourages or discourages inoculation?
  • How many nodules is enough?

Some background

GRDC recently published an excellent guide to inoculating legumes. Their Back Pocket Guide is quick to review and very informative.

Legume inoculation involves encouraging specific strains of rhizobia bacteria to colonise plant roots. They form a symbiotic relationship, fixing atmospheric nitrogen and getting resources from the plant. Each type of legume is nodulated by a specific type of rhizobia, and different legume – rhizobia associations will tolerate different soil conditions.

The GRDC Pocket Guide notes pea rhizobia prefer a neutral to alkaine pH of 6.0 – 7.5. It suggests peas nodulate with Inolculant Group E, but also with Group F. The likelihood of crop response to inoculation is said to be high where peas or vetch have not previously been grown. Where there has been a recent well nodulated host crop, the likelihoood of crop response if said to be low.

The GRDC Pocket Guide that after 8 weeks, 100 pink nodules per plant on heavier textured soils and 20 nodules per plant on lighter soils are satisfactory.

What did we do?

We planted Ashton peas VA 1301 on 12  November at 200kg seed per hectare.

Soil testing in June had showed the two Paddocks had almost identical nutrient status including nitrogen. Both were very low in sulphur. Paddock 2 had slightly more organic matter.

Becker Underwood Nodulator supplied by BASF Crop Protection was applied at slightly different rates in the two paddocks.

The seed was drilled by Parick Nicolle using his modified Great Plains drill. The Nodulator was in a separate box to keep it away from fertiliser and avoid separating out. New tubing directed the inoculator into the disc coulter so it was applied with the seed in the seed furrow.

GreatPlains Nodulator tubes W Hazelwood  2 Nodulator Seed tube connection W Hazelwood  3 Inside disc coulter W Hazelwood

Drill Images: W. Hazelwood, BASF Crop Protection
1: Nodulator delivery tubes
2: Nodulator/seed tube junction above coulter
3: Inside view of double disc coulter showing final delivery spout with combined seed and Nodulator

What did we see?

Paddock 2 had the highest pea yield but least evidence of nodulation.


In Paddock 6 we saw significant development of nodules on the pea roots as shown in the photo above. We noted the nodules were much bigger than we are used to seeing, and appeared almost as a series of nodules fused together.

In Paddock 2 we found very little nodulation. Not even as much as we might usually see in crops in this region.

Why the differences?

The obvious background differences are irrigation and the paddocks’ histories.

Paddock 2 is our buried-drip irrigation block and the pea crop received significant irrigation which kept it above moisture stress point. Paddock 6 had no irrigation, and the crop did go into moisture stress. We suggest this is the primary cause of the yield difference.

Paddock 6 was planted out of long term pasture which had received little fertiliser in the last ten years. Paddock 2 was planted out of an over-winter cover crop of broad beans, a legume with potentially similar inoculant relationships to peas. The ground had been cultivated prior to bean planting, and the beans were chopped in to prepare the Paddock for pea planting.

So some possible mechanisms spring to mind:

  1. The rhizobium niches in Paddock 2 might have been occupied by “wild” strains. As the GRDC Pocket Guide indicates, where a recent bean crop has been grown, a crop response to inoculation is less likely. Even if the wild strains did not inoculate our peas, and we saw little evidence of nodules, they may have reduced the ability of Nodulator to do so.
  2. Possible higher soil nitrogen after the bean cover crop may have provided sufficient for the crop without a need for nodulation. In retrospect, some more soil nutrient testing at the end of the crop may have helped clarify the potential role of different nutrition.

Many thanks to:

Nicolle Contracting, True Earth Organics, Drumpeel Farms, BASF Crop Protection, McCain Foods, Ballance AgriNutrients, Fruitfed Supplies, Haydn Greville Groundspraying and Agronica, ThinkWater and Netafim and the Centre for Land and Water for supporting this preliminary investigation.


