Sarah Singla, Canet de Salars, France – 11th of November 2015

Sarah Singla used to be the Nuffield France President until July and so I was lucky enough to meet her in France in February at the CSC. It was through Sarah that I managed to gate crash the meeting at Christian Abadie.

Not only is Sarah a farmer, she is an an educator of Sustainable Agriculture (the previous day she had been in Paris training agronomists and tomorrow is going to Montpellier to teach agriculture students) and also a consultant from time to time. Sarah is only 30 years old and is wise beyond her years. She was a Nuffield Scholar in 2012 and her subject was fertilisation in No till systems. She farms 100ha of arable that she took over from her Grandfather. It is at 800m altitude and the area is mostly livestock farmers. Sarah is one of the few arable farmers.

Below is the first field we went to see

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This is a field of no till wheat. The previous season was a cover crop which she then sold to a neighbouring farmer. Then she planted buckwheat which yielded 2t/ha and then into wheat. The only herbicide used was a litre of glyphosate to defoliate the buckwheat. In the spring the wheat will probably get one more herbicide.

The second field we saw was Lucerne planted with faba beans, vetch, peas and was seeded 3 weeks ago

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The idea of adding the other species to the Lucerne is because it gives you more biomass on the first cut. This crop will be sold to a neighbour and Sarah gets back manure. This field will probably be the same again next year. Ideally she would have liked to add a grass to the mix but the sheep farmer did not want her to. Also the adding of the other species stops the crop being a monoculture which is one thing Sarah tries to avoid. She says that this field will give her a better Nett margin than some cash crops even though it may not give a better gross margin. Once you have added machinery costs and time into the cash crop the nett margin is lower. This method also is simple for Sarah as the crop does not need any attention and is harvested by someone else.

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The next field is winter peas planted into a cover crop of oats

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Below Sarah is pointing out the mice damage. She has found it a problem on some fields but not every year and not every field.

Sarah’s farm is one of the longest farms in No till in France, it has been no till since 1980. Longer than Sarah has been alive!

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The soil is dark and has a beautiful texture even though it is sandy. Sarah goes triticale for seed and this harvest got 9t/ha of triticale from 130 units of nitrogen. Sarah is trying to simulate Christian Abadie’s farm ideas of more than one crop per year and her next idea is to plant vetch and peas with her winter wheat. Cut the crop in March for silage and then let the wheat grow on to harvest. A great idea.

Sarah is very keen on looking at farming systems and using tools like no till, cover crops and companion crops to improve the system. She does not believe that recipes that work for her will work for everyone and each farm is different, the climate and goals are different. You need to understand the principles and the biology of each plant and then apply what works best for your farm in your area. She is also not scared in failing.

After the fields we went to look at her machinery or lack off

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This is her biggest tractor. She owns a 12m sprayer, 3m Semeato and a fertiliser spreader and that is it! She believes in the sharing of machinery and that we don’t all need every machine. Her machinery depreciation would certainly be low!

Below is a sample of the 15 way CC mix she uses

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She believes the more species in the mix you have he better results you get.

This visit was the perfect end to an excellent trip. Sarah has a very balanced view of farming and sees farm systems and how each part complements each other. She was a great host and a real inspiration.

Thank you Sarah

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Christian Abadie, Laguian Mazous, France – 11th of November 2015

Being an arable farmer I sometimes forget about the livestock boys but the visit today reminded me that the practice of companion cropping and intercropping has just as much relevance to the livestock industry. In fact it is probably easier to utilise and see the benefits than in arable crops because you don’t have to worry about harvest separation as it goes in whole crop, weed control is not such an issue as a few weeds in the bottom will be cut and ensiled. So today my blog is for the livestock boys.

The visit today was with Christian Abadie (centre with the knife, Sarah Singla to his right was my host for the evening)

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Christian is well know around here. In fact I gate crashed another farmers meeting. About 40 farmers from near Sarah’s had got on a bus and driven 4 hours just to see him for the afternoon and then they went home in the evening. The reason seems to be is because he is getting amazing results from no-till and companion cropping. Christian has 100ha and 60 milking cows. 20 years ago he needed all of the 100ha for silage to feed his cattle now he only needs 20ha and the other 80ha he uses to grow cash crops.

The field we were standing in had been planted with Rye, Peas and Beans after Maize.image

Unlike most livestock farmers Christian only harvest the cobs from the maize and leaves the stalk and leaves for the soil. This year he harvested 20t of maize with 250kg/ha of Nitrogen. When he harvests the maize he has the harvester header very high. This means there is not much residue on the ground and this means he can no till the following crop in easily. Then after he has planted the following crop he mows the stalks down and leaves it as a mulch. Previous to this crop was a whole crop of peas and triticale which was cut and ensiled in May. Christian always has at least two sometimes three crops per year and says this year from the field we were standing in he got 50t/ha of biomass.

