Any notions that natural farmers are considerably indifferent from the mainstream and place idealism above sound enterprise sense are quickly dispelled when visiting the farm of Jac and Cornelis Eck of the Netherlands.
The daddy and son duo have been operating their 85ha (210ac) farm as an natural operation since 2017. Quickly after this course was chosen a hearth destroyed their predominant shed and it was within the aftermath of this occasion that the choice was taken to construct the enterprise again in a really skilled method.
It was not a easy choice, for Cornelis believes that if one thing is value doing then it must be executed correctly, and this was actually the case when the 2 utilized themselves to creating a brand new enterprise mannequin for the farm.
There are a lot of necessities when planning to change to a low-input system, the important thing one being deciding on a brand new rotation that would come with high-value crops alongside caring for the soil.
The plan is now primarily based on a seven-year rotation that begins with two years of a grass/clover ley adopted by onions, chicory, sweetcorn, kale and quinoa. A mixture with none cereals or different predominant crops, focussing, as an alternative, on high-value merchandise.
Chicory is taken into account the primary crop with the grass being baled as hay for an natural goat farm which then returns its muck for spreading on the fields. Manure can be sourced from an natural dairy farm for incorporation; non-organic inputs should not allowed beneath Dutch natural guidelines.
The farm is located on the polders of the southern Netherlands the place the soil is of a light-weight sandy consistency, slightly than the heavier clays discovered elsewhere within the space. This can be a forgiving loam though a significant drawback is the gradual inflow of salt from the inland sea which it lies alongside.
Natural farming might not require sprays and fertiliser but it surely does are inclined to require a heavy funding in equipment because it depends on mechanical weed management slightly than chemical enter.
This not solely means a extra intensive use of specialist gear but additionally a sure diploma of over capability as there could also be solely very brief window of alternative to carry out sure operations – possibly simply two or three hours in a day.
Timeliness is the whole lot on a farm of this sort and it reinforces the Steketee message that natural farming is a full-time affair with fixed monitoring of the fields required, together with the power to right away react to conditions as they come up.
The scenario boils all the way down to needing the suitable equipment on the proper time, and with weed management closely depending on mechanical hoeing, it does result in completely different assortment of implements within the barn to standard farms.
Opposite to most natural farms, the plough performs little roll in cultivation right here and there was none to be seen in or across the yard. Wing-tipped harrows and discs are chargeable for the first cultivation adopted up by an influence harrow and rollers.
A gas-fired weed burner can be utilized in entrance of the vegetable crops to incinerate any seedlings, though the warmth will not be intense sufficient to have any nice impact on soil-borne pathogens.
Drilling itself is by a 15-row pneumatic precision drill made by Agricola Italiano, which has been making the machines from 1977.
Mild harrows to heavy hoes
As soon as within the floor, the intense enterprise of mechanical weed management begins and the primary implement for use is a really gentle spring-tine harrow which, it’s claimed, will take away younger weeds and go away the extra sturdy crop vegetation alone.
This would seem a matter of religion, but there are two such implements within the yard and the Eck household operates a profitable farm, so it should work. A lot of the following operations are carried out by Steketee hoes whereas the harvesting is carried out by outdoors contractors with the suitable equipment.
Offering the ability for the sphere work are three Fendts, together with a Xylon instrument service and Fendt Favorite 824 which is not less than 20 years outdated and was purchased in from Germany. Fairly the place its 234hp was required wasn’t instantly clear, though lifting the drill would require weight to stability it.
All of the tractors are fitted with satellite tv for pc receivers and the 2 smaller models had been shod with skinny tyres, reinforcing the view that floor compaction was not a problem within the fields as soon as winter had handed.
Cornelis and Jac are joyful sufficient to purchase used tractors that are trouble-free, but implements are bought new to maintain up with the most recent developments whereas the funding within the storage and dealing with amenities takes the farm to a different degree altogether.
A barn constructed for sharing
Two years after the farm said the swap to natural, a hearth destroyed the primary storage shed on the farm, requiring a totally new construction in the event that they had been to proceed with the enterprise.
However slightly than merely substitute the constructing, they constructed a a lot bigger construction that not solely served their very own wants but additionally had area for different growers to retailer produce.
The brand new shed is 55mx30m and reaches to 13m excessive in its centre. Two sections could also be temperature managed all the way down to -2.5°, the temperature at which chicory must be saved.
The refrigeration system takes the surplus warmth and warms the bottom beneath the ambient retailer. That is then extracted by reversing the system and it’s used for drying the quinoa when it’s harvested.
The entire system is designed to make use of as little imported power as attainable and, Conelis tells us, was not low-cost to construct. Nonetheless, he retains the ultimate determine to himself, simply saying that the financial institution wanted a really detailed plan and it will likely be 40 years earlier than the mortgage is settled.
He additionally identified the insurance coverage from the outdated shed made solely a really minor contribution to the price.
The crop is bought by way of brokers slightly than direct to shops, it could not be his most popular technique however apparently the Dutch do wish to have a intermediary concerned slightly than go straight to the grower.
Going natural has been an enormous step for the Eck household, but they’ve managed to not solely make the swap however survive a hearth which may have destroyed the enterprise, as an alternative, it made them far stronger, and will the Dutch farmers survive the current coverage of erasing agriculture from panorama they’ve made a robust dedication to the longer term.