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!!

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

They are also looking at mixing in perennial legumes too

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

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

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

They first grew the Perennial wheat last year

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

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Above is newly planted Kernza with Lucerne

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

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

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

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

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.