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.

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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!!

Josef Appell, Gardstanga, Sweden – 6th of June 2016

So today, as all days in Josef’s working life, we started with a crop tour of the farm in a helicopter.

Sweden being a highly developed country allows them to highly subsidise farmers for Cover crops, organic farming and helicopters. Josef uses his helicopter to keep and eye on his spray operators and tractor drivers and if they stray off his 9m CTF tracks they will get the sack immediately by text from the helicopter! He can also see how well the glyphosate is working on his organic land.

Obviously most of the above is not true but we did get an unexpected helicopter ride this morning. Quite normal for Nuffield!

Josef manages a farm in the South of Sweden. He has a very interesting operation as he has 565ha conventional farm which grows Winter Wheat, Sugar Beet, Spring Barley and Winter Oilseed Rape but he also has 315ha of organic land which grows Peas, Spring Oats, White clover, Fescue and Winter Oilseed Rape. Josef is very keen on soil health and tries to improve the farms soils whenever possible, this is in the conventional and organic side of the farm and these complement each other. The organic sector is growing fast and is supported by the government here in Sweden. Every farmer gets paid the Basic Payment for each hectare of £180/ha. If you grow a Cover crop (no legumes) which you kill before the 20th of October , you get £110/ha. If you keep the cover crop until January you get £170/ha. If you are organic you get an additional £150/ha. If you grow organic vegetables you get £500/ha. So you can see cover crops and organic farming are pushed by the government. This is why Josef started to convert parts of the farm 3 years ago, as he could se an added value growing market.

After our helicopter ride we went to look around the crops (by car).

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We first looked at Josef’s strip till sugar beet. He was the first to do this around here and some others are now starting to follow. Josef likes strip till beet as the land can hold the harvester in the autumn and the harvester does not make a mess.  This means he can get a crop planted straight into the sugar beet stubble. This field was last year winter wheat which was followed by a rye cover crop. Josef then made the strips in the autumn when he adds P and K at the same time. The beet is then drilled into the cover crop and ready made strip. For next year Josef wants to plant a cover crop such as field beans in the strip in the autumn. This will improve soil structure and hopefully fix him some nitrogen.image

Afterwards we looked as his conventional winter wheat. This area normally gets 650-700mm of rain but this year May has been very hot and dry. This means the crops are running out of water fast and are coming into head very early. The wheat is flowering the same as home but here we are a couple of hundred miles further north. Normally the wheat would be at least a couple of weeks behind. This crop will be followed by a cover crop of Rye and then put into Spring beans.

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The next crop was organic peas for seed drilled into conventional fescue. This is first year organic so the fescue was sprayed off and then the peas were planted. There were very few weeds, the fescue residue made a very good weed mulch. The peas looked excellent. This will be a radish and oat cover crop followed by spring wheat for seed next year.

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Next a great 3rd year organic Spring oat crop that had been hoed with the Chameleon. Very clean and healthy, just a bit thirsty!

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Next we saw organic white clover for seed. This was undersown into Spring Barley with the Chameleon last year and will be seed for 2-3 years, then followed by organic WOSR. The clover leaves a lot of nitrogen for the WOSR. The clover was grazed recently, Josef has a Joint Venture with a sheep farmer and finds the sheep very useful in organic farming especially for weed control. Bees are also very important for white clover. They are the biggest return on investment in this crop. The clover will be cut by the double knife four days before harvest.

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The double knife is above. This is also used for weed control. It is 9m wide and you can drive very fast. Josef is also now a distributor. Then he will harvest the clover with his stripper header.

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Above is organic fescue for seed. He will use the residue in his straw burner.

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Josef is always trying something new. Above is a trial in organic spring oats where he drilled directly into the white clover. He was hoping the clover would suppress weeds and give him a very clean oat crop with no need to inter-row hoe. Unfortunately the clover has competed with the oats and reduced their growth.

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Josef is the kind of farmer who will buy a machine then spend the winter cutting it up, welding it back together and adding bits. He uses the System Chameleon from Gothia Redskap to drill and hoe his crops. He has changed the seed hopper into a fertiliser hopper, added a front seed tank to the tractor, added a bio-drill to the back of his drill for small seeds and slug pellets and also added discs in front of the coulters for when drilling into residue!

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Josef is a real innovator and forward thinking farmer and has also been a great host looking after me for two nights and helping organise my few days in Sweden. Thank you Josef, see you again soon.

 

 

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