Green Beans Planted

MicroFarm Paddocks 1, 2, 5 and 6 have been planted in Green Beans, destined for McCain Foods in Hastings.


These paddocks were previously in vining peas, and issues with compaction and paddock humps were noted. See the post, Removing Compaction for more details.

A number of different options are being observed, including:

  • row spacing
  • plant population
  • varieties
  • fertiliser programme
  • herbicide strategy
  • drip irrigation dryland
  • and hopefully spray irrigation

Row spacing

At the instigation of Gary Cutts of Tasman Harvesting, responsible for harvesting the beans in Hawke’s Bay, Paddock 1 has been planted with a 15″  (381mm) row spacing. This compares to the standard 20″ (508mm) spacing in the other three paddocks. (Originally beans here were planted on 30″ (762mm)rows.)

Gary has noted that in lighter canopies planted on wider spaced rows, some beans get lost at the edges of the harvest swath. He believes we should try the closer spacing which is common in Europe.

Others in the MicroFarm discussion group has raised the potential increase in disease risk with a more closed canopy, so this will be monitored with interest.

Getting the beans planted at the narrow spacing was a challenge as the Monosem NG plus 4 planter being used would not close up enough. The units are capable, but the current toolbar arrangement with wheels in the way is not.

Instead, Patrick and the Nicolle Contracting staff used their John Deere 8-row MaxEmerge XP planter set on 30″ spacing, and simply moved the whole machine across 15″ to do intermendiate rows. This resulted in some planted rows being driven over – the group decided that was an acceptable limitation for a first look.

Preparing the JD MaxEmerge for 15″ row planting

Rain after planting may have aided emergence even in these rows although it may be delayed and less successful.

Tough bean seedlings emerging through wheel track

Plant Population

Ben Watson of McCain Foods is leading a plant population comparison in Paddock 6. Here four different plant desities are being tried, all on the standard 30″ (762mm) row spacing planted with the Monosem planter.

Population/ha                           In-row spacing

  1. 377,358 (standard)            5.3 cm
  2. 363,636                               5.5 cm
  3. 333,333                               6.0 cm
  4. 307,692                               6.5 cm
Bean planting P6 Airey 4 web
Planting the population trial with Nicolle Contracting Monosem

Fertiliser Programme

Ballance AgriNutrients’ Mark Redshaw developed a fertiliser programme based on soil test results and crop requirements. Paddocks 1, 2 and 6 each received 250 kg/ha Mila complex at planting.

As an alternative, Paddock 5 received no nitrogen at planting. The southern half received a double rate of phosphorous, and the northern half received no phosphorous.

Herbicide Programmes

The northern half of Paddock 2 and southern half of Paddock 5 (both nearest the centre access track) are receiving an alternative herbicide programme. The rest is being treated with a relatively standard approach.

Standard Programme                             Alternative Programme

Pre Emerge                                              
600 mL/ha Frontier                                  No product applied
500 mL/ha Magister

Cotyledon Stage
No product applied                                 1.5 L/ha Bentazone

2 Trifoliates
3 L/ha Bentazone                                    3 L/ha Bentazone

BASF supplied Bentazone and Frontier. FruitFed Supplies sourced Magister for us.

All herbicides are being applied by Haydn Greville Groundspraying

Soil Moisture Monitoring

HydroServices installed neutron probe access tubes in Paddock 2 (dripline) and Paddock 5 on 14 February.

20140214_neutronprobeinstal 20140214_neutronprobe

Results from soil moisture monitoring are posted on the Irrigation Monitoring page.

Sweetcorn Planted

MicroFarm paddocks 3 and 4 were planted in sweetcorn on 18 December 2014. This is destined for McCain Foods in Hastings.

Following harvest of vining peas, the paddock was sprayed off with glyphosate by Hayden Greville Groundspraying. Key weeds were Indian Doab (Cynodon dactylon) but others including Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis?) and the usual Heretaunga Plains crop weeds were noted.