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Next year he wants to try maize, sunflower and vetch together. He thinks between the 3 of them the silage will contain a good mix of protein and energy for the cows. As most modern varieties of sunflower are shorter than maize he wants to use older taller varieties otherwise the maize will dominate the sunflower. He in the past has used Lucerne with oats, Lucerne with maize and vetch with maize. The vetch gives the silage more protein.

Christian’s son is going to take over the farm next year and wants to expand so they have built a huge new building

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I guess he wants to house a lot more of these

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From what I understand the cows are inside permanently.

Below is Christian’s planter

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He plants on narrow rows. 37.5cms instead of 75cms. He has seen a lot better yields and less weeds. This is the second time I have heard this. When I spoke to a weed scientist in Manitoba he said wide rowed corn was stupidity in terms of weed control as there is so much bare soil. Apparently I found out today that maize is planted in wide rows due to historical reasons. They used to need the space between the rows to be able to fit horses up them. I always thought it was due to the modern harvesting equipment.

His drill is a Semeato

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From a non livestock person I found this visit very interesting.

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Speaking to the visiting livestock farmers afterwards they too found it very thought provoking. Thank you Christian for your time and once I got used to the strong accent I understood most of it I think!

Jean-Paul Robert and Alexandre Castagne (AgroD’Oc), Peyregoux, France – 9th of November 2015

On Sunday I had an almost uneventful 7.5hr (660km) drive from Benoit’s farm to Toulouse. Almost because for a mile I had car after car flashing their lights at me and I knew not why. I checked my lights, they were off, I was on the right side of the road, I started to think it was because I was English but I was driving a hire car with Spanish number plates. Then I saw why, a wild boar had been hit and was laying in the road. It must of done serious damage to the car it hit and would have ruined my too if it wasn’t for the helpful French drivers!

My visit this afternoon was to Jean-Paul Robert’s farm (chap with the folder)

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Jean-Paul farms wheat, maize and Soya on the rolling hills of this area. For years he only grew wheat and maize but the new three crop rule has changed that. Like all farmers meeting it involved food and drink. We started in the kitchen around a table where we introduced ourselves and chatted about our farms. This visit was organised by Sylvain Hypolite of Agro D’Oc (www.agrodoc.fr). Unfortunately Sylvain a the last minute could not make it so he sent Alexandre Castagne along. Agro D’Oc is a cooperative that group buys grain, inputs and also provides advice to its 1000 members. They also organise farmer meetings for about 50 groups (CETA) of farmers in their area. They meet about twice a month to share ideas and be nosy just like all farmers. Today happened to be a meeting, I am not sure whether it was already organised or whether it was for my benefit! Hopefully I did not disappoint

We had a look around Jean-Paul’s farm. First we went to a field with a cover crop

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This is a phacelia, clover and bean cover crop after wheat. The beans and phacelia are in two rows close to each other which he then plants the maize in between. The clover he spread on the top with Lucerne but only the clover grew. In another field the same he had already had a CC of sorghum which was destroyed before the beans and phacelia were planted, not sure if it was the same here.

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You can see the clover growing in the cover above. This clover though was planted two years before.

We then went to see two lots of drill trials on the farm. The first involved wheat into maize stubble comparing his horsch, Aurensan, Sly Boss and a Semeato.

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The Semeato did not manage to get one seed into the ground. The Sly put it too deep and the Aurensan was about right but not all seed in the ground. The field above he had spread clover into the previous maize.

Second trial was wheat after Soya

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The Aurensan struggled a bit as the soya residue blocked a couple of coulters. Again he had spread clover and Lucerne before in the previous crop

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Jean-Paul can irrigate some fields which in some years is the difference between some crop and no crop.

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Then we went to look at the machinery. Jean-Paul is very handy with a welder and obviously a talented fabricator. Apparently he spends all the winter in the workshop. The tractor was the only thing that was still factory standard and had not been modified.

Below is his Horsch rotavator that he has modified into a seeder

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Below is his current project

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Then below is a few more of his creations. I can remember exactly what they all did. One planted the twin row cover crops, one was for fertiliser etc.

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It was an interesting afternoon seeing Jean-Paul’s farm and all his homemade equipment. The imagination and inventiveness of farmers never ceases to amaze me. Thank you to both Jean-Paul and Alexandre.

