Friday, September 24, 2010

Von Heyl Farm, Germany

We toured a farm belonging to Dr. Ludwig von Heyl. Roman artifacts have been found on the farm that are over 2,000 years old. Today the von Heyl family operates this farm which is called "Nonnenhof". It is an obviously historical farm and is a rare find, with 400 contiguous hectares. The oldest buildings on the farm date back to the 1600's, while the newest are from the 1800's. This farm has a historic designation, so all of the improvements Dr. von Heyl makes must match the original style of the buildings. A challenge, but one he has met with innovation and creativity, including taking the roof off of one of the buildings, inserting grain bins, and replacing the roof on this building...

You can find more general information about this farm visit at Jeff Sutton's blog at:

However, I wanted to add an extra tidbit. Dr. von Heyl, who has his Ph.D. in ag. engineering, was the first to use a no-till drill in Germany. (Note: no till simply means not tilling the soil. This improves soil health and allows earth worms and microbes in soil to thrive. I'll blog more on no till later).

He has been using this drill to plant all of his grains for about 20 years.

I sincerely enjoyed visiting with Dr. von Heyl (above) and was excited to find that he has been using similar no-till and cover crop techniques to those which we employ on the Wilson Farm (in certain circles, my husband is even known as "Mr. No Till" :)

I am grateful to our hosts with the German Farmer's Association whom arranged visits with such innovative producers- I am learning A LOT!

Immersed in German Agriculture

If you're interested in learning more about the adventures of the 2010 McCloy Fellow's in Agriculture, be sure to follow my "fellow fellow", Jeff Sutton, and his blog called Immersed in German Agriculture:


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Farmer's Market in Speyer, Germany

In Germany, due to limited space for growing crops, farmers are finding many niches to maximize profits, including selling their products directly to consumers through farmer's markets. I have many fond memories of helping my family at our stand at farmer's markets in Maryland as a child, so visiting this market brought back many wonderful memories of the energy of the people, the sights of the various goods, and the glorious smells of the variety of foods that can be found at farmer's markets.

A few antique tractors were on display, including this Massey Ferguson. Victor, the son of our tour leader, thoroughly enjoyed the market.

What a crowd! The main street of the city was packed with booths, including homemade plum butter, being cooked on the spot, a sheep shearing demonstration, ovens filled with fresh bread, and beautiful displays of fall vegetables.

Here I am by this fun family of bales.

We found a waffle bakery at the foot of the cathedral in Speyer. The cathedral has a beautiful dome and many kings and other royal family members are buried beneath the cathedral.

That waffle looked and tasted SO good!

Mmmm....Victor thinks that is one good waffle!
First attempt at posting a video on my blog...hope this works...

Schmiedhof Dairy and Tobacco Farm in Germany

Mr. Roland Bellaire, owner of Schmiedhof Farm explaining how a large section of his farmland will be taken by the government for flood control for the Rhine river. A difficult situation indeed.

Govt. issue eartags on a Fleckvieh calf at Schmiedhof Farm. Required by law as soon as the calf is born. There is a hefty fee for lost tags. Inspectors can drop by the farm anytime to check eartags, without notice.

The main freestall barn where the herd of 70 Fleckvieh cows are kept.

Dominik and his daughter who would rather have him play with her than lead a farm tour. She kept saying "Papa...Papa....". I miss hearing my girls saying Papa. Oh but these three weeks are flying by.

Okay, back to business....

We toured the Schmiedhof Farm in Neupotz, Germany. The farm is owned by Mr. Roland Bellaire and his son, Dominik. They have 412 acres of tillable land, including 62 acres of hay, 55 acres of tobacco, 13.75 acres of parsley, and also some mustard.

Here our host, Dirk Gerling, right, discusses the stats of the Wilson Farm and a small photo book I brought along with Dominik Bellaire. The size of our family's farm, at over 3,000 acres, although just an average farm in North Dakota, seems to be a pretty hot topic here, where farms tend to be much smaller due to the large population base and many more forested areas.

The Bellaire's milk 70 head of Fleckvieh cows. 140 total head of cattle with young stock included.

Average milk production per lactation (each time a cow has a calf she lactates) is 8,500 Liters. Average lactation lasts 370 days. Milkfat percentage is 4.3. Protein percentage in milk is 3.8%

They currently milk in a double four tandem parlor where the cows are lined up head to tail in individual stalls, but they hope to upgrade to a robotic milker in the future.

Roland is currently the chairperson of the county farmer's association.

A gadget is installed on their tractor to change the tire pressure from inside the cab when they go from driving in the field to on the road and vice versa.
Every tractor here is required to have a license plate.
Certainly many differences between how we farm in the U.S. and how they do things here in Germany, but we have a lot of common ground as well. Very grateful to the Bellaire family for taking time out of their busy schedules to show us around their well-run operation.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

First day in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse: Learning About Biotechnology

View from my hotel.

We arrived at Neustadt an der Weinstrasse (aka New Town) two nights ago. Since then we have been led around this region by Dirk Gerling, a 2009 McCloy fellow whom I had the honor of meeting last year when he visited North Dakota. Dirk is the District Manager for the
Bauern & Winzer Verband (the Farmer's and Winery's Association). This organization covers four counties and has about 5,300 members.

Dirk has done a tremendous job lining up farm visits and cultural experiences so that in just a few days we can sample all the best this area has to offer. He is also very patient with our constant barrage of questions, even while cruising on the highway at 160 km, trying to keep us on schedule. Not a problem, as there is no speed limit on the highway here :)

I am constantly impressed at how well respected he is by the farmers in this area, so it is no surprise to me that he has done well positioning his organization as THE source of ag information for the members and providing an array of services for members, including farm financial management assistance, a stellar website, and a listening ear to those facing the many challenges of farming and wine making in a densely populated area.

To start the day, we visited AlPlanta, an institute for plant research that includes a state of the art laboratory, greenhouse and training school for plant breeding and biotechnology. AlPlanta has three main research priorities: fruit diseases and phytoplasmas, RNA-mediated gene regulation, and grapevine biotechnology.

Dr. Wassenegger demonstrating how to analyze DNA while one of my fellow fellow's, Eric, watches.

Dr. Wassenegger in a cooler with thousands of samples of plant tissue. These samples will be used to study plant genetics and plant diseases.

Dr. Michael Wassenegger presented information on genetically modified organisms (GMO's) and the EU and the vast array opportunities and challenges that exist. To feed the growing world population, we in agriculture need a yield increase of 70% by 2050. WOW!

The benefits to utilizing genetically modified plants (such as RoundUp Ready soybeans) include: 1) providing affordable food production; 2) conserving biodiversity (wilderness, wetlands, etc) by savicng additional land from being developed; 3) decreasing agriculture's environmental footprint; 4) decreasing the use of pesticides; 5) providing cost effective production of biofuels; and 6) sustainable economic benefits by increasing genetically modified crop farmers' income.

There have been a number of lawsuits in the EU by farmers wanting to use genetically modified crops, but for now farmers' hands in the EU are tied and they have very limited access to this technology. This certainly presents a challenge as farmers are faced with feeding an increasingly hungry world.

Dr. Wassenegger also presented some of the absolute hypocrises with the current laws for organic farming and livestock production in the E.U. and it is clear that at this point the "bio" (organic) label is basically just a marketing ploy.

The U.S. ranks number one in the world for production of genetically modified crops. I did not realize until today how very fortunate I am as a farmer to have access to biotechnology and the opportunity to grow genetically modified crops.

As he bid us farewell with a wide smile and a good, firm German handshake, Dr. W. said something that really summed up the feelings of so many people in agriculture here: "In the U.S. you are in a happy situation with GMO's. I am jealous."
Here I am outside AlPlanta with the lovely landscape of the Palatinate region in the background.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wine Tasting Near Bonn, Germany

One of my fellow fellow's, Herr (Mr.) Maryland, and I get ready to do some tough tasting :)

Last evening Mr. Klaus Lotz and his lovely wife, Barb, accompanied our group to a wine cooperative near Bonn, Germany called "Mayschofs-Altenahr". 400 grape growers belong to this cooperative which produces many award winning wines.

A gentlemen named Ley, who is also a grape-grower, presented four wines to us and walked us through the wine tasting process. A wonderful lesson in value-added agriculture, and the "culture" of agriculture.

The region has steep inclines where grape harvesting machines cannot be used. Each hectare (2.2 acres) requires 2000 hours of labor to care for and harvest the grapes. Each bunch of grapes is hand "read" and imperfect grapes are separated before the bunches of grapes are sent to the wine making process.

90% of the wine in the area is Burgundy red wine.

This cooperative sells 1 million liters of 80 different kinds of wine each year. One of the best is this one...

It is a 2008 Burgundy with a complex taste, was fermented in German oak barrels and has a 400 year old picture on the label. It costs 14 Euros per bottle.