The paddocks were strip-tilled by Drumpeel Farms on 13 December using the 12 row Orthman strip-tiller.


A video of Hugh Ritchie with the machine was made by James Powrie of Eco-Eye with funding from and the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

The sweetcorn was planted on 18 December by Nicolle Contracting using their John Deere 8-row MaxEmerge XP planter.

WP_20140131_016 web

On 9 January 2014, evidence of Cutworm and Argentine Stem borer justified Haydn Greville Groundspraying applying Agronica Alpha Scud (Alpha Cypermethrin) at 200mL/ha in 300-600L of water.

Fertiliser application plans were  Mark Redshaw. At planting Paddock 3 received 150 kg/ha DAP/PhasedN supplied by Ballance AgriNutrients. It was sidedressed between rain showers with 200 kg/ha of Sustain on 1 February 2014.

The Paddock 4 sweetcorn received 250 kg/ha Cropzeal 20N at planting. This was supplemented on 1 February 2014 with a side dressing between rain showers of 200kg/ha urea supplied by Ballance AgriNutrients.

Soil moisture monitoring by HydroServices has shown the crop reaching deficit levels. With no irrigation option for these blocks, we were to some extent saved by regular rainfall but are actively seeking a suitable irrigation option. Monitoring data are posted in Irrigation Monitoring.

Spot spraying with Agronica Leopard  to control remaining spots of Indian Doab was started on 4 February

Estimated harvest date is early April, before the frost.

Removing compaction

After seven years of pasture, the legacy of compaction from orcharding remains.

We have ripped the whole area several times to a depth of about 300 – 350mm, but excavations continued to show signs of compaction related drainage issues. The compaction plaguing us is deep, sitting between about 400mm and 500mm.

With the sub-soil reasonably dry after the late pea crop was harvested, we took the opportunity to start addressing the compaction by deep ripping. Using Scott Lawson’s narrow tines, Stu Mawley and staff spent serious hours busting the hard layer. Shear-bolts happily gave way keeping tractor speed to about 1.7 km/h; not fast. While the narrow tines help avoid bringing sub-soil up, we still found some big lumps.


Compacted soil lifted by deep ripper – lump has been shaved and cut by spade, revealing soil mottling

We think some of the hardest lumps are from areas where the old orchard trees were burnt. We’ve seen that the heat from the big fires can “fuse” the soil, but didn’t expect it would remain significant after seven years and a number of cultivations.

Paddocks 1, 5 and 6 were cross ripped twice, first to about 500mm and then to about 650-700mm depth. With the tines at 762mm centres, we were able to rip between the buried drip irrigation laterals (but only parallel with them of course!).

A couple of days after ripping, Stu levelled the paddock with a hoe and roller. The intent was to shift soil to remove the corrugations from orchard rows so the bean harvester can pick up the crop. The second benefit was a traditionally prepared seed bed, ready for Patrick Nicolle to plant beans for McCain Foods.

Hoe and roll

Stu Train doing final levelling pass after ripping and before planting

Many thanks to Te Mata Contractors Stu Mawley and drivers Leroy and Stu Train for tractors and work time. And thanks True Earth Organics Scott and Vicky Lawson for the rippers.

TeMataContractors125  TrueEarth100

Pea Sampling

20140114 DripIrrigatedPeaCrop

Pre-harvest samples were taken from the four pea paddocks on 16 January. They show a wide range in crop maturity and yield expectations.

Four 1 m2 samples were taken in each half hectare paddock. We counted plants, weighed the fresh vine and took it to the McCain Foods mini viner and tenderometer for processing. Each sample was processed, peas weighed and TR tested.

Indicative tonnages averaged for each paddock range from 4.2 to 5.6 t/ha and tenderometer readings from 86 to 105. Within this, there is an even greater range reflecting the variability noted across the region. The lowest sample tonnage was 3 t/ha and the highest 6.8 t/ha. Notably, these were from the same paddock. The lowest TR readings were 78 and the highest 113.

