Follow by Email

Thursday, 28 February 2013

28th Feb 2012 – The National Weather Centre

The National Weather Centre
Following an hour and a half drive north from Ardmore, this morning, I arrived at the National Climate Centre in Norman. This is a fantastic facility that brings together research, education, extension, and industry into one focal point at the University of Oklahoma. The national Climate Centre is also base for the Oklahoma Mesonet, a network of real time weather stations across Oklahoma. Each weather station is located in almost a grid like pattern across the state, with a maximum distance between stations of no more that 32km. The principle reason for this was for monitoring severe weather particularly in relation to tornado’s and fires. An off shoot of this is that it provides fantastic real time data which can be turned into tools for farmers and ranchers.

At the National  Weather Centre I met with Al Sutherland, Gary McMannus & Dr Kevin Kloesel.

Al was my host for the day and gave me an insightful tour around the facility. He also showed me the decision support tools that had been developed to help the community make use of the information that is generated from the Mesonet.
Al Sutherland pictured with instruments used for calibrating meteorological equipment
Gary McMannus’s role is to provide a link between the seasonal weather forecasters and the community, he briefed me on how he goes about this, and the challenges that this entails. One such challenge is the poor understanding of the probability system that is currently used to provide the forecasts.

In the Foyer they had a globe onto which a revolving satelite map of cloud movements is projected.
It looked really cool, wish I had one in the office!
Kevin Kloesel is the director of the Mesonet and shared some interesting work with me on the memory of weather events. One of his students had done a Phd on how a weather event can impact the track of future events. I have seen anecdotal evidence of this within our local area, so it was interesting to hear research that had confirmed this and why it occurred.  Also of interest was the way local, seemingly insignificant features can actually affect the surrounding weather.

One of the Mesonet sites

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

27th Feb 2012 – Oklahoma….where the wind comes sweeping down the plain

As a teenager playing the part of Curly in Oklahoma, I had always imagined it as this amazing plain country where wheat and corn (Which reached as high as an elephants eye) were grown. Well obviously the part of Oklahoma where the hit musical was based on wasn't like the area I traveled in. Consisting of rolling hills and shallow fragile soil, the country I saw as I traveled south from Oklahoma city is now mainly used for cattle grazing, with the crops sown generally used for feed for the cattle.

Ardmore is about one and a half hours south of Oklahoma city. Here  I was hosted by the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation. Based in Ardmore Oklahoma this is a not for profit research and extension organization set up by Oilman & Philanthropist Lloyd Noble. Charged with “benefiting Mankind” the Noble foundation helps farmers and ranchers to improve the management of their soil resource and their businesses. It is the best capitalized organization of its type in the United States. It is well respected among farmers and ranchers alike. It has done, and continues to do some great work to improve the soil and production of many US farmers and ranchers.

This region has suffered two years of severe drought. While at the Noble foundation I spent time with consultants Jim Johnson & Chuck Coffey.  Jim & Chuck had some interesting thoughts on what had caused this unusual phenomenon in what had been a very reliable district for the past 30 years. Some of their research of 60 to 80 yr climatic cycles indicated that this area could be entering a dry phase that may extend for a prolonged period of time. This shift would confront ranchers with a new paradigm and require a change in business management. 
This climate controlled box simulates drought on these Alfalfa plants.
The Noble foundation has 100 of these Hi-Tech boxes
While at the Noble Foundation they allowed me to stay in their conference centre,
 which  was a pretty amazing facility

25th Feb 2012 – Go The Green & Gold

After a mix up in my itinerary, It looked like I might not get to visit the John Deere harvester factory. However thanks to the staff at the factory, they managed to squeeze me into another group. The JD harvester factory is truly amazing. It combines cutting edge technology with a large number of skilled staff. The factory employees passion, for the product they produced really impressed me. The facility is the most advanced of its type in the world and covers an area of 240 acres with the main production housed in a building covering 70 acres. The facility has an impeccable safety record and obviously rate quality of life for their staff highly. It was interesting to hear that most of the factory only runs on two shifts a 7am to 3pm shift and a 11pm to 7am shift so that the staff can always be home in the evenings with their families.

