“Glyphosate has hugely improved the soil quality on my farm”

German arable farmer Gerd Teichmann explains how glyphosate has helped reduce diesel consumption and the workload on his farm in Lower Saxony

 

“My name is Gerd Teichmann, and I am 50 years old. I live in Ballenhausen, just outside Gottingen, Germany, with my wife Christina and our two children. We run our farm in cooperation with another family, the Vollmers, and in total we have 325 hectares.

My wife’s parents bought the farm at the beginning of the 1970s, and passed it on to us. We both grew up with agriculture in our families and the plan is for our 17-year-old son Gerd-Christian to continue running the farm when we retire. Back in the 70s, there was still some livestock here, but today we’re exclusively an arable farm.

In our region, and most of Lower Saxony, wheat is the primary crop. On our farm, it covers about 40% of the land. Sugar beet accounts for about 15% and we will continue to grow it in the future. During winter, another important crop for us is rapeseed. We have started to grow more barley, and for the last 13 years we have also cultivated 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.

German arable farmer Gerd Teichmann (R) and his assistant

Erosion caused by ploughing

In the old days, on my parents’ farm, we used to operate like many other farms around here. Our main piece of equipment was the plough. I remember back then we had frequent problems with couch grass, which could only be removed mechanically, and the success rate was only 70-80%. In spring and autumn, ploughing could also lead to erosion after heavy rainfall. On steeper lots, soil was washed away by the rain, ending up in the field ditches, and from there, it had to be recovered either by us, or by the municipality.

On my parents’ farm, we had half the land that we have today, which was about 160 hectares. My father and two apprentices provided the manpower. We needed those people to run a farm half the size of what we have today, at a lower degree of productivity.

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. 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.

“[Without glyphosate] the quality of the crop would suffer. There would be more weed seeds and humidity in the harvest.” German arable farmer Gerd Teichmann

Before we switched to glyphosate, our system required a five-step process with machinery including a plough, grubber and cultipacker and a combination of power harrow and seed drill. This required around 100 litres of diesel fuel per hectare.

Today, we only use a grubber, and sometimes a roller, and that’s it. 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. This has reduced our diesel consumption to 70 litres per hectare. At 300 hectares that means an overall reduction of 9,000 litres of diesel, per year, for our farm alone.

Wildlife conservation

In spring, we often find that skylarks have built their nests between our beets and there are also jack rabbits on the fields. With mechanical tillage, I would have to use an inter-row cultivator that would destroy the birds’ nests and kill the rabbits. Using glyphosate-based herbicide means wildlife, above and below ground, will be disturbed less, because the soil does not have to be tilled so intensely.

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. The structure and fertility of our soil allows for high crop yields. We have to invest in our soil to maintain its quality for future generations and would not do anything that harms its quality.

The consequences of a ban

If we had to go back to working without glyphosate herbicide it would mean taking a huge step backwards to where we were 30 years ago. Weed control would have to be done with mechanical means only and all the advances we have made since then would be futile.

The quality of the crop would suffer. There would be more weed seeds and humidity in the harvest, and with today’s standards we can’t afford that. It’s important to realise that pest management and chemicals can have a positive impact on the field. 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.”