Benoit Lavier, Etormay, France – 7th of November 2015

My next visit was to see Benoit Lavier

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Benoit is an arable farmer about an hour from Alexandra and Yann. He is also the President of APAD ( Association for the Promotion of Conservation Agriculture) www.apad.asso.fr .APAD has about 350 members. It is similar to BASE but has slightly different aims. It is more strict on the fact they are promoting No till not min till. Also they are looking at more of a lobbying role influencing the French government. For example they will have at a stand at the COP meeting in Paris next year.

After lunch we had a look around his machinery and farm.

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I think he is the first farmer this week with something different to a JD 750a. He has a Semeato. The reason for this is when they first started to look into no-till the guy advising them was Alfred Gassler and he knew about Semeato. Bernard seems very happy with it.

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Recently they have added a row cleaner and they use this when planting cover crops and OSR. They have found it improves germination.

We then went to the fields. The first field was of wheat

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Bernard has had the same problem as Yann with mice. So as well he has had to cultivate some fields. This field was cultivated this year but it was interesting to see that the structure was still very good and their was lots of worms. Benoit was worried that cultivating would upset all the hard work done under no-till. He possibly had the longest worms I have seen

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We then looked at a field of OSR after wheat. He reckons he lost 1.5t/ha of wheat due to mice last year, so it was cultivated. Part of the field was in a companion crop of beans, was, vetch and lentil.

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This field in the past has had compaction problems but now under no till was looking good. In this area he had germanium problems so this is why he had this mix. The other part of the field was a mix of OSR plus Lucerne

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This is the first time he has tried this. He hopes to leave the Lucerne as a permanent mulch like Hubert Charpentier.

After looking around various other fields we went and chatting for a long time in his office about all things agriculture.

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Benoit is a very intelligent guy and also very generous with his time. In the evening we had dinner with his family ( 5 children) At lunch I noticed that his eldest son Pierre had a T shirt about Scotland on. I asked whether this was for my benefit. Then in the evening his 10 yr old daughter came down with a T shirt with “I love London” on the front. I thought this was very sweet. His children also had an English lesson over dinner and I a French one! Benoit has a wonderful farm and a wonderful family. Thanks Benoit for your time.

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Alexandra and Yann Cadet, Occey, France – 7th of November 2015

A few weeks ago I was trying to organise my trip to France and was struggling to find something for Friday and Saturday. So I thought I would look at my French followers on Twitter and send them a message to ask for ideas. The next day I had the day in Switzerland organised with Nicolas and about 5 options for visits on the Saturday in France, all with a Google map with locations and descriptions. I thought to myself this lady is amazing and very organised! Without her help I might have been hanging around Tolouse all weekend with nothing to do.

Alexandra’s husband Yann was on the visit to Geneva too so I had already met him and after my visit with Nicolas I had a 3 hr drive to their farm. Alexandra works for DeKalb dealing with Oilseed Rape seed and seems to travel all over Europe and Yann farms with his brother arable and cattle in the Haute Marne region of France.

In the morning we had a look around the farm.

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We first had a look around the cattle. This is the first calf of the season. Yann produces Limousine cattle for a specific market. He sells them direct to a butcher who sells them to restaurants in Paris and online.

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The cows were a good size and to the untrained eye looked very impressive. There are 100 farmers in France selling to this butcher and they have to follow specific  protocols. The first being that they have classical music playing in the shed. The idea is that the animals are relaxed and so the meat is better. Yann has not seen any difference. They also have brushes in the pen for scratching

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They are not allowed to feed soya or any GM feed. Also not allowed to feed straw due to the worry about pesticide residues so they only use hay. All this means that the stock are very slow growing. To compensate for this Yann receives a higher price. The beef is sold for about 50% more than normal.

We then looked around the machinery.

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Yann sprays fungicides and insecticides at low does rates. About 50% of the normal rates and only 40-50l of water per hectare. The only herbicide he does this with too is glyphosate. For this to be successful he has to spray very early in the morning and never during the day.

Then we looked at the drill.

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Another JD750a. It is 6m. He drives slowly at about 6-8 kph so to reduce the termination of Cranesbill which is a major problem on his farm. The front tank is for fert and the back one for seed.

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He also had chains around his seed firming wheels. He uses these to hold the wheels out the ground in wet conditions as he finds this allows the slot to close better.

Then we went to have a look at the fields. It seems that mice are a major problem in this area and especially in No-till. They can cause major damage. They eat the crops and leave holes all over the field.

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For this reason they have had to cultivate the worst affected fields. This was a very difficult decision as he has been no till for quite a while. The problem is that cultivation brings stones back to the surface again and makes the Geranium and blackgrass problems worse. There does not seem to be an easy answer yet for the mice. They also have wild boar which can cause a large amount of damage.

