We’re heading to Northern Europe this week to learn more about Danish GFN member Knud Bay Smidt and farming in Denmark, between the North and Baltic Seas.
*English is a second language for most GFN members and responses may have been lightly edited.
Global Farmer Network member – Knud Bay Smidt, Denmark
Farm Description: It is a 300-hectare arable farm in Denmark, located in the mainland of the country. It’s in a rural area, but still surrounded by several larger towns within a half an hour drive.
The soil varies and within few meters can change from heavy clay to light sand and shortly after spots with high humus content. Most all fields are drained, more or less, and about 10 percent of our land is below sea level- protected by a bank.
We grow wheat, barley, rye, oilseed, beans and grass seed plus some grass for hay production; no irrigation is available.
GMO crops are not allowed in Denmark yet, but we hope that the newer breeding techniques will be accepted and can contribute to help solving the ongoing battle against pests.
Question: What is your definition of sustainable farming?
Answer: I know what I should answer but I chose another approach; I split it into 3 parts.
First what is a sustainable farmer – a person that can adapt to the ever ongoing changes without losing her/his own soul and believing in what she/he is doing is the right way for her/him. Second – what is a sustainable farm – farm that is in such a condition and location that it’s worth to keep maintain, develop and improve. Then, third – what is sustainable farming – a way to practice farming which delivers what is expected at present with the at all time best practices known.
Question: What farming practices are you using on your farm today that helps the sustainability of your farming operation and the soil that you are farming on?
Answer: With our location in the cold wet north part of Europe do we have a relatively high content of organic material in our soil.
It simply takes longer to degrade the organic material due to the lower temperature and high moisture.
Ploughing is still the most common practice here in Denmark, but changes are underway.
For our farm do we plant half the crops more or less directly into the stubble.
The use of cover crops is both an obligation due to environmental rules and accepted practice among more and more farmers. We use Radish and Ryegrass. Legume is not allowed due to the rules. [It is] blamed for loosening the nitrogen during the early spring.
The target within the next few years is to shift from the last 25 years crop rotation between mostly wheat, barley and oilseed planted in the autumn, to a more varied crop plan which include more grass seed, beans and spring barley.
This together with a better use of cover crop and less intensive tillage should give us a better soil and lower input cost and less use of pesticides (Control of the weed in winter crops had become a bigger and bigger challenges the last decade).
Question: Where do you get information about sustainable farming practices that are appropriate for your farm?
Answer: We try to keep ourselves up-to-date through several sources.
The internet is broadly used as inspiration to make changes, but other farmers are used for confirmation if it’s works well or not for them.
Question: How do you determine what practices work best on your farm?
Answer: We often bring in a contractor to do some fields with one or another new machine (for example, a strip till seeder) before deciding to invest or not… have seen too much new machinery that too quickly ends up behind a barn and is worth nothing more than scrap value- so is becoming more hesitant to be an [early adopter].
Question: Are there specific technologies that will support the sustainability of your farming operation?
Answer: More use of yield, biomass and soil test data to determine inputs, like graduated applying of fertilizer, pesticides and lime.
Question: Do you share sustainable farming practices that you use with other farmers? If yes, how?
Answer: Yes for sure, through local and global farming forums and through farmers operational groups.