My presentation at the Nuffield conference is now online. 2 years work in 12 minutes
My presentation at the Nuffield conference is now online. 2 years work in 12 minutes
Soren Ilsoe is a well known Conservation Agriculture practitioner in Denmark and was Green Farmer of the Year in 2013
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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!
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.
His beans had good roots and nodulation.
The last crop we looked at was his Spring barley
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.
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.
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
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
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
Then they add the electric and hydraulics etc.
Then you get the finished product
After the factory tour I went out to a field with Lars’s son “to pretend” to hoe a crop
You have to measure the crop so you can calibrate the camera on the machine so it hoes accurately
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)
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.
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.
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!!
Today went to visit Ron Stobart and Simon Kightley of NIAB TAG to speak to them about their Clover bi-cropping trials http://www.niab.com/uploads/files/NIAB_NFS_Fertility_Building_4pp_A5_FINAL.pdf
Also I wanted to speak to them about their OSR companion cropping work.
Ron has written an outline of the results of the New Farming Systems here:
The highlights for me from speaking to Ron are (reference to bi-cropping):
Then in the afternoon Simon took us outside to see their companion cropping trials in OSR:
The first plot above was their brassica mix which included Chinese cabbage, rocket, pak choi and linseed. The idea being that the other species dilute the effect of flea beetle shot holing and it seemed to be working well.
The second plot was the OSR by itself
There was a problem with the germination of the charger and it as pretty hard hit by pests as well
The third plot was the legumix:
This plot included Common vetch, Crimson clover, Berseem clover and Persian clover and again was pretty thin but there were more OSR plants in the companion crop than in the control.
The last plot was with Fenugrek:
The idea of the Fenugrek is that the pests are repealed by the smell of the plant. Not sure whether it worked because it seemed that pigeons seemed to love the smell and have eaten it! The trial also had different replicates with different seed rates of OSR.
I especially found the idea of the brassica mix interesting. You could get your salad for your sandwich while walking your crops! Thank you to Ron and Simon for giving up their time today.
Today fellow scholars Gordon Whiteford, David Walston and I spent the day at Rothamsted Research with Dr Toby Bruce.
Toby and I follow each other on Twitter and have spoken before and I was interested to see the work that he and others are doing at Rothamsted. Toby is a chemical ecologist and looks at ways to use chemical alarms and sex pheromones to effect insect behaviour and to improve IPM. Probably his best know work is the development of pheromone traps for monitoring Orange Blossom Midge in wheat. Currently he is working on “lure and kill” technology (http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/projects/S5370) which is used for beetle pests of field beans and will hopefully be commercially available in the next few years. Toby is also passionate about connecting with farmers and people out in the field. This has led to the release of his app Croprotect (www.Croprotect.com). Croprotect is a platform for growers to access and share IPM information and ideas.
Next Toby took us to see Dr Paul Neve. Paul in involved in a project covering 70 farms in the UK and looking at their management information to see the effect of management strategies on Blackgrass infestations and herbicide resistance. He is also involved in developing an in field diagnostic tool for testing plant herbicide resistance. Also he is looking methods of reducing herbicide resistance with methods similar to RNAi.
Then we met Dr Jonathan Storkey. Jonathan is working in a project to develop customised Cover Crop management models to manage grass weeds http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/projects/S5238
Out in the field he is comparing cultivation, cover cropping and rotational strategies for grass weeds control
In the afternoon we visited his trials with various replicates of different strategies. Some interesting facts Jonathan said were: that he believes shading of weeds is more important than alleopathy; seed predation of Blackgrass is lower than other grass weeds as not much eats Blackgrass seeds; black grass’s short seed bank persistency is it’s Achilles heel.
Next we saw Dr Sam Cook. She specialises in IPM in OSR. One of her projects is using Turnip rape as a trap crop for pollen beetle in OSR
We saw her trials in the afternoon where she plants a border of turnip rape around the edge of OSR. The idea is that the turnip rape flowers earlier than the OSR and attracts the pollen beetles into the trap crop as they prefer the trap crop. This then means that the pollen beetles are below spray threshold in the crop. It works well but not in every year. There is also promise to use the same strategy for Cabbage Stem Flea Beetles as they prefer to lay eggs in the turnip rape. Some of the plots had been decimated by flea beetles. The interesting thing for me is how much more vigorous turnip rape is at establishing and coping with pest pressure. It has survived when OSR has not. It seems that in breeding for yield OSR has lost some traits we now need.