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Above is a field of OSR that had to be cultivated for mice control too. It also has had a three way split of geranium herbicide so far. The geranium problem is why Yann has not companion cropped OSR yet even though he would like to. He thinks early planting of OSR with buckwheat can help against the geranium.This year they also had a plague of grasshoppers which devastate some OSR which then was replanted in September.

This year after barley they tried to double crop peas

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Above is the mice holes. Last year the double cropping worked and they got 2t/ha of peas but this year they got no rain after harvest so the peas did not germinate quick enough.

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Above they have mowed the cover crop so there is less hiding places for the mice and so the foxes and birds can find them.

The field below is after maize.

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They find that maize is a good cleaning crop for weeds and have no applied a herbicide since drilling. Again though due to the very dry summer the maize was taken for silage as it did not seem worth taking it to harvest as it was so dry.

I had a really interesting morning with the Cadets. Yann is obviously very passionate about Conservation Agriculture but seems to have had some terrible luck recently. I think he will find ways around his problems and I thank him for his honesty. He is not the only one it seems with the same problems. A real issue in France and Germany. We all as farmers know that best laid plans do not always work out. Thank you to you both, without you have my trip wouldn’t have happened!!

Nicolas Courtois, AgriGeneve, Switzerland – 6th of November – Part 2

Due to the Internet connection here in the centre of Toulouse dropping I could no longer add pictures to part one and so have had to split them. Not a split in any specific place! So this is the continuation of Nicolas Courtois

In next picture the idea is to keep the red and white clover for four years and keep as a living mulch. So plant crops into the mulch for the coming years.

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We then went to to look at his trials for companion cropping with wheat. Some of them had only just been planted so the wheat was not easy to see.

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In the above picture is red clover with wheat. The crop had no glyphosate and he will kill the OSR with another herbicide.

The next crop of wheat was planted in August

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He had planted it August with the same idea as Wolfgang’s barley that the wheat would be strong rooted and tiller well. He planted it with various other different species. Unfortunately the slugs were a problem and had thinned the wheat.

Bellow is wheat planted with lentils, Egyptian clover, vetch, beans all at the same time

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The next plot was wheat with forage peas

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The idea is that the forage peas fill the gap between the rows then our killed off by the winter and give around 20kg/ha of N.

Then was wheat with hairy vetch

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Only just planted. The hairy vetch will stay all year and provide cover and Nitrogen.

The final picture is wheat with peas and beans in separate rows to the wheat.

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The idea is in the spring the peas and beans will be killed and soya planted into the standing wheat as a double crop. This is the first year Nicolas has done trials on companion cropping with wheat. I think for us in the UK it is an important subject as wheat is our main crop.

It was a packed and fascinating day with Nicolas. My French skills withstood the test. Nicolas was so generous with his time. To give me a personal tour around some of the trials was great and I am really glad I saw them. I also followed him over the French border a back way to avoid Friday night traffic which made my journey to Alex and Yann’s much quicker. It was really out of his way and the 4th time he had crossed the French border that day.

Thank you Nicolas, keep up the good work.

Nicolas Courtois, AgriGeneve, Switzerland – 6th of November – Part 1

Before I left Wolfgang in Bern he warned me that Nicolas speaks so fast that even French speakers struggle to understand him. This made me a little nervous as my French is pretty basic and I was going to spend the next 24 hrs speaking and listening only in French! After spending a day with Nicolas I realise it is because his mind is moving so quickly and he has so many ideas and enthusiasm that his mouth is trying to keep up.

So after a 2.5 hr drive to Geneva I got finally to the house of Jonathan Christin, even though Nicolas had given me the wrong address. Luckily my French skills got me there after speaking to a nice man in the village. Jonathan Christin is a Swiss farmer. I found out later in the evening after a few bottles of wine that he was in the infamous bus load of BASE France farmers who arrived at Andy Barr’s farm near me a couple of years ago with Frederic Thomas and when they got off he bus they all lined up and wee’ed in front of Andy’s commercial office lets much to the disgust of the office tenants but to the delight of the BASE members. Jonathan had remembered and found it very amusing. He said he recognised me but luckily I had not got close enough in England to pick him out! Nicolas and a group of farmer had spent the day looking at AgriGeneve trials and a few lucky ones came back for dinner.

AgriGeneve (www.agrigeneve.ch ) is an organisation for the farmers of the Canton of Geneve and does trial work that the farmers want them to do and Nicolas is a technician. The Canton of Geneve is very small and only has 300 farmers of which 200 are arable, I think that’s number are correct, it was in French!

