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06.06.2019 - Wolfgang Rudolph (Send email to Wolfgang Rudolph)

Ladies' doubles relies on digitization


Beginning of April 2019 in a six-hectare winter barley field in the Unstruttal (Free State of Thuringia, Germany). Taking a look over the stand, it is obvious that the culms have shot differently depending on the field section. Maria Klein steers her tractor with a fertilizer spreader attached to a rod next to the lane, dismounts and uses a small handheld device, the N-tester, to determine the current fertilizer requirements. The testing works as follows: she puts one of the latest grown leaf of 30 different plants, which are in the vicinity of the rod, into the device, making sure that the middle of the leaf lamina is in the measuring range. "You have to do it exactly, otherwise don't be surprised if the desired effect will not occur," says the 23-year-old with regards to the current discussion about the benefits of digitization in crop production.


Based on the chlorophyll concentration - in other words the nitrogen content of the plant - the so called 'N-Tester' determines the reference value to calibrate the Yara-N-Sensors®, which is mounted on the tractor top. Proceeding from the average nutrient demand, which we determined at the measuring point, the N-sensor then regulates the quantity of calcium ammonium nitrate to be delivered by the spreader for the second fertilizer application during the subsequent run across the grain field. Maria Klein has no doubts at all when it comes to the software planted in the on-board computer of her machine, which means she refrains from setting a minimum quantity that has to be emittet. "We are using this system and other tools from Agricon for the second year and are extremely satisfied," says the young farmer. The harvested quality, for example in terms of protein content, was significantly more level, which also makes the sale easier. In rapeseed, in particular, there is a saving in fertilizer.

Simone Klein and her daughter Maria examining the growth of barley culms in the shot phase of cereals (Photo: Carmen Rudolph)

Jumping in at the deep end after the wall came down

Maria Klein leads the farm together with her mother Simone as a GbR, which they founded in July 2017. In order to understand what motivates the two lady-farmers and why they trust so heavily on digitization, despite being a rather small company with only the spouse of Simone Klein and one employee as additional help, we have to take a look back: In 1990, mother Simone was about to finish her studies in agriculture at the University of Halle, when everything she knew and was used to changed completely by the fact that the wall came down. The state of her origin and upbringing ceased to exist, which meant a new life plan for the then 22-year-old, was required.

Growing up on the small farm of her parents in Bucha, today a district of the municipality of Kaiserpfalz in the Castle County (Saxony-Anhalt), the young woman had actually seen her future career in the largest agricultural enterprise in the region, which specialized in the production of seeds of public good (VEG ) Memleben. There were already definite agreements. But things turned out differently. Friends of the family, which were located in the western part of Germany, got their property handed back to them, so they offered 80 acres as leasehold. "But it was very important to them that the plots got to be farmed on a one-to-one basis in future," recalls Simone Klein. The freshly graduated farmer, whose parents were able to bring in their own 8 hectares, decided - together with her husband - to seize the opportunity. They asked in the village for more leases. In the end they were able to start their business with 228 ha. "It could have been more, but we were young and for the start so 228 ha came together. "We could have had more space at the time, but we were absolute beginners with a significant lack of technical equipment and a little overcome by the fear of our own courage," says the now 52-year-old.

As far as machinery and buildings were concerned, the company founders actually started from scratch. A special sponsorship of the country made it possible to acquire a basic equipment of machines for agriculture. There were also 2nd-hand-machines, such as trailers or combine harvesters like the E 514 from the GDR-combine for agriculture machinery 'progress'. They brought some warehouses to store agricultural machinery and crop just outside the village.


Maria Klein has been an enthusiast for agriculture, since she's been a little girl. In this New Holland T7060 she made her driver's license when she was 16 years old. (Photo: Carmen Rudolph)

Little rain and heterogeneous soil


After some experimentation with more or less feasible crop rotations, the company found its rhythm. Main fruit is wheat. Rapeseed and winter barley thrive on the 375 hectares of cultivated land.