In the afternoon we had a look around outside at Rothamsted. We saw the Rothamsted Insect Suction Trap
This tower constantly traps insects to monitor migration. Along with other towers across the country it gives researchers and growers information on insect migration throughout the season and the effects of climate change.
Next we saw a new project at Rothamsted
This is the Digital Field Phenotyping Gantry. It moves up and down the crop plots and can take very accurate photographic information which can be used for many different applications such as nutrient effects on crops and calibrating of drones.
Then we saw the Broadbalk Experiment
This experiment has been running since 1843 and has been continuous wheat. It is looking at the effects of different fertiliser strategies on soil and crops and many other factors. http://www.era.rothamsted.ac.uk/index.php?area=home&page=index&dataset=4
We had a packed day at and many thanks to Toby for organising the day and showing us around.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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
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
The next plot was wheat with forage peas
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
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.
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.
So I was lucky to visit Frederic’s farm again only 6 months after being there with BASE UK. For those of you who has not heard of Frederic, he is a farmer in the Sologne, the founder of BASE France, he has a magazine TCS and spends a lot of time training and talking about conservation agriculture. A very knowledgeable and busy man.
To give a bit of history of the area, the Sologne was a forested, mosquito infested swamp. Where the only people who lived there were criminals and rebels. This is why the King decided to build the Chateau Chambord as his hunting lodge as he did not have to force anyone off the land to do it, as no one was there or cared. So this means that the farming is difficult and wet! Frederic, I think he said, is a 5th generation farmer but was not sure of his family history before that, I suggested they were rebels and he laughed. Frederic has been practicing no till for about 20 years on his farm and has transformed his soils. Below is a picture of the soil below a crop of wheat a couple of days after 100ml of rain, looks dry!
Next we walked to a field of winter barley. This crop has had 150 kg/N/ha early, no PGR and no spring herbicide.
There is also a strip in this field that has had nettle extract instead of a fungicide as a trial. Frederic reckons that the less fungicide you use the quicker the straw breaks down. This is because the fungicide kills the straw decomposing fungi and could also lead to more slugs as there is more food left for them. He also saw better cover crop establishment behind the nettle tea. After harvest he will grow OSR with buckwheat.
Below is Frederic, a proud farmer:
Where Frederic is growing Triticale after harvest he will plant buckwheat with Crimson Clover. Harvest the Buckwheat in the autumn and the clover in the spring and then plant linseed. 4 crops in two years! He is also going to grow buckwheat and soya beans.
We then went to see his corn which was just through:
This corn was planted after a cover of vetch and cereals. Below is his neighbours corn which is not through and a little sad after 100ml of rain:
We also saw some corn planted into grazed clover:
He has found that where the clover was grazed early it has come through the winter well but when grazed in March is has suffered. He has also seen less slugs where the clover was grazed.
Next we went to see Frederic’s OSR:
This field was planted as a cover crop of cheap OSR seed and buckwheat. Only had a graminicide in the autumn. When he knew it was going to be a crop, it had kerb herbicide and 150kg/N/ha. Nothing else, a very cheap crop. Something to aspire to!
Another thing Frederic talked about was herbicides damaging crops. I heard this a lot in France and I am seeing the evidence on our farm. we really need to reduce their use and use rotations better for weed control as I think they are costing us a lot of money in yield.
Again another interesting visit to Frederic’s farm. I always enjoy my time with him. He is so knowledgeable and generous with his time. After my visit I had a short 400 mile drive home which went smoothly and I am now back in little Olde England
So on Tuesday I had organised to spend the whole day with Dr Joelle Fustec at the Ecole Superieure d’Agriculture (ESA) in Angers. The ESA is an agricultural college of about 4000 students. Dr Fustec is the leader of a small team who are /have been researching Nitrogen transfer in Intercrops. I had been recommended Dr Fustec by a few people as she had recently produced results that showed legumes do not transfer significant amounts of Nitrogen to fellow companion crops. A fact that I found very intriguing so I wanted to get some more information.