The highlight of my trip was when one of the staff discovered that we had recently purchased a John Deere S670 Combine. In the States when you buy a new combine John Deere brings its customers to the factory to be the first one to start their new harvester and in doing so receive a gold key. As this was not possible for me they presented me with the gold key & cap I would have received had I been able to be their on that date. Needless to say I was rather pumped
My Gold key & hat

Unfortunately no photography is allowed in the factory, so I had to include some other photos from Moline for you

John Deere World Headquaters
Entrance hall into John Deere World Headquaters

Autonomous tractor developed by Deere

Walking timber harvester developed by John Deere
Interestingly I discovered that the reason John Deere colours are green and gold is because of green growing crops and the yellow stubble of harvested crops. 

Sunday, 24 February 2013

24th Feb 2012 - To The John Deere Heartland

The plan was to visit the Wallis Tower (Formally Sears Tower) the tallest building in the USA, then head off to Moline. I picked a perfect day for it, the sun was shining brightly and a feeling of spring was in the air. It was great to see the Sun again as it had been a week since it had peered through the clouds.

Unfortunately after arriving at the tower I discovered that it was an hour and a half wait to get to the observation deck, so I decided to add that to my bucket list and head on down to Moline. I couldn’t have chosen a better day for the drive. The bright warm sun shining on the beautiful snow covered farms and fields, just makes you glad to be traveling. Moline is home to the John Deere international head quarters and a number of machinery works, including the harvester works. I am really looking forward to having a look around tomorrow.

Sunset over Moline, the end of a beautiful day

23rd Feb 2012 Museum of Science & Industry

Chicago has an fantastic array of Museums, the one that I chose to go to was the Museum of Science & Industry. This is an amaizing place I could have spent a couple of days there. A lot of the exhibits are very interactive which the kids would find pretty awesome.

Planes, including a Jet liner hung from the ceiling
Adjustable prisims reflecting sunlight to demonstrate the light spectrum
A simulated Vortex
Of special note is the German U-boat exhibition, the only WWII German submarine to be captured in the war. It was a great display, unfortunately I missed out on the guided tour inside the submarine, which I was told later was supurb. 

They also had a farming exhibit (Thanks mostly to John Deere, going by the make of machines). It was really well done and portrayed farming in a interactive high tech way, the way it should be portrayed. There were kids everywhere, lining up to drive a harvester in a simulated crop, or operate a milking machine, or climb all over a 8430 tractor.

22nd Feb 2012 CBOT & Chicago Architecture

In Farming circles the Chicago Board of Trade is known as providing the bench mark pricing for many agricultural commodities. It is somewhere I have always wanted to visit. In recent years with the advent of electronic trading it has changed significantly. When the market opens each day it is longer quite the noisy throng that it once was. The futures pits, which are where the real action used to be are now very tame. Interestingly though the options pits are still very active, this is because of spread trading, which is very difficult to do electronically.
The Chicago Board of Trade

Corn Options pit

Corn Futures Pit
I spent the afternoon looking at some Chicago landmarks. The Millenium park pretty cool even in winter, I was told it is fantastic in summer. There are these two huge monoliths with a glass brick fa├žade on one side, they project faces of Chicago through them, which look pretty cool. In summer they have a fountain spurting out through their mouths.

I also found the Trump tower. Don wasn’t in otherwise I would have dropped in for a quite one with him and quizzed him on management systems. I found out that originally the Trump tower was going to be the tallest building in the world, but it was scaled down after 911. (Maybe he thought it might be too much of a target)

The Trump Tower

21st Feb 2012 Scotia McLeod - Grant Hinrichsen

Before flying out to Chicago, I met with Canadian futures broker Grant Hinrichsen. Grant and his business partner form the Prarie Futures Group a team within Scotia McLeod which specalises in  commodity futures. Grants clients consist of farmers and elevators from across Canada, with 80% of his business in Ag mostly grains and Oilseeds. His market intelligence is received via JP Morgan. His business looks for opportunities that arise for forward pricing grain for his clients.

