To celebrate World Soil day, a farmer shares why he switched from ploughing to using ‘no-till’ farming methods. This has made immense improvements in his soil quality.
Gerd and Christina Teichmann live in Ballenhausen, Germany, and run a 325-hectare arable farm in cooperation with another family. Christina’s parents bought the farm in the early 1970s and it will be passed onto the Teichmann’s 17-year-old son, Gerd-Christian, when they retire.
Wheat covers about 40% of their land and sugar beet takes up another 15%. The rest of the farm grows a variety of crops including rapeseed, barley and field beans. “We are trying to diversify, using a three-field crop rotation, because we need healthy soil, and crop rotation is a way of ensuring that,” says Gerd.
When Gerd and Christina’s parents were farming, they ploughed the land regularly. This would often lead to erosion after heavy rainfall, particularly on steeper land. Soil would be washed away by the rain and would end up in field ditches where it would have to be recovered. This eventually led to a decision to plough less of the land.
“I remember in 1995, we had heavy rainfall in spring and autumn and we agreed to run an experiment and divide our steepest lot into two pieces,” says Gerd. “We divided a field of eight hectares and ploughed one half. On the other half, we only used a grubber for digging up plants and mulched over the soil. In winter, we noticed that the ploughed area was eroded and the mulched section looked much better. The following year, we decided to switch completely to a ploughless cultivation using glyphosate herbicide.”
Soil conservation wasn’t the only environmental benefit that Gerd and Christina saw when they turned to using no-till and glyphosate rather than ploughing. They noticed that fuel consumption was greatly reduced.
“As a result, across our entire land we use on average 1.5 litres of glyphosate per hectare, and can then sow two weeks later,” says Gerd, adding that, “This has reduced our diesel consumption to 70 litres per hectare.
“We are also seeing more earthworms than before. That tells me that the soil is alive. With their tiny tunnels, earthworms improve water drainage, reduce erosion and improve soil quality in general. We have to invest in our soil to maintain its quality for future generations and would not do anything that harms its quality.”
Glyphosate is an essential tool for Gerd and millions of other farmers in the EU. It provides environmental benefits as well as being an effective pest management tool.
“It’s important to realise that pest management and chemicals can have a positive impact on our fields,” he stresses. “That is something I strongly believe in because I walk on my fields every day, and can see how the plants are growing healthily. I really hope people believe me. That’s very important to me.”
To find out more, watch this video about Gerd and his farm.