Farmers of Europe #001 - English version

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CORONA AND AGRICULTURE The impact on our industry FROM A DESK TO THE FARM, ow strawberries changed Matija’s life



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Milking near Brussels Bart Vanderstraeten (38) runs a mixed farm with his wife Marijke (31) in Merchtem, a village just outside Brussels (Belgium). In addition to dairy cattle and arable farming...

rom a desk to the farm Matija Brinjak, 29, started out as a medical technician. This year he will harvest his third crop of strawberries. He will also add vegetables to his rotation. Here is the story...

25 years of driving a Vario Stepless driving with tractors has become a habit. In fact, so many farmers are used to it that manufacturers have started to develop all-mechanical transmissions that have all the...

Corona and agriculture This is the first time, for all of us, that we are experiencing a pandemic like coronavