September 29, 2014 | Pat Beaujot
Hail to England-and No-till!
In mid-September I travelled to England and Sweden to tour some farms and learn more about different cropping conditions in Europe. The weather was great, the food, fantastic, and I was so busy learning and talking to folks that I didn’t get to tweet much about it in real time. Instead, I have put all my thoughts on the trip into blog form.
The first part of my trip allowed me to meet with some colleagues who are part of a major research project currently being conducted by the University of East Anglia. This is a four-year study where they are comparing cropping methods with ground water contamination while looking closely at profitability. Three areas have been designated for comparison within the study, and the Seed Hawk, as well as the Vaderstad Rapid are being used to seed crops. I feel we have a good chance of surprising the folks in and around this study with what no-till practices with cover crops can do to minimize ground water contamination as well as to boost the quality and productivity of the land. At the end of the first year of the study, the results look very favorable. Vaderstad is providing all the equipment in kind for the project, with the hopes of further advancing innovations that can help solve the considerable challenges faced by UK and other Western European growers today.
Though it is early in the life of the study, the beans seeded with the Seed Hawk yielded 6.7 tonne, which is 2 tonnes above the local average. Block P (Vaderstad surface tillage ) and L (Seed Hawk No-Till) had cover crops seeded as well and there was a very significant difference in the ground water nitrogen compared to block J (conventional plough) with no cover crop. This project will go several years, if these results continue we will see some great potential for change from it that should help growers realize greater profits while improving their soil and the environment. I’m always glad to see science proving the benefits of no-till. (See the map below.)
I travelled to Salle Farms Estate in Norfolk. This farm is owned by Sir John White and operated by Poul Hovesen, a very influential and forward thinking farmer. Sir John and Poul are part of the study and their land is being seeded with the Seed Hawk. The neighbouring farmers were impressed with the crop establishment in what they think are very unfavorable conditions. Even after only one year, the soil is showing many signs of improving already compared with the ploughed block. More earthworms are present and there is a better structure to the soil. I will follow the next stages of this study with interest, and will report back on new results leading to improved soil health and nutrient management.
I visited a farm that uses a brand called Claydon. Though it is marketed in Europe as a no-till drill, it appears to me to be a step between conventional and actual No-Till. There are no packers and no depth control, however they do understand the conditions in England, and are very successful there. They have come up with some helpful adaptations for their market -note the little spreader on the back for slug pellets. Slugs are a huge issue in England and fear of how to combat them prevents many from making the switch from conventional farming methods. A narrow knife goes first to break up the soil in the root zone (this is a waste of fuel to me) then a small shovel is used to make a 3” wide band of seed followed by closers and harrows. I welcome comments from those of you out there who use a Claydon-let me know why you prefer this method in your operation and what they are doing to address your specific needs.
From England I made the jump over to Sweden, a country I have visited many times via Vaderstad and I am always happy to get out to tour farms when I can. I was able to visit a farmer who has about 1/3 of his farm in organic production because he has access to chicken manure. I got to see this different kind of drill up close. This machine is designed for Organic farmers. Joseph added a row of disks in the front for seeding into cover crops. It has a moving hitch and a green seeker so it can automatically move to cultivate between rows in crop. (like SBR). It has independent depth control, but poor packing; it is really just a gauge wheel. He uses 3” seed spread on 25 cm spacing. I was impressed with his crops and his soil building with cover crops. I was able to see firsthand the wet soil of the recently seeded crop and the dry soil under the cover crop. This really shows what cover crops do. He is getting some good ground water control and excellent nitrogen fixing from his cover crop. I enjoy meeting very innovative farmers wherever I travel.
Andre Lacobaeus of South Sweden demoed and is buying an 8 meter Seed Hawk 30. He has been no-tilling for a few years and really likes the SH tines for their fast uniform emergence. He seeded 800 Ha. with excellent establishment of winter wheat, winter rape and cover crop. Andre sees slugs as the biggest challenge for no-till in Europe. They are trying many things besides slug pellets (slug pellets are broadcast on top of the ground and when the slug eats the pellet it dies-this method is not always fool proof) Some of their many strategies: cover crops, crop rotations, bait crops, and setting up areas for beetles to thrive that kill the slugs and their eggs.
Martin Svedberg has seeded with an 8 meter SH30 for 2 years. Martin harvested above area average crops seeding into very heavy wheat stubble. He believes he can grow above average crops with much lower expenses. He worried about straw lumps on the surface last year but saw that they had no negative effect so he is much less worried about them now. Making major changes to your operation requires a bit of trust, and sometimes a bit of risk, but it can be worth it! Martin is cutting his wheat very short and attempting to seed between the rows with RTK. He is making sure his chopper and spreaders are working perfectly to minimize his straw flow issues this fall. Martin showed me a grass field that he sprayed with glyphosate and seeded straight into with his Seed Hawk. It was very impressive emergence.
Poul, Joseph, Andre, Martin all remind me of the early adopters of no-till in Western Canada. They all are passionate about what it is doing for their soil and they are finding ways to overcome the problems with innovation and trial and error. Contrary to local belief they are finding that their yields are the same or improving and their net profit is going up. They are also finding that 25cm spacing will yield as good as their old 12-17cm spacing standards. I believe with the problem solving that these ambassador growers are doing and with subsidies dropping in the EU and ground water quality concerns becoming more in the public eye we will see more Western European growers seriously considering no-till.
Please contact me with your questions or comments @PatrickBeaujot, @NOTILLville or post a comment. I love hearing what you think of my blogs.