When I first arrived we went to the greenhouse on the roof to look at current experiments. There were a large number of pots containing clover and wheat of different shades of green.
The idea of the experiments was to test the effect of soil microbiology on plant health and nutrient transfer. There was two gradients they were testing. The effects of earth worms and the effects of soil microbiology. So to test this factor they had sterilised the soil in some of the pots.
In the picture above one pot had been sterilised and the other was natural soil. Which was is which? Answers and explanations please. It has meant the experiment has not gone to plan!
Also they are also looking into Lupin phenotypes that will work best as intercrops, above and below ground:
Then after lunch we spent a couple of hours in Dr Fustec’s office talking about her experiments. Below are a few highlights:
This root plasticity is why beans are such a good companion. The early rooting growth (first 30 days) are the most important that the plants are not competing, after that is not so important.
We also discussed cereal/legume intercropping an gave me some interesting info:
Dr Fustec said there are many reasons why intercrops over-yield compared to sole crops (usually 20% higher), it is not just about N transfer, but we still have a lot to learn and understand.
In their team they are also developing a simple test for measuring soil biological activity and a phone app for testing sulphur content in OSR
In the afternoon we went to an Organic Experimental farm with Dr Guenaelle Corre Hellou to look at their intercropping trials:
Below is a cereal with vetch and peas. for forage.
Rye and Vetch (and buttercups!)
Wheat and beans;
They are also doing trial with Triticale and Lupins and Triticale and beans. The idea is that the triticale suck up soil N which reduces weed growth but you get the same legume yield.
Overall it was a fascinating day, full of information and lots to think about. I hope that we can get a similar team in the UK researching intercropping in our conditions. Many thanks must go to Joelle and her team for giving up all this time to show me around and also had time for a drive around Anger’s Old Town.
So after been fed and watered with Hubert Charpentier, we had an hour and a half drive to our next appointment with Jacques Charlot. Jacques is an arable farmer who has been experimenting in no till, strip till and cover crops for years. Gilles Sauzet, a local researcher, has his companion cropping and intercropping trials on Jacques’ farm so it was an excellent farm for me to visit.
First we went to an OSR field which had an area inside of it with the intercropping trials. They are trying many combinations of intercrops:
Spring Barley and Lentils
Spring Barley and Peas
Winter Peas and durum Wheat
Winter Barley and Peas (no Nitrogen added)
Winter Flax and Winter Beans (Beans died with frost)
The surrounding field of OSR was planted with a companion crop of Winter Beans, Fenugrec, Gesse and Lentils. A total of 80kg/ha of seed per hectare plus 1.5kg of OSR.
You can still see the bean residue. He has companion cropped with OSR for 4 years and has had consistent results: 30kg/ha of N back from the companion crop, 1 less herbicide, 2 less insecticides and 500kg per ha of extra yield. Lets just say it easily pays back the 60 Euro cost of seed. He also says you do not get geranium as a weed with the companion crop. This was shown as one headland has no companion crop and did has Geranium but everywhere else was clean.
Jacques grows his own Fenugrec and Gesse. He took us to a field of Fenugrec (I think!), which he grows on contract and also has a cultivation trial on it. Plough versus Min-till versus No Till.
The min till soil (above) had a lot of life and worms and good structure but the ploughed soil (below) was structureless and lifeless
The no-till plots were OK but were re-drilled due to slugs. Slugs and mice seems to be an increasing problem in this area
He showed up some Gesse seeds and they were amazing. They are multi-coloured and look like grit
The last place Jacques took us was a field of red clover. Jacques grows it for seed and is normally in the field for two years. Jacques said that it is not the best paying cropping but it improves the soil and also cleaned the fields. Soil under red clover below:
The interesting thing chatting to Jacques was that he used to average 7t/ha of wheat and now using a wide rotation, cover crops and companion crops he gets 10t/ha. There was a field of wheat next to the clover that was excellent and so I can well believe it. A 40% increase quite incredible. After showing us around the farm and machinery sheds it was about 8pm and as I had a 2 1/2 hour drive to Anger and was going to get on the road. This is France and did not happen! We had a Panache, wine and a four course meal and left at 10pm full again. Another great visit to another great farmer. Luckily my journey to Anger was easy and I got to my hotel at half midnight and finally to bed at 2am, tired but happy.