The greening restrains are complied by quiescences and flower strips. They survived the drought year of 2018, "with a slap on the wrist". "Although rapeseed was really bad, but the higher crop prices compensated for the lower yields due to the extreme drought."
Over the years they have acquired a well maintained fleet, for example the Väderstad drill and short disc harrow, three New Holland tractors (T8.380, T7.270 and T7060) and a 30-meter Rauch fertilizer spreader. Two years ago, a self-propelled plant sprayer from Hardi with a working width of 30m was acquired. This machine does not only rely on support from the sky above to avoid leeway (twin system) it also works with a single noozle setting. "This way we avoid overlapping despite the fact that our plots usually have a unexpedient structure and we also save spray. With regard to the relatively low load, the device certainly has been doing its job for us for more than 15 years," says Simone Klein explaining the purchase. "In addition, the self-propelled truck also allows an application in larger grown oilseed rape," adds daughter Maria.

The peculiarities of the location include severe dry periods. The average annual rainfall is usually well below 500 mm. In order to minimize evaporation, the farm has not used the plow for 15 years. For the same reason, the entire straw that is distributed after threshing, remains on the fields. Another problem is the very heterogeneous soil. "The spectrum ranges from 30 to almost 100 on the soil scale, sometimes even within one plot," informs Simone Klein.

The two farmers wanted to counteract the resulting varying quality of the crop which also causes storage risks. They wanted a manuring according to the actual nutrient requirements of the plants on the various field areas. They attended a seminar on this subject at precision farming specialist Agricon.


Switching to precision fertilization of partial areas

This event ultimately provided the impetus for the Klein arable farm to consistently apply fertilising practices on specific areas during seed preparation as well as in the management of the crops. The reason for this is probably to be found in the timing of the seminar. Shortly before, the GbR had been founded. Maria, who had been enthusiastic about agriculture from an early age, had a tractor driving licence in her pocket at the age of 16 and rode through the village with the 200 hp New Holland T7060, was about to complete her agricultural studies at the University of Halle, where she had also been taught a lot about smart farming. But it was not only her, but also her mother who thought the explanations of Agricon boss Peer Leithold on the possibilities of sub-area specific fertilisation were conclusive. "His mantra at the seminar, 'We don't want to fertilize the soil, we want to feed the plant', corresponded exactly to our goals and expectations," said the farmers.

After further consultation appointments, they finally agreed to purchase a Yara-N-Sensors® and related services such as the use of the cloud-based software agriPORT, which manages the data for the fertiliser applications, creates the spreading maps and checks the status of the work. The investment was helped by a state support programme for young farmers, which the GbR was able to take advantage of, because Maria Klein holds the majority of the shares with 51 percent.


Maria Klein points out the influence of the weather on the N-supply of the plants and how the optimal date for the fertilization can be determined from the graphical representation in the program agriPORT. (Photo: Carmen Rudolph)

Confidence about the benefits of the investment

Maria is in charge of the site-specific fertilization. Back in April 2017 she started scanning the crop just before the end of the vegetation phase with the help of the N-Sensor. Based on those values for nitrogen and the help of the software provided called agriPORT she was able to create fertilizer application maps for the spring. The amounts for the second to fourth fertilizer inputs were then controlled by the N-sensor according to the method described above while running with the spreader

through the different plots. "Here in particular oilseed rape showed that the plants were very differently supplied with nitrogen and how the system promptly took this into account when spreading, in which it spreads more in some places and nothing at all in others, we were already impressed", says the young farmer.

In order to be able to take account of the respective yield potential of the soil when calculating area-specific deviations for soil and nitrogen fertilization, a sampling and analysis of mixed soil samples in a grid of three hectares took place in the summer of 2018. The results of those tests and numbers were then included in agriPORT to enhance.

From development stage EC 30, every three to four days Maria checks the progress of nitrogen uptake by the plants with the N-tester on the grain plots and thus determines the optimal time for fertilizer application. "You can not let it get to you if the farmers around you are already using the fertilizer spreader," states Simone Klein. Both farmers are convinced of the benefits of site-specific nitrogen and nitrogen fertilization and are on the right track long-term stable yields. "Sure, that's a considerable investment for a company the size of ours," admits Simone Klein, "but this may be an advantage over large farms with many employees. We're really focused and accurate measuring conscientiously and taking advantage of all the adjustments and customization that the system offers, so it may work just fine for us."


In the arable farm of Simone and Maria Klein two generations act in concert. Compensating for uneven harvest quality due to highly heterogeneous soils, both women farmers rely on site-specific fertilization and show that precision farming can also work for small and medium-sized agricultural enterprises.

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