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

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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:

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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

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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!”

 

 

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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His beans had good roots and nodulation.

The last crop we looked at was his Spring barley

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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.

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!!

Proffesor Erik Steen Jensen, SLU, Alnarp, Sweden: 7th of June 2016

Today I met with Erik Steen Jensen and Georg Carlsson at the Swedish University for Agricultural Science.

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Erik had been recommended to me by Josef. He has had experience with intercropping  since the 1980’s and so was someone key for me to meet. There are various trials going on at the moment and the first ones we looked at were in the LEGATO project which is looking at legumes.

 

Here they had mixes of different varieties of peas and beans in different proportions with different cereals. There were many combinations so I will only show a few. They are looking total yield, standing ability, shading and competition with weeds.

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Above is wheat with both leafed and semi leafless peas at 50:25:25 seed rates

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Above is wheat at 50% seed rate and semi leafless at 100%

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Above there was a problem with fat hen. Interestingly there was less weeds in the wheat bean intercrop compared to the bean sole crop.

They are also looking at mixing in perennial legumes too

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Above is wheat, bean and Lucerne. They get better establishment of the Lucerne when in a mix and Lucerne competes with the weeds and fixes N.

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Above is bean/ oats and red clover. Red clover is less competitive than Lucerne apparently. Today we also had a new intern touring around with us. She is from France and is here to work in the trials with Erik and Georg and also learn English, a big day for her too!

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The next project we looked at is a new long term project called SAFE. It is looking at four different cropping systems and measuring various parameters. The first system is the normal conventional system from the area which is Winter wheat, sugar beet, WOSR and Spring barley. The second system is an organic system growing eight crops. The third system is with Kernza (perennial wheat) and the fourth system is Agroforestry with the normal organic rotation.

They first grew the Perennial wheat last year

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The wheat is not commercialised yet and only yielded 0.8t/ha of wheat last year. They are wanting to trial it so they can understand the effect it has on soils, ecosystems and the environment. They are also wanting to intercrop with it:

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Above is newly planted Kernza with Lucerne

The last project we saw was FIOL (Focus on intercropping on organic legumes) This is part of the same project I saw in Joel’s field and is led in conjunction with local organic farmers who give suggestions and also trial themselves. Again there were many different combinations. Below are a few:

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Above is peas and lupins. This was a suggestion by a farmer as it would be a good animal feed and reduce risks at harvest. The lupins are determinate and so harvest earlier than the indeterminate normal lupins.

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Above is oat and lupin. Lupins are strong competitors for soil N and water and so may not be a great intercrop with cereals.

I had a fabulous day and saw and learnt a huge amount. They really are doing some great work here at SLU.

Joel Mansson, nr Lund, Sweden – 6th of June 2016

I was very fortunate that Joel Mansson, another Twitter friend lived very close to Josef and they know each other. So later in the afternoon we went to look at Joel’s farm

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Joel has 125 organic hectares and 120ha conventional. On the conventional they grow W Wheat, Sugar Beet and WOSR. On the organic they grow lots of crops including vegetables, which Joel has started this recently. We are standing in organic oats and lentils, which looked excellent. Lentils are the main crop and the oats are a trellis to stop the lentils lodging.

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The lentils had plenty of nodules and a good root system

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In the middle of one of Joel’ organic pea fields he had some trial plots for intercropping which is done in conjunction with Georg Carlsson at SLU. It is a program where they put plots on ten farmers fields so they can see how they work themselves and also gives Georg good feedback and farmer involvement.

In the plots were:

peas/lupin

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Peas/barley

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Barley/Lupins

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Lupin/oats

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Also lentil plus oats which Joel has a field off. He also tried oats/peas last year and where he had oats he had a lot less lodging in the peas

Joel’s organic winter wheat yields between 5-6t/ha. On the wheat he adds organic fertiliser with the Chameleon and also chicken manure. He believes he can increase his yield if he gets fertiliser on the wheat earlier and is looking to build a machine to inject liquid sow manure into the wheat.

Like Josef, Joel is always trying something different. Below he planted some vetch in the autumn. Then he planted Spring Barley into the vetch direct. He was hoping rolling the vetch would kill it and the barley grow through. The problem is that the ideal time for rolling is at flowering , which is now and this is too late as the vetch has smothered the barley.