The morning after arriving we had a quick look at a field of Jonathan. It was winter wheat which he had rolled a cover crop down using the roller below and used no glyphosate

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After that we said good by to Jonathan and myself and a couple of French farmer’s (Yann and Vincent) went to meet Nicolas at the first lot of trials which felt like it was in the middle of Geneva, we also got lost. The first set of trials were looking at companion planting of OSR. Below is a field of OSR with beans, Egyptian clover, red clover, vetch, buckwheat and Niger

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He used glyphosate once and will use Kerb. The winter will kill all except the red and white clover.

After that we again drove through Geneva to another farm of a guy whose name I never got unfortunately as he was fascinating. He farms 40 ha of which the majority is arable with 2ha of vineyards. He also was a contractor for harvestering wine.

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Above is Nicolas on the spade and the farmer on the left. We were in a field of wheat after spring peas in which he then planted a cover crop of Niger.

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The next field was a field of winter wheat with red clover.

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The red clover had been planted with the previous OSR  and had had 2l/ha of glyphosate pre drilling of the wheat. Last year he did the same and got 1t/ha less of wheat with clover compared to without but he got 2% higher protein with red clover. It seems the timing of the killing of the red clover is important.He did it in the spring and maybe a bit late causing the yield loss. This year all his wheat is with red clover.

The next field was red clover by itself for seed which was being grazed by cows

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Then the next field was a cover crop after 8t of winter barley.

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There was lots of volunteers. The idea was to try to harvest the sunflowers in the cover crop and so double crop. Unfortunately there was no rain after planting the cover crop and so the plants germinated late and no chance for them to mature in time.

Then we looked at companion plants with OSR

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He planted red clover and buckwheat. Companion planted in same furrow as OSR. Red clover can be a strong companion and may need to be chemically ‘calmed down’ .

Then it was barley planted after wheat

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The idea in the spring here is to plant soya beans into the standing barley for a double crop using a drill made another another farmer who was there.

The next field they were comparing no till to plough

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It was planted with buckwheat, no herbicide, and was to be harvested I think and then followed by maize. They were going to compare costs as well as soil parameters. After looking at his fields we had the compulsory late morning glass of wine. Remember all those different crops were on about 38ha. This guy was a real entrepreneur and was not scared to try anything. As mandatory as the wine is at farm walks in France it is also mandatory to go and look at their drills!

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The front tank on this drill is for small seeds or slug pellets. The second for solid fertiliser and then last for seed. Then Yann, Vincent and I were having a nose around the back of his farm and saw this

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A Cross Slot (with Yann on the right looking on disapprovingly), I thought that surely this wasn’t his spare drill, £150,000 on 38ha. No it was his previous drill. He had had so many problems with it, such as hydraulic, electric and fan issues that he bought the JD750a. The company Novag had agreed to take it back but still hadn’t and still had not returned his money!

After a packed morning we went for lunch at a restaurant with a view of Mont Blanc, yes this Nuffield stuff is hard work! We had a fondu, a meat one, my second fondu in under 24hrs. The previous evening was a cheese fondu and both were delicious. We then said goodbye to the others and Nicolas gave me a personal tour of the trials the other farmers had seen the day before. (Again in French but Nicolas did slow down a little)

The first trials were cover crop trials

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Half of this plot had been rolled and half not. The idea of the rolling is that is kills some species in the mix and then allows the winter hardy species to get going so basically allowing two covers from one seeding.

The second plot they rolled the cover to kill it then planted a second cover

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The two cover crops is used on compacted ground to improve structure.

Then we went to his OSR companion trials

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All the companions and OSR had been broadcast before wheat harvest. It had received no herbicide and there was not a problem with volunteers as the mix had got ahead of them. A truly cheap crop!

This next plot is the plot of 3 harvests from one crop

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It consists of OSR plus buckwheat and red clover. They are all planted together straight after harvest and then the buckwheat is harvested in the same Autumn. The OSR the following summer and then the red clover the same Autumn, three harvests in one year! It also has no herbicide.

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Wolfgang Sturny, 5th of November- Day 2

The first visit of my second day with Wolfgang started with a visit to IP Suisse http://www.ipsuisse.ch .The IP stands for Integrated Production.