In Australia some concern has been expressed about the “disconnect” between the futures and physical markets caused by the hedge funds. Grant believes that this is overstated to a degree, with the “disconnect” really only occurring for a very short period of time as the funds adjust their positions.

Before departing Winnipeg I popped into their Capital Building. It is some of the oldest architecture in Winnipeg. I have included a couple of pictures for you. Note the large Ice polar bear out the front, I just missed out on visiting Winnipeg when they have a festival which includes many of these ice sculptures.

Large Bison Statues guarding the entrance stares inside the Winnipeg Capitol Building
Winnipeg Capitol Building

Another interesting piece of Architecture is a new building under construction which will house the center for Human Rights

20th Feb 2012 Canadas’ weather Guru

Today I met with Ray Garnett, arguably Canadas’ guru when it comes to seasonal weather forecasting. Ray has been in the game a long time. He grew up on a farm and after studying in Winnipeg University he worked for the Canadian Wheat Board. Initially this was as a market analyst, but later when the Wheat Board could see the importance of knowing what their competitors crops were doing they set up a crop forecasting division. This allowed Ray to begin his work on researching climate teleconections. He has identified 170 different ones but has narrowed this down to five that have the biggest affect on the Canadian prairie weather. His is also convinced that there is a strong connection between cyclical Solar activity and our weather including the current perceived “Climate Change”. He holds greater concern that we are entering a phase of  solar induced “Global Cooling” which will have a much greater affect on production than global warming. Global cooling historically has seen the contraction of a large number of societies across the ages.

Left to Right; Myself, Rex Newkirk(CIGI), Ray Garnett

 Rays used his connections in the wheat industry to organise a tour of Canadian International Grain Institute (CIGI). This organization has among other things the role of analyzing the yearly milling and baking performance of all grain varieties before they are exported. It also works on developing new uses for Canadian grain products, educating farmers and customers on the products, and running research milling and baking to diagnose reasons for customer problems and complaints. Previously most off it’s funding came from the Canadian Wheat board, however with deregulation, their contribution has been replaced by a grower levy.

Facilities to test noodle qaulity

State of the art educational facilities at CIGI
We also visited the Prarie & Atlantic Storm Research Centre. The centre monitors storm development across the province of Manitoba and is charged with informing the public and government agencies. One particularly interesting thing I found was that they allow each of the employees time in their schedule to research a topic of their choice and then to present their paper. This has resulted in some really valuable research for the organisation.
Dale Marciski showed us through the Prarie & Atlantic Storm Research Centre

In the evening Ray organised a dinner meeting with John Duvenaud. John provides an Information brokerage services. His business among other things produces a market newsletter for Canadian farmers.

19th Feb 2012 “Winterpeg”

Canadians call Winnipeg “Winterpeg” for good reason. It is one of the coldest regions in southern Canada. When I arrived it was about -25 deg C, despite the sun shining brightly. You know it is cold when you can feel the hairs in your nose freezing up. Winnipeg is a city of about 700,000 people. At the turn of the century it was the largest and fastest growing city in Canada, and was a major trade route, firstly for furs and then later grain. Since then it has stagnated and now has a relatively low per capita income compared to other Canadian provinces, due largely to the oil and gas boom. It is an interesting sight to see mountains of snow piled up on the sides of city streets and in front of buildings. Along the streets after a fresh snowfall, it soon turns from a brilliant fresh pure white to a dirty ugly brown as it mixes with pollution and salt used to de ice the streets. This gives the city a somewhat dirty unkempt look. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Feb 18th Ice Fishing

Another new experience on my Nuffield scholarship! I had the opportunity to go Ice fishing on a frozen lake. We drove out onto the lake in a big ol four wheel drive pickup truck, (something I would not have done on my own), but when the locals are all doing it you know it is pretty safe. 

Conditions were a pretty cool minus 20 deg C, but this did not stop us. My host Arnold, expertly maneuvered the two stoke post hole borer to drill two 30cm holes in the ice about 1m apart. 