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He will plant red beet into this later. It should provide a lot of nitrogen.

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He also grows fescue for seed and Spring beans organically

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His organic linseed looked great

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We then moved onto look at his organic vegetables which Joel has started recently. I think last year was his first year. He grows lettuce, squash, celeriac, red beet, potatoes and probably others I have forgotten. A fascinating trial he had done this year was growing lettuce and squash direct into his white clover crop

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He rotavated the strips twice and transplanted straight into the strips. The idea is the clover would be a weed mulch, reduce soil erosion and provide N. Interestingly this lettuce looked better than his tilled monocrop lettuce. A great trial.

Joel is very wise for his young age and is very innovative. It was fascinating to have a look around his farm. Thank you Joel.

John Pawsey, Shimpling Park Farm, Suffolk – 13th of May 2016

The second visit of my UK Nuffield mini trip was to see John Pawsey

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John farms about 3500 acres organically. He converted to organic in 1999 and grows Winter wheat, Spring Oats, winter beans and Spring Barley undersown with a 2 year ley which he now grazes with sheep, a new edition to the farm this year. The other new edition to John’s farm, the System Cameleon, is one of the reasons I wanted to see John.

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This is the first such machine to be imported into the UK. What makes it unique is that it is a drill and also a inter row hoe. John runs an 8.8m CTF which fits the Cameleon in perfectly. When I got there the machine was busy hoeing

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Above is the coulter that drills and hoes. It drills in 25cm rows and the hoe covers 80% of the ground

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It really is an impressive machine and does a very accurate job of hoeing. John bought it for a couple of reasons. Firstly as a drill it has a consistent seeding depth, unlike his horsch. This means that when he blind weeds he doesn’t pull out the shallow seeded plants. Also as a hoe it manages to enter the ground in any condition due to the tungsten tip unlike the Garford. As it is so accurate as a hoe it also means it opens up many opportunities for undersowing consistently, intercropping, relay cropping etc.

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John has become the distributor for the System Cameleon in the UK. If I was ever to convert to organic (no plans😀) this would be the first bit of equipment I would buy.

On John’s farm he is also hosting a field lab which is looking at Black Grass control in cereals through sheep grazing

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Above at the top and bottom of the picture has been grazed at GS30-31 by sheep and the middle has not. As can be seen the middle had a lot of BG in head and looks worse than the other. From a quick inspection it seems a success but it looks like the BG in the grazed area is just delayed not killed. They were doing plant counts the day I was there so the results are not known yet. Whether the delayed grass BG produced less seed, I am not sure.

John’s other recent addition to the farm is a flock of New Zealand Romney sheep. These have been introduced to make use of the 2yr leys in the rotation, aid soil health and add diversity to the farm

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I really enjoyed my morning with John. He is someone who is always looking at ways to improve and is not afraid to try something different. I was really impressed with the farm and the crops. Thank you John.

Stephen Briggs, Peterborough, UK: 12th a May 2016

It’s been over three months since my last post. Nuffield travels have been put on hold until spring work had been completed on the farm. We are a bit quieter now with everything planted so I took the opportunity to make a couple of visits in the UK. My first visit was to Stephen Briggs.

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Stephen is a 2011 UK Nuffield ( and also didn’t realise I was taking a photo, not my best shot!). He did his Scholarship on Agroforestry, which is growing trees and annual crops and/or livestock together. Stephen’s home farm is 250 acres and is a council farm. Stephen is a first generation farmer and spent a while trying to get a tenancy and eventually landed Whitehall farm. As the farm is only 250 acres he felt he had to do something different to make it viable, add value and add income streams. This meant converting to organic and 6 1/2 years ago planting apples trees on 52 ha of his arable fields

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The trees are 13 different varieties of which around half are heritage varieties. They are planted on 3m strips of pollen and nectar mix which is in HLS. The apples are currently used to make apple juice. They receive no inputs apart from pruning. Last year he grew 25t of apples and hopes this yield keeps improving as the trees matures. Currently Stephen thinks he gets 10% extra produce from the farm compared to arable cropping alone and this should keep increasing

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There is 24m of arable crops between the trees. This fits well with his machinery sizes. He is on a 6m CTF including a Tyne drill:

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A camera guided Garford inter row hoe:

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Stephen soil is incredible:

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It has Soil Organic Matter of 23% and releases about 150kg/N per ha. It has a couple of downfalls though: it is very prone to wind erosion and due to root crops being grown intensively before, it is now structureless. Stephen hopes the trees will help solve both those issues.

