Good Science

Dear All,

Evaporation 27 December to 2nd January -14, 1, 3, -19, -6, -19, -17, hopefully we will have some evaporation (and the sunshine that causes it) next week.

The subject of when to strip the lower leaves is receiving much publicity at the moment, but I would like to make a plea for better science. Treatments have ranged from Chesney Middleton stripping a knee high crop to just the bud – and it grew out to be big, but late. Murray and Piers are early strippers and certainly Pier’s crop has grown out well, though it is also late. (I hear reports that Murray’s is also big.) Troy stripped some early and some late, and it seems (from his experience) that the late stripped plants reached topping earlier (and presumably will need reaping earlier). But none of these treatments were done with the INTENTION of doing a comparison and so learning whether there is any difference. There are a LOT of big crops this year, so early stripping may not have been the cause of Chesney’s, Murray’s, Piers’ and Troy’s nice crops.

I was telling Mike Beckett that I get frustrated by people who believe in pseudo-science because it shows no respect for the massive amount of effort that has gone into proper science down the ages. Effort that has often cost people their lives (either because they were not aware of the dangers of radiation, or chemical poison, or because they were killed (or threatened to be killed) by the church.) Even the scientists who did not affect their health put in an enormous amount of effort, and to have their achievements compared with pseudo-science (where people make claims that cannot be repeated, by independent experiment) is to belittle that collective scientific effort.

I wrote a few weeks back that my trial on stripping (of the lower leaves) hadn’t showed any difference, but I had a nagging suspicion that I had forgotten to use the square of the radius when estimating the weight of the stalk. I cannot find my original calculations (I probably saved my new calculations on top of the old file) but, when I DO use the square of the radius, I get the stripping just after topping and two weeks before topping, to be 3% heavier than 5 weeks before topping. Now 3% does not sound like much, but on my crop it could be worth $18,000 and that is a lot of money to throw away, every year, if you are stripping at the wrong time. Obviously one hasty analysis is not sufficient information on which to base a decision, so I will do a proper analysis once this crop is finished and I can weight the stalks directly.

The other issue is the issue of delayed topping, which presumably means delayed reaping. Those people who have stripped their irrigated crops early (and delayed them) now face a bigger overlap with their October crops. I don’t know if they are early stripping their October crops in order to delay them as well? There IS a possibility that the early stripping will not delay the October crops quite as much, so that these farmers will have a bigger clash. My question is whether an October crop (say planted on the 24th October) and early stripped, will yield better than a November crop planted on say 7th November that is later stripped. I think the early stripped crop, delayed by that early stripping, may yield about the same – but there is an increased risk of disease for a crop that has been exposed to eelworm (and the real world existence away from protected seedbeds) for an extra two weeks. It may also depend on the weather. What appears to have worked this year, may not work next year.

I would also argue backwards from the October crop. I would rather have my leaf factories on the plant in hot, sunny November than in December drizzle. Stripping after topping also gives the topping team something to do on the wet days when it is too wet to apply suckeride. Therefore I would think that, in the vast majority of years, early stripping will NOT do the October crops any favours. If then we cannot strip the October crops, I would argue we shouldn’t delay our Irrigated crops, by early stripping them. Enough said until my trial results are in.

Finally (on Tobacco) I am starting up a third curing system. I would not normally expect to need to do so, but the 326 is going to ripen all at once, so I will need the extra capacity. With that system running I MIGHT be able to reap for farmers along the Sibanyati road towards the end of January/early February if anyone finds themselves with too much tobacco to handle. Bear it in mind. But these are continuous systems (chongololos) so I will need a fairly steady supply of tobacco – +/- 72000 average to 76,800max leaves per day – and plenty of warning.

Could it be three years ago that I wrote about tagging calves? I was suspicious that my people were stealing older calves and notching that number onto a newly born calf. So I switched to ear tags; I took the precaution of cutting the bottom of my tags with pinking scissors – to leave a distinctive zig-zag along the bottom edge, and I took photos of every calf. I thought this would discourage the thieves. I was wrong. I suppose, having set up a business whereby they steal calves in this way, they weren’t going to close down that easily. I have now discovered that IN THAT FIRST YEAR, they were removing the tag from the older calves and re-inserting it into the younger animals. We have just re-photographed all those animals and (so far) have found about 6 queries. Once we have gone through all 160 animals we will investigate those queries closer. Again 6 calves may not sound like a lot, but they are coming out of my PROFIT and are therefore quite a significant proportion of my cattle profit. If my people are doing it there is a better than even chance that your people are doing it too. You have been warned.

Having a shorter calving season would help (so that the older calves are not so old that they can be safely stolen when the last calves are born). I am planning on bulling for just 10 weeks this year – I think Mike said he was coming down to 8. I also noticed a drop off in my calves towards the end of the official calving season. Is this because my late calves were getting exchanged with earlier ones? Or because my bulls were getting tired? I am going to keep 4 bulls in reserve to introduce to the cows during the last 3 weeks, to see if there is a corresponding surge in calves.

It is by means of these carefully controlled, carefully planned experiments that we can make progress.

Homework: I seriously recommend reading Jeremy Grantham’s article on Cooked Goose which you can find on their website http://www.gmo.com/America/

Best4now,
Bruce

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2 responses to “Good Science”

  1. Kevin Wallace says :

    I think there are a number of good management reasons for early priming but I am not sure that it has as big an effect on plant growth as early topping.

    What worries me in delaying priming, in order to remove all small leaves, is you then top too high to get the magical 18 leaves and therefore you top late.

    Early topping should give you the thick waxy leaf that is more resistant to disease and better root growth that will help with the long reaping seasons that the new varieties seem to give us.

    I am not sure about the idea of the lower leaf factory that is fed then discarded.
    If you top-dress the plant after priming, it is easier to place the fertiliser and this then feeds the leaf you want feeding.

    I think that when you prime and remove all the very dark lower leaves, leaving the paler, fast-growing top leaves, this indicates that maybe the fertilser was going to the wrong end of the plant.

  2. ann strahle says :

    Anyone considered electronic tagging of calves?

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