Paddock 2 has buried drip irrigation. It has a much bigger canopy – 39 t/ha fresh weigh compared to the 26 t/ha average of the other paddocks. This paddock is slower maturing, still flowering where others stopped some time ago. While it has the lowest mean TR reading, it has about the average yield at present. If left to get to equivalent maturity, the yield could be close to the higher end of our four paddocks.

Summary of Pre-harvest Pea Sampling
Paddock Plants/m2 Fresh Vine t/ha Peas t/ha TR Irrigated Treated
1 69 29.6 5.57 105 No -
2 53 39.4 4.91 86 Drip Nodulator
5 79 24.9 5.06 94 No -
6 62 23.1 4.19 93 No Nodulator


Irrigation demand: alike as two peas?

Article first published in The GROWER, December 2013

We tracked water use since planting in the first two crops of peas at the MicroFarm. We want to learn as much as we can about our soil and irrigation.

HydroServices’ Melanie Smith, our specialist support for soil moisture monitoring, established three neutron probe access tubes in each of our first two crops. These were read weekly and analysed to give a Paddock soil moisture content down to 80 cm.

Both pea crops were planted on the same day with the same drill. One had some nitrogen starter-fertiliser because our discussion group wondered if it would make a difference, but that is another story. For now, we are talking irrigation management.

We saw significantly different patterns from our two crops. Significant in that considering the usual 30 cm root depth, one crop needed irrigating a week before the other. Significant in that one would get through to harvest at the start of December without needing to be irrigated. The other would need irrigation. What was going on?

Let’s look at two graphs: Paddock 3a and Paddock 4a which are the two crops in question.

HydroServices_Block 3_Peas_2013-11-25  HydroServices_Block 4_Peas_2013-11-25

The top parts of these graphs show soil water content in the top 30 cm. We see that in each case the Full Point (116 mm) and Refill Point (82 mm) is the same. So we have 34 mm of readily available water our plants can access from the first 30 cm depth of soil.

The graphs show Paddock 4 reached Refill Point a whole week before Paddock 3. In fact, Paddock 4 hit Refill Point almost three weeks before Paddock 3, and but for a chance 12 mm rainfall would have gone into critical deficit in early November.

Let’s compare these graphs a bit more closely.

We see they tracked about the same to start with, then at the beginning of November Paddock 4 suddenly used significantly more water from the 0 ‑ 30 cm root zone than did Paddock 3. This is around the time the canopies reached full ground cover.

Our observations of the crops suggest Paddock 3 had more canopy so we thought it would be using more water than Paddock 4. Looking at the lower parts of Graphs 3a and 4a, we see that Paddock 3 used more water from deeper in the profile at 40 – 50 cm.

We did some Visual Soil Assessments and found more evidence of soil compaction in Paddock 4. Being the main gate access into the area it has seen more tractors, trucks and paddock forklift activity. So we expected to see compaction limiting root development.

Now lets look at the water content in the whole soil profile, right down to 80 cm, presumably well past any pea roots (Figures Paddock 3b and Paddock 4b).

HydroServices_Paddock 3_Peas_0-80_2013-12-03   HydroServices_Paddock 4_Peas_0-80_2013-12-03

The first thing to notice is much higher water storage, because 80 cm of soil has more readily available water than 30 cm of soil. So now Full Point is 314  mm and Refill Point is 232 mm giving 82 mm of readily available water for our crop to grow before we would need to irrigate.

When we compare these two graphs we get a different picture. Now we see the two crops using similar amounts of water through until 14 November. After that, Paddock 3 (the fuller canopy and better soil condition) used slightly more water than Paddock 4, and actually hit Refill Point a day or so earlier.

Overall, it seems our Paddock 3 crop is getting more water from deeper in the profile, accessing water from 50 ‑ 80 cm deep.

For a lower price crop like peas, reducing costs makes a big difference. Can avoiding compaction save the need to irrigate? 

How deep are your crops’ roots?