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!!

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.

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.

 

 

Dr Toby Bruce, Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, UK – 10th December 2015

Today fellow scholars Gordon Whiteford, David Walston and I spent the day at Rothamsted Research with Dr Toby Bruce.

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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

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Out in the field he is comparing cultivation, cover cropping and rotational strategies for grass weeds control

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

 

 

 

 

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

Jean-Paul Robert and Alexandre Castagne (AgroD’Oc), Peyregoux, France – 9th of November 2015

On Sunday I had an almost uneventful 7.5hr (660km) drive from Benoit’s farm to Toulouse. Almost because for a mile I had car after car flashing their lights at me and I knew not why. I checked my lights, they were off, I was on the right side of the road, I started to think it was because I was English but I was driving a hire car with Spanish number plates. Then I saw why, a wild boar had been hit and was laying in the road. It must of done serious damage to the car it hit and would have ruined my too if it wasn’t for the helpful French drivers!

My visit this afternoon was to Jean-Paul Robert’s farm (chap with the folder)

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Jean-Paul farms wheat, maize and Soya on the rolling hills of this area. For years he only grew wheat and maize but the new three crop rule has changed that. Like all farmers meeting it involved food and drink. We started in the kitchen around a table where we introduced ourselves and chatted about our farms. This visit was organised by Sylvain Hypolite of Agro D’Oc (www.agrodoc.fr). Unfortunately Sylvain a the last minute could not make it so he sent Alexandre Castagne along. Agro D’Oc is a cooperative that group buys grain, inputs and also provides advice to its 1000 members. They also organise farmer meetings for about 50 groups (CETA) of farmers in their area. They meet about twice a month to share ideas and be nosy just like all farmers. Today happened to be a meeting, I am not sure whether it was already organised or whether it was for my benefit! Hopefully I did not disappoint

We had a look around Jean-Paul’s farm. First we went to a field with a cover crop

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This is a phacelia, clover and bean cover crop after wheat. The beans and phacelia are in two rows close to each other which he then plants the maize in between. The clover he spread on the top with Lucerne but only the clover grew. In another field the same he had already had a CC of sorghum which was destroyed before the beans and phacelia were planted, not sure if it was the same here.

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You can see the clover growing in the cover above. This clover though was planted two years before.

We then went to see two lots of drill trials on the farm. The first involved wheat into maize stubble comparing his horsch, Aurensan, Sly Boss and a Semeato.

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The Semeato did not manage to get one seed into the ground. The Sly put it too deep and the Aurensan was about right but not all seed in the ground. The field above he had spread clover into the previous maize.

Second trial was wheat after Soya

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The Aurensan struggled a bit as the soya residue blocked a couple of coulters. Again he had spread clover and Lucerne before in the previous crop

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Jean-Paul can irrigate some fields which in some years is the difference between some crop and no crop.

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Then we went to look at the machinery. Jean-Paul is very handy with a welder and obviously a talented fabricator. Apparently he spends all the winter in the workshop. The tractor was the only thing that was still factory standard and had not been modified.

Below is his Horsch rotavator that he has modified into a seeder

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Below is his current project

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Then below is a few more of his creations. I can remember exactly what they all did. One planted the twin row cover crops, one was for fertiliser etc.

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It was an interesting afternoon seeing Jean-Paul’s farm and all his homemade equipment. The imagination and inventiveness of farmers never ceases to amaze me. Thank you to both Jean-Paul and Alexandre.

Benoit Lavier, Etormay, France – 7th of November 2015

My next visit was to see Benoit Lavier

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Benoit is an arable farmer about an hour from Alexandra and Yann. He is also the President of APAD ( Association for the Promotion of Conservation Agriculture) www.apad.asso.fr .APAD has about 350 members. It is similar to BASE but has slightly different aims. It is more strict on the fact they are promoting No till not min till. Also they are looking at more of a lobbying role influencing the French government. For example they will have at a stand at the COP meeting in Paris next year.

After lunch we had a look around his machinery and farm.

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I think he is the first farmer this week with something different to a JD 750a. He has a Semeato. The reason for this is when they first started to look into no-till the guy advising them was Alfred Gassler and he knew about Semeato. Bernard seems very happy with it.

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Recently they have added a row cleaner and they use this when planting cover crops and OSR. They have found it improves germination.

We then went to the fields. The first field was of wheat

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Bernard has had the same problem as Yann with mice. So as well he has had to cultivate some fields. This field was cultivated this year but it was interesting to see that the structure was still very good and their was lots of worms. Benoit was worried that cultivating would upset all the hard work done under no-till. He possibly had the longest worms I have seen

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We then looked at a field of OSR after wheat. He reckons he lost 1.5t/ha of wheat due to mice last year, so it was cultivated. Part of the field was in a companion crop of beans, was, vetch and lentil.

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This field in the past has had compaction problems but now under no till was looking good. In this area he had germanium problems so this is why he had this mix. The other part of the field was a mix of OSR plus Lucerne

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This is the first time he has tried this. He hopes to leave the Lucerne as a permanent mulch like Hubert Charpentier.

After looking around various other fields we went and chatting for a long time in his office about all things agriculture.

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Benoit is a very intelligent guy and also very generous with his time. In the evening we had dinner with his family ( 5 children) At lunch I noticed that his eldest son Pierre had a T shirt about Scotland on. I asked whether this was for my benefit. Then in the evening his 10 yr old daughter came down with a T shirt with “I love London” on the front. I thought this was very sweet. His children also had an English lesson over dinner and I a French one! Benoit has a wonderful farm and a wonderful family. Thanks Benoit for your time.

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Alexandra and Yann Cadet, Occey, France – 7th of November 2015

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!!