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It is a similar organisation to LEAF in the UK but is much more focused on selling farmers produce for a premium. We met with Peter Althaus:

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There is a government scheme in Switzerland called Extenso. This pays farmers 400 F if they farm in a specific environmentally friendly way.  Being in Extenso is the basic requirement for IP Suisse and means you can sell your produce for around a 10% premium. For example: if you grow wheat without fungicides, growth regulators or insecticides you get this payment. ( Also the variety of wheat must be a local Swiss variety). There is no restrictions on fertiliser use by IP Suisee but farmers have to justify their use to the government, a statuary obligation.  There is normally a yield penalty in IP Suisse but the farmer has more profit. The average extra profit for each for an IP Suisse farmer is about 4000 SFr. per year.

IP Suisse has 20,000 members which accounts for a third of Swiss farmers. It is a non profit farmer owned organisation. The organisation has an executive committee of 25 farmers who decide the standards for the coming period and meet every month. They also have 25 partners along the supply chain. The main one being Migros, which is a supermarket chain but also the Swiss Ornithological Institute (who do bird counts on 60 farms per year) and Hiestand (which sells baked goods in petrol stations). Overall they have 25 partners. Most partners sell IP Suisse products under the IP Suisse label but Migros sell under the TerraSuisse Label. It can be recognised by the Ladybird label which is also seen on farm entrances and buildings.

Some stats to give you an idea of the annual production of IP Suisse products:

  • meat production 650,000 animals
  • cereals 100,000 tonnes
  • potatoes 10,000 tonnes
  • oilseed rape 3,000 tonnes

They also have a points system for biodiversity which is similar to the ELS scheme. Each farmer needs a certain number of points which he gains by Skylark plots etc. This is a USP for IP Suisse. They also have an advisory service for biodiversity and have found that this helps farmers improve diversity over farmers without advise.

There are a few projects for the future. They are doing an energy points scheme. Farmers have to show they have reduced energy use by 10%. This will be mandatory for IP Suisse farmers by 2017-18. They are looking into carbon accreditation. Production of milk without concentrates called Meadow Milk. Also production in sugar, eggs and vegetables.

This scheme seems to work very well in Switzerland and has been very successful but you wonder how it could transfer to other countries. It only works because the government pays for the Extenso scheme. If the Swiss public start to question whether their tax money is justified for this purpose then there could be issues in the future. Also Swiss people are very concerned about the cleanliness of their food and environment and are willing to pay extra for their food to safeguard it.

After IP Suisse we went to see Andreas Wyssbrod. He is a farmer and contractor. He has 600 contracting clients!

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When we got to Andreas he was planting 0.5ha of Triticale into grass for a customer

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It was very wet and 6 weeks later than normal. Also the farmer has spread manure recently which didn’t help! Last year he got 6t/ha of triticale doing this.

Next we went to some cover crop plots planted by Andreas. He had planted them for a farmer. The farmer got paid 100 SFr. per species planted but the seed is very expensive so it was no money maker. Just shows that sometimes subsidies don’t end up in the farmers pockets in the end!

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He had planted 15 different species but no mixes. He was going to fly a drone over the maize crop next spring to see if there is any differences.

Next he took us to one of his cover crop fields where the field next door he had used a Kelly Harrow to knockdown the sunflower stalks. He found that they were knocking off his seed pipes when drilling wheat in the winter. He thought he would try the harrows in the cover crops to see if it made drilling easier in the spring when planting maize as the stalks and cover crops can hinder the row cleaners on his planter.

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I thought I would show you the picture below because it typifies a lot of arable farming in Switzerland

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The field really are surrounded by houses not houses surrounded by fields like in the English Countryside. We think we are heavily populated in Kent, it is nothing compared to here!

After lunch cooked by Andreas’ wife we went to another customer where he had 3.4ha of wheat to drill, a big field. We turned up and all the seed was in 25kg bags. So while Andreas’ was loading the drill which was a good 20 minutes we went to look at a field of barley he had drilled before. I now understand why they charge so much for drilling ( about £160/ ha I think) . They have so much road work and small fields to do that to get the same output per day as us in the UK they have to work a lot more hours per day.

I had a brilliant couple of days with Wolfgang ( on the right)

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He was so generous with his time and is full of knowledge and enthusiasm. He is coming to the UK in February to speak at the BASE UK AGM if people want to hear him speak. He can talk in English, German or French but hopefully in February it will be in English.

Wolfgang thank you so much and I would recommend anyone coming to Switzerland to give him a ring. It won’t be a waste of your time.

Wolfgang Sturny, Bern , Switzerland – 4th of November 2015: Day 1

Last night I travelled a couple of hours down to Bern in Switzerland to meet Wolfgang Sturny at his house in Bern. Wolfgang and his family have been generous enough to house, feed and entertain me for two days.

This morning I had some time in Bern to look around.

