Professor Jacob Weiner, University of Copenhagen: 10th of June 2016

This was my last visit on my foreign part of my Nuffield travels. I have one more visit in the UK planned and then I need to knuckle down to write my report. Jacob had the honour of being my last foreign visit. Jacob is an American who has worked all around the world but has now settled in Denmark. He has done work on intercropping and companion planting. Recently he has been working in China ( more research money there). His colleagues in China have had great results with intercropping and got very large yield increases. They have poor Loess soils and this is why he thinks they get advantages through intercropping. Jacob not so sure in the West we will see the large yield increases but we will see many other advantages especially of lowering inputs and safeguarding the environment.

Recently Jacob has been working on the OSCAR project which is a European wide research project into cover cropping and intercropping: http://web3.wzw.tum.de/oscar/index.php?id=2

image

Jacob was specifically looking at the use of Subterreanean Clover in cereals in the Mediterranean. Sub-clover is very interesting as it is low growing and seeds underground. Ideal as a companion. The problem is it is difficult to establish and needs water otherwise it competes too much with the main crop. Also we need new varieties which are suited better to the UK climate.

The other research Jacob has been doing is looking into seeding patterns and its effects on weeds. This work is the reason I contacted him as I saw a feature in “The Furrow” magazine. Jacob has been looking at inter row spacing and intra row spacing. Ideally the distances want to be 45mm for both. This means the need for more precise seeding technology and also a doubling of seed rates. He has had some great results. In the trials they planted their weed (WOSR) and did different seed rates and seeding patterns. The results can be seen below:

image

image

image

He has got 72% weed control from both high seed rates and uniform seeding. The uniform seeding alone gave an 30% advantage in weed control.

The final idea we discussed was “evolutionary theory in agriculture “. Basically evolution is not necessarily the best thing for agriculture. In a field of wheat for example you don’t necessarily want the best yielding individual plants as they can disadvantage their neighbours, you want the plants that work best as a community. You want the best yield per hectare not yield per plant. This goes against most thinking in plant breeding and is not a popular idea with his peers. It also has repercussions for varietal mixtures and intercropping. The best varities for intercropping will not necessarily be the highest yielding, they need to be social plant. Also this theory applies to managing varietal mixtures. You do not want to leave them to evolve to selfish individuals. You want to add new genetics to stop the gene pool of the mixtures narrowing.

After seeing Jacob we went to the Inaugural lecture of a new professor here looking at biological time machines

image

 

The proffesor was working on climate change. The was trying to look into the future effects of changing temperatures, rainfall and CO2 through outdoor experiments to try to predict the ecosystem effects of climate change into the future and the effects on plant communities. He was saying it is hard to work with a multi factorial, outdoor environment which is changes each year, he should try FARMING!

After the lecture we had a free lunch and drinks reception and then my last foreign visit was over. I have had an amazing time on my travels and learnt so much. The best things has been meeting new contacts and making new friends which is invaluable. Anyone thinking of applying for a Nuffield Scholarship “just do it!”

 

 

Soren Ilsoe, Fjenneslev, Denmark: 9th of June 2016

Soren Ilsoe is a well known Conservation Agriculture practitioner in Denmark and was Green Farmer of the Year in 2013

image

No till, covering cropping and Conservation Ag are not common at all in Denmark and Soren has been at the forefront of Danish CA for a long time.

Denmark has very strict regulations on fertiliser and pesticide use. Up until this year the cap on Nitrogen fertiliser applications has been 20% below the economic optimum. The government changed last year and so that cap was raised by 12% this year and will rise by another 8% next year. Soren thinks if the government changes back to the left again they will reverse these changes immediately. Denmark also has its own pesticide approval system which is slower and more onerous than the EU system, hard to believe it could be slower! Also Denmark applies pesticide taxes making some products almost uneconomical .

Soren is involved in a new project with the University of Copenhagen where they will compare plough, min till and no till on his farm and two neighbours. They will measure all parameters from economic, soil, biological etc.

image

When I arrived Soren was building a cover crop seeder from an old mounted sprayer. The idea is to broadcast cover crops into standing crops to allow for more growth. Harvests can be late here this far north and getting a cover crop in after harvest can be challenging.

Soren uses a modified Horsch CO4

image

He can apply starter fertiliser with this machine which he believes is extremely important, especially with the Nitrogen restrictions. 80kg/ha/N placed is worth 100kg broadcast. On the back of this machine he can apply slug pellets and he also hopes to add a small seed kit in front of the wheels to apply companion seeds for WOSR

image

Soren mixes his own cover crop seed and includes different clovers, vetch, buckwheat, Phacelia, radish and peas.

The first field of wheat we went into had received no autumn herbicide

image

He has trials in this field where he has used different herbicide rates. The only difference was a few cleavers in the no herbicide parts from what I could see. In the same field he had no fungicide areas too. This will be weighed to see if there is a yield difference. The field currently looked very clean. On another field BASF, Bayer and Syngenta have parts of the field they are treating themselves to try to get optimum yield. Soren believes in using lower inputs and accepting an average yield as in most years he makes more money than those chasing yield. I agree with him. It will be interesting to see if the suppliers field areas margin is any better or worse than Soren’s, doubtful.

image

Soren normally doesn’t grow second year wheat but has this year. He has used RTK and planted the crop inbetween the stubble of last years so the wheat was planted into clean soil

image

Soren’s was in very good nick, very dry too! He has lots of worm holes and around the worms holes it was clear to see chalk. The worms we bringing up chalk from deep and liming his fields for him, for free!

image

We then looked at his spring beans. Most of the fields had had no herbicide either, there were a few weeds but nothing much. Rats tail Fescue is the Black Grass equivalent here but Soren seems to be keeping on top of it through mainly good rotation.

image

His beans had good roots and nodulation.

The last crop we looked at was his Spring barley

image

This was planted on the 16th of April which is later than normal. Also later than his conventional neighbours. Soren was worried it was a bit thin but I thought it looked well. The combine will tell. Soren shares a combine with a conventional neighbour so he can compare.

I had an interesting afternoon with Soren. His farm seemed a little like mine at home with different trials everywhere. Thank you for your time Soren.