He then erected a fishing tent over top and put a gas burner inside to provide us with warmth. 

I climbed inside with his mate Gary and we dropped our lines in. The fishing rod was only about a foot long (Any longer and it wouldn’t have fitted in the tent) and we fished with a single hook and a maggot (I think gent is the polite Australian term). Interestingly in Alberta you are not allowed to use barbed hooks, and it is a $100 fine if you are caught using one. Inside the fishing tent is quite bright as the light reflects through the snow into the tent. Through the hole in the 75cm thick ice, you can see right down to the bottom of the lake, a couple of metres below. Unfortunately the fished must have been able to smell the Australian, ‘cause I had no luck and came home empty handed, but keen to try it again one day 

Feb 16th A Log Cabin In The Snow

Brenda & Clint Schoepp’s home is a beautiful rustic log cabin located on their small Texan Longhorn bull breeding ranch.  These bulls look absolutely ferocious, but are actually a very passive breed with a wonderful temperament and an ability to thrive on poor pastures.

I visited a large scale cropping farm near Fort Saskatchewan. Cropping 14,000 acres the Simes family had also recently purchased their own elevator for storing their grain. Of particular interest was that they were able to turnover their machinery every year for new machinery. This was due to the scale of their operation which enabled them to access significant discounts from the manufacturers.  

Feb 15th Farming - Canadian Style

I met up with agronomist and farmer Steve Laroque, together we visited Cattle Land, a large scale farming and cattle feed lot business.  Our tour also included a local Louis Dreyfus grain elevator. Of particular interest was the increasing issue they are having with Ergot in this part of Canada, a black fungus that affects the grain. It has very low tolerance thresholds, and they have had to introduce cleaning equipment which is capable of detecting the black grains and uses air to remove them. The elevator we visited had a annual throughput of about 250 kt. All grain delivered is cleaned at the elevators prior to export to ensure it meets very tight specs.
Black Ergot infected grains in a sample

A common sight in Alberta, machinery in snow drifts.

Feed mixing plant at Cattle land. The feed mixes are controlled  remotely from a company  in Texas

We also visited a group of young entrepreneurs who are mentored by Nuffield Scholar Brenda Schoepp.  I spoke to them about my research project and about our experiences in Bulla Burra with collaborative farming.  Steve also spoke about his agronomy work. One of the group members shared his experiences of the effect of salinity on the ability of a crop to tolerate drought, and how he had manipulated the salinity in his soils through changing his fertiliser practices.

A three hour drive took us to Rimey in Southern Alberta to stay with Brenda 

Feb 14th WOW Baanf !!

I had a day off and the opportunity to do some sight seeing. I decided to head to Baanf in the Rocky Mountains. Baanf is a Ski resort area and in the holiday season is flooded with tourists. It is about an hour and a half east of Calgary. Lake Louise is another hour and a half drive from Baanf and I was told is well worth the drive if time allows. Unfortunately as with most parts of my traveling I had to see it at Lightening pace, and so will have to add it to my bucket list.  I took the sky lift to the top of Sulphur Mountain to a weather observatory, which hade been used to make recordings from 1903 to 1931. (This would have been quite an effort before the Sky lift). The Summit rising 600m above Baanf provided fantastic views of the surrounding snow capped mountains.

After heading back down the sky lift I visited the Baanf hot springs, which are said to have therapeutic properties. Sitting in the 39 deg C outside swimming pool,  the snow capped mountains and countryside provided an amazing, almost surreal backdrop.

My next stop was the waterfall and lake. It really helps you understand just how cold it is when you can look at a waterfall that is almost completely frozen over.

From the lake I headed to the Baanf resort. When the East/West railway was originally constructed, there was a big question over how it could remain profitable and be paid for. Baanf as a tourist destination was the answer. The lure of the therapeutic springs and the beautiful countryside brought tourists by the thousands along the railway to the resort, securing the profitability of the venture.

I finished my visit to Baanf at a couple of lookouts where you could see the amazing folding and fracturing of rock that had occurred to form the mountain range. You cannot help but stand in awe at the forces required to push the ocean floor to these heights.