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Bern really is a beautiful city with the Alps as the backdrop. After a bit of sight seeing I met with Wolfgang to start our visits for the day. Wolfgang works for the Soil Protection Service here in Bern and our first visit was to some long term trials next to his office. Since 1994 they have been comparing No-till and ploughing side by side. They started this trial to see firstly whether No-till is feasible, secondly to see if they could reduce fertiliser and finally the most recent aim is to grow crops without the use of glyphosate. This is the first year they have managed this. They have six crops in the trial: Winter peas, winter wheat, Spring Faba beans, Winter barley, Sugarbeet and Maize.

When we got there they were harvesting the Sugarbeet

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On the left of each plot is No Till and plough on the right. Also each half is split again between Albrect fertilisation and normal NPK fertilisation. A week ago they spread oats into the Sugarbeet and this will act as cover over winter. They never leave the soil bare. The yield of the ploughed Sugarbeet is slightly higher but the profits of the No-till is higher. Also they only plough to a depth of 12-15cms. The soil is light: 15% clay and 60% sand.

In Switzerland farmers now get paid 250 Fr per ha for doing No-till, 200 Fr for strip till and 150 Fr for min-till. Alsoif you grow a crop without herbicide you get 400Fr.

The next plot we saw was Winter peas

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The preceding crop was maize. They never plant a cereal after maize due to the risk of Fusarium. The no till maize always looked worse but they got 10% more yield than plough this year and in general due to better water retention in No-till

The next plot was winter wheat

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The No till was drilled into a standing cover which was planted after pea harvest. This plot they used a roller but no glyphosate.

The next plot below

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This is a 9 way mix cover crop after wheat and before spring beans. Again no glyphosate but they do get hard frosts which kill all species.

Below is barley

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This barley was planted 4th of August the day after bean harvest at 100 seed/sqm. It was very forward. The idea is that the barley scavenges all the Nitrogen from the beans and also puts deep roots down. The winter knocks it back, then in the spring they add 80kg/n per ha and get 8.5t/ha of grain.

The final plot below is a cover crop after barley and before Sugarbeet.

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On the right in the plough plot the CC is smaller. This is because it was seeded 6 weeks later as they are getting Quackgrass problems in the plough system and needed to control it with a herbicide. This is not a problem in No till.

Showing me around the plots with Wolfgang was Andreas Chervet

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He has a very good video on You Tube you can find here http://www.vol.be.ch/vol/de/index/landwirtschaft/landwirtschaft/bodenschutz.html#originRequestUrl=www.be.ch/bodenschutz called Die Spatenprobe. It is worth a watch. I think there is also an English subtitled version. Andreas brought his spades along and dug two holes in the plot where they had just harvested Sugarbeet, one in no till and one in the plough.

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The top one is the plough and had a 15 year old plough pan shown by the Swiss Army knife. The no till had no compaction. An interesting fact they have found is there is no difference in Carbon accumulation between the plough and no till. They are losing carbon in both which is similar to what I saw in Wisconsin.

After lunch our next visit was to Hanspeter Lauper. He is a farmer and a contractor and for 20 yrs was President of Swiss No Till. An organisation it seems cultivated and pioneered by Wolfgang and Hanspeter. Hanspeter contracts around 900ha of drilling and planting. The average field size is 1.5ha and he has 300 farmer clients! This complexities of clients has lead to Hanspeter and a local university to develop a tram line system that they can change from the cab

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From the box on the right you can adjust which pipes you turn off, change tramline track width and also tramline distance. This is possible because every seed pipe can be shut off individually

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Also on his drill he has implement steer

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So the receiver on the tractor steers the tractor and the one on the drill steers the drill. This is useful on the slopes and small curvy fields.

He has also recently added liquid fertiliser to the drill

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This is a system from Italy and has a front mounted tank

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He also has added two small tanks to the drill

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One for small seeds which come out in front of the drill and the other for slug pellets which drops at the rear of the drill.

He has also experimented with row cleaners but with little sucess

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The final visit of the day was with Fabienne Bauer of HAFL. In Switzerland there is a real risk that glyphosate will be banned soon. Fabienne and her team thought this may happen and so a few years ago they set up an experiment to try to find ways of using cover crops in place of glyphosate. This is the trial we went to see.

This year they are trialling Brazilian oat, Indian Mustard and Field Pea.

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Above is wheat drilled into mustard. The mustard will die with the frost. It looks impressive but when you look from above there s quite a bit of soil showing which allows weeds through

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Then we looked at the Brazilian Oats

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It is good a weed suppression but also good a wheat suppression!

The one Fabienne is most excited about is the Field Pea

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Last year this gave a perfect clean wheat. It creates a really good mat of cover.

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The wheat was drilled ten days ago. This year has not been so successful as the peas have lodged sideways and so the cover is not even. So the peas need to be mixed with another species to use as a trellis. In the future they will be looking at mixtures of species to see what works best. It though was exciting to see work being done on replacing glyphosate. Also to the side they were looking a timings of planting the covers and seed rates. This was to see whether if they planted later and increased the seed rate they could get just as good weed suppression. They couldn’t. The wheat volunteers took over and became a problem.

We also had a quick look around another experiment next door where they were looking a different cover crop species and how they grow and develop and also the plots were split into two where half where killed by glyphosate and half left to grow with the wheat. Today was a jam packed day with Wolfgang and I still have another day with him tomorrow. Very much looking forward to it.

Friedrich Wenz, Schwanau, Germany – 3rd of November 2015

Today was my first visit of this leg of my travels. I arrived in Germany yesterday (Monday) after spending five hours on a train and 45 minutes in a car. I didn’t realise Germany was so close to home. It really was very easy. My visit today was with Friedrich Wenz

Wenz village

Friedrich lives in a very picturesque village in the Rhine valley. It was a little bit like being in a fairytale village like in Hansel and Gretel. Friedrich is a biodynamic farmer, consultant, educator and a manufacturer and designer of drills. His website is www.eco-dyn.de . I found out about Friedrich because he was involved in the OSCAR project which someone at the Organic Research Centre put me onto.

The first thing we saw was his stirrer for his biodynamic preparations

WEnz stirrer

(Sorry about the quality of photos, my camera phone is scratched) This machine stirs the preparations for an hour. This preparation is BD 501 which is Silica ( only 3 grams per tub full and this does 8 ha) This supports healthy plant growth. He also uses BD500 which is for the soil and is made from rotted cow manure. While I was there we saw his father spraying the BD501.

Wenzsprayer

This is his sprayer which I thought was excellent. Notmuch depreciation on that! Per season he will spray his field a couple of times each with both ( I think that is correct). In spring and in Autumn. Friedrich farms 35ha of calcareous soils. He grows Spelt wheat, maize, soya and Rye. Friedrich’s aim is to have a living root growing all the time and plant diversity all the time.

The first field we looked at was Rye, vetch, crucifers and Crimson Clover

Wenzrye

There was a green manure before this crop. He rotavates shallow to kill the green manure and then leaves for 1-2 weeks to decompose and then plants this crop. This crop will either be sold as forage or go to an AD plant and then go into maize or soya.

The next field we saw was a grass and Lucerne field. Again it was rotavated shallow a couple of times to kill the crop, then it was planted with Spelt wheat. At planting he also planted red fescue at the same time along with red and white clover.

Wenz grass

You can see Friedrich holding the grass. This grass stays low and does not compete with the wheat. He gets about 5t/ha of spelt valued at €600-700 per tonne. Not bad! Then after this he will direct seed probably peas with no cultivations. Even though weeds are there in the crop he does not find them a problem. In his healthy soil they are part of the system and are a benefit not a problem. They add diversity.

Below is a picture of his neighbours soil which had been ploughed. He is organic also.

Wenzsoilcomparison

As you can see the difference in soil health is amazing.

Friedrich also uses compost tea and has seen great results with it. Below is his tea Brewer:

Wenzbrewer

He applies it about once a year and mixes into it the following: compost, mychorizzae, syrup, bio-energie product and minerals:

Wenzteaingredients

All this costs about €30 and this covers 10-20ha. He was also brewing is some lactic acid with molasses. This is an anaerobic reaction and this is applied on the rotavator and helps decomposition and encourages nitrogen fixation.

Below is his rotavator:

Wenzrotavator

and also his drill:

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Not a great picture but it is a tine drill with discs in the front. The discs can be swapped with ripper tines if necessary. There are three hoppers on the drill. Two are fed into the seed line and one is broadcast on the surface via splash plates. He is also looking at applying compost tea down with the seed. The drill is modular and so bits can be moved around along the frame.

After we had the tour we had lunch and Friedrich showed me photos of various things from compost tea results to Biochar production. We also talked about his farmer training. It is a nine day course which lasts a year and last year he trained 200 farmers, it is in German! I felt at the end of my visit that I had only scratched the surface of Friedrich’s knowledge. He is certainly creative and inventive and the one thing I will really take away is his philosophy that farmers need to be independent as much as possible. So if they can make something themselves whether it is machinery or fertilisers , it is better than beholding to supply companies. He certainly has a very low cost operation and was an inspiration. Thank you for your time Friedrich, I look forward to meeting you again.