16 November 2001

Soil care techniques pull keen crowd in Germany

Soil care, chemical-free seed

treatment and crop

protection advice on the

internet were key issues at

this years Agritechnica

show in Hanover, Germany.

Charles Abel reports

SOIL care has caught the imagination of German farmers, droves of them attending a special focus at Agritechnica, where researchers and manufacturers sought to promote best practice.

Main attraction was the £3.3m PreAgro project, which has come up with a solution to halve cultivation costs without jeopardising yield.

Key to the concept is the new Amazone Centaur cultivator system (see machinery), which adjusts the working depth of soil loosening shares according to a map prepared from field information gathered beforehand.

"By changing from ploughing to variable depth cultivation we can halve energy costs and still achieve the same yield," says Hans-Heiner Vosshenrich, tillage expert for the government-backed PreAgro project.

The key is to target cultivation depth to soil conditions, not to simply shallow cultivate across the entire field, he says. "Shallow cultivating on its own will not deliver the same yield, because most fields vary much more than growers realise."

Split field trials over four years have shown the clear benefits to be had from the approach, prompting considerable interest as farm profits have come under increasing pressure.

"Farmers are very interested. Ten years ago they were not, but with energy costs now so expensive they are more accepting."

Meetings planned for 20-30 farmers have attracted 250-300 and one saw 600 eager farmers arrive. Farms in eastern Germany are most interested, their larger scale justifying the investment.

The cultivation map is prepared using soil maps, aerial imaging, sampling or soil conductivity testing (as with the MagnaScan). The dgps-equipped Centaur then adjusts share depth as required.

The machine only removes potentially crop-restricting compaction to a depth of 30cm, so deeper compaction must be avoided, he notes.