I sincerely enjoyed sampling the fruits of the cooperative's labor. Some of the best wine I have ever had, and spending an evening learning about the business of wine making amongst good company and very gracious hosts was a joy.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Farm Museum Tour, Wine Tasting, and Feeling Human Again

Oh, what a wonderful feeling to wake after a full night´s sleep and take a nice long shower (breaking the German rule of water conservation).

I am amazed by the contrast of (in my mind what would be) efficiencies and luxuries here....small cars, houses and hotel rooms fully utilizing every square inch, being sure to clean your plate and `eat with the season´, then enjoying the highest quality of wine (cheaper because it was consumed at the winery), visiting a high-end grocery store, and the rich, delicate chocolates. I realize I may not be truly sampling typical life, as I am a guest here, but there are just certain special things one only gets to experience in Europe.

We visited a farmer´s market.

It was named `Hof´ or farm, and then the farmer´s name (really long S word).

Wonderful selection of berries... getting hungry...

Then we visited a greenhouse- sign says`Plants and Flowers Kolvenbach` (the family who owns it).

Beautiful fall display! The flowers and plants were REALLY inexpensive!

Artichoke blooms...who knew they were so pretty? Mmm...artichokes...sounds good...getting hungrier...

Ohhh!!! Tractor sighting! This guy was crusing along at 60 km per hour, probably hauling silage...That´s one speedy farmer!

Challenges with urbanization...this beautiful farm was turned into a golf course. Golf and horse back riding are reserved for only the rich here due to the cost.

Then we visited an open air museum, similar to Colonial Williamsburg, where they have preserved historic farm buildings and a small village. WONDERFUL opportunity to relax and renew my spirits after a looooooooong day in the city of Frankfurt!!! Aaaaaaahhhhh......
Just a few pics...see more here...

Beautiful barn built in the 1700´s with a straw roof.

Inside one of the historic buildings was the shop of Alfons Grombien, a maker of bushel baskets. The bushel was used in Germany as a unit of measure until 1949, when grain began being measured in metric units.

Apparently when this house was built in 1711, people were very short. FYI- I´m about 5 feet 8 inches tall.

Windmill...stunning...but boy am I hungry...

At last, lunch, in a lovely open air courtyard beside the woods. Frau Connecticut and I split a meal of sausage with mustard sauce and potatoes...

...and we also each had apple juice mixed with sparkling mineral refreshing...

We were joined by a special guest waiting to pick up our bread crumbs.

And that´s what I did through lunch...more on the rest of the day later...
Thanks for stopping by my blog!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

One lovely meal caps off one long day in Germany

Sunset last night over the Atlantic Ocean.

My ride to Frankfurt.

I arrived in Frankfurt at 6:30 a.m. this morning. I spent the day at the airport people-watching and being reminded how much I am NOT into the skinny jean fad.
At long last, I met my travelling companions on our 4 o´clock train to Bonn.
The trip was lovely as our group chatted it up about our varying interests in agriculture and the scenery was breath-taking. The tracks wound along the Rhine River for the two hour trip. Perched on nearly every vineyard-covered hilltop was a "schloss" or castle, reminding me of how new North Dakota is as a state how much longer Germany has been "developed"...hmm...going to have to think more on that one another day.

We arrived in Bonn, the former capitol of Western Germany, and checked into our hotel, the Andreas Hermes Akademie. What a neat and tidy place, with very gracious hosts that handed each of us a pack of sheep-shaped gummy bears as we signed in. A big bonus to a weary traveller. Will have to find some more to take home to my kiddos.

The view from our hotel room.

Mr. Willi Kampmann, Director of International Affairs for the Deutscher Bauernverband (German Farmers Assn.) picked us up and all five of us piled into his car, quite smaller than the `Hi-Ho Diesel` or `Silver´, our family pick-ups. We went to a restaurant called `Bastei`, where we met Willi`s predecessor, Dr. Klaus Lotz.

View of the Rhine from the restaurant.

L to R: Herr Kampmann, Herr Lotz, Frau Connecticut, Herr Maryland ö

Over an amazing meal of a crisp salad with smoked salmon and lemon-caviar, we sipped Reisling, we discussed many of today´s agricultural issues while looking out over the sunset on the Rhine River and a ferry shuttling cars back and forth across the quickly flowing waters.
Lots of ideas were exchanged on farmer´s organization structure, risk management tools in agriculture, the animal rights movement, financial challenges for farmers, politics, and last but certainly not least, our shared passion for FOOD- producing it and eating it!

One LONG day, with a perfect happy ending....

A dessert menu in ENGLISH!!! Ö

oh, and did I mention the ice cream? Simply delectable!

I have now been awake since 7:00 a.m., yesterday. Good night world!