In his crop rotation he grows oats and wheat. Sometimes he also grows vegeltables such as broccoli and beetroot. His crops looked very clean and healthy. Below are oats:

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Not satisfied with just Agroforestry, Stephen is hoping to build a farm shop and education centre soon. In his spare time he also consults for other organic farmers and also found time to write a book. I had a very interesting afternoon with Stephen and his set up makes you think of the possibilities at home.

Stephen thank you for your time and good luck!

Dr Martin Wolfe, Wakelyns Agroforestry, Suffolk, England -7th December 2015

 

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Today I had the pleasure of spending the day with Dr Martin Wolfe and his wife Anne. Martin is a plant pathologist by trade who in the early 90’s got disenchanted with research in the agricultural industry. He decided to do his own research on his own terms and so bought Wakelyns, where in 1994 he set up the farm as you see it today in Agroforestry which is the practice of cropping or pasturing between alleys of trees.

I first heard Martin speak at a ProCam meeting when he spoke about variety mixtures of cereals which he has been involved in for years. It is the simplest way of companion cropping and adding diversity to a system. As a plant pathologist he was interested in the effect of planting multiply varieties of cereals at the same time on disease spread and severity. In Eastern Germany in the 80’s the state funded and coordinated work on spring barley variety mixtures as they did not have the cash to buy fungicides and saw this as a way of producing good yields of barley. They found that a four way mixture reduced disease severity dramatically. About 100% of the East German Spring barley crop was variety mixtures until the fall of the Berlin Wall when it all but disappeared.

Martin recently has been working on the ORC Wakelyns Wheat Populations project:

http://www.organicresearchcentre.com/?i=articles.php&art_id=783

The idea of the breeding program is to produce seed that within a field of wheat each individual plant is different from the other so giving diversity and resilience.

Martin has also worked on wheat/bean intercrops, both winter and spring varieties. They have found that there are less insect, disease and weed problems with this intercrop.

Martin takes a system approach to farming and so there is no one solution or magic bullet. Martin believes that part of the system for future agriculture needs to include trees and he is passionate about agroforestry. Agroforestry brings many advantages to a cropping system: enhanced nutrient cycle, improved water cycle, warmer average temperatures, reduced wind damage, disease barrier, host for beneficials, roosts for birds and many more.

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The first alley we visited was in Hazel Field. The HAzel is planted in two rows and is harvested every five years. In the cropping part is wheat trials. Wakelyns is completely organic and has not had any outside inputs for years. The nutrient indicies are low but the yields are going up!

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The next alley was his ley mixture which will be there for three years. They cut the ley and then compost it and apply it to the land, it’s the only amendment.

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The last alley we saw in Hazel field had free range chicken underneath. The hedge is in the middle of their patch as it gives them cover. The chicken bring many services to the system from weed control to insect control. The only down side of the chickens is that they have destroyed the understory of the trees, which is the habitat for many beneficials.

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Above is where he has done  root crop trials. They grow potatoes ( less blight in Agroforestry). He is also trying squash grown directly into the 3 yr ley. There are many other crops that he is trialling in this field

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This plot is where Martin grew Black Barley last year. A crop he is excited about.

 

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Above is a trial plot Eco-Dyne drill that Martin used as part of the OSCAR project:

http://web3.wzw.tum.de/oscar/index.php?id=2

The results of the OSCAR project are due in the next few months.

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Above is a trial looking into the spatial arrangement effect on tree disease. Above the timber trees are in pairs and there are eight different species . After a set of eight down a row the 8 are then repeated again but in a different random order. This is being compared to another site where they are spaced more conventionally. They have found that the random spacing does reduce disease.

Today was a fascinating day and I have only managed to touch the tip of the iceberg in my blog of what I learnt. I will be coming back in the summer for the open day and recommend everyone else to visit here too. The experience makes you think differently and opens you eyes to many possibilities. Thank you very much Martin for your time.

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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