Gothia Redskap,Ostergotland, Sweden – 8th of June 2016

After seeing the crops at Josef and Joel that had been planted using the System Cameleon, I decided to go and meet the company themselves and so drove 4 hours north.

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The company Gothia Redskap is owned and run by the Askling family with Lars Askling at the helm. Lars is a second generation farmer as his father started farming in the area in the mid seventies. He started farming biodynamically and today the farm is still organic. It is now a group of three organic farmers working together covering 800ha.

My day started with a tour of the factory with Johan Hedestad

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Johan was my guide for the day and kindly organised everything for me. He has started working for the company fairly recently to help with the fast expansion that is happening at Gothia Redskap. Not only do they build the System Cameleon but also wheel lifters for removing large tyres

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They had a patent for these for 18 years. Once the patent lapsed the Chinese copied it and sold it for half the price and Gothia’s sales halved. The copies though fell apart and so people are returning to the quality Swedish Product. We have one at home but I think it may be one of the cheap copies, so hopefully it won’t fall apart with a combine tyre inside!

Their main manufacturing is of the System Cameleon which is a seeder, inter row hoe and fertiliser application tool all in one. Lars built one for himself in around 2009 as he had problems with thistles and no tool available to deal with them. Then he sold the first one in around 2010 and now this year so far they have sold twenty and their goal is to sell 80 per year by 2020. A hundred machines in total have been sold. This will mean they will need to expand their factory and plans are underway. At the moment there are three sections to the build. First they put the frame together

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Then they add the electric and hydraulics etc.

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Then you get the finished product

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After the factory tour I went out to a field with Lars’s son “to pretend” to hoe a crop

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You have to measure the crop so you can calibrate the camera on the machine so it hoes accurately

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The divider on the front splits the rows so the camera can see better when the crop gets taller. This crop was drilled by this machine and hoed by this machine and fertilised by this machine, as you can see looks excellent. The hoe covers 75% of the field so will kill 75% of the weeds (kind of). More control than you get from Atlantis on Blackgrass. The great thing about this machine is while you are hoeing you can place solid or liquid fertiliser in the ground and you can also seed another crop at the same time. The camera has the ability to shift the machine 25cms sideways (12.5cms either side). It needs a 2cm safe area so it doesn’t hoe the crop.

After lunch I went around the farm with Lars. On the farm he grows Winter Wheat, Spelt Wheat, WOSR, grass seed, Spring Oats, white clover and Spring beans. Lars also does lots of trials on the farm to try out new ideas. One trial was on trying not to plough ( which is the norm)

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Above is Spring beans drilled between the 3 yr grass seed stand. This is the sixth year. The first year it was winter wheat which was then undersown with WOSR and the grass. Then the next year they harvested the OSR with the grass growing in the bottom, followed by 3yrs grass seed, and now beans, genius! The beans were a little bit water stressed as it is a dry year and the grass’ large root system was taking the water.

Another trial area was looking at seeding band width and row width.

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You can change the row width easily on the machine from 25cm to 33cm to 50cm. Lars thinks at the moment the wide row spacing and wide band width is best. Most weeds come in the band so he wants to seed a wider band of crop to compete with the weeds in the row and then hoe out the outside of the band the first time they go through.

After the crop tour we met a group of farm managers from around the world. A Danish farming company had bought all their managers together and were visiting Lars.

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Lars explained to them and me all the different coulter options there are and what the machine can do (there are many!) I had a really great time with Lars and Johan and came away with a much better understanding of the machine and its potential. They are constantly adding more options and are getting more enquiries from conventional and no till farmers and have exciting developments to cater for these new customers. In a modern farming world where we have to produce more crops with less artificial inputs, I think the System Cameleon has an exciting future and Lars and the team are going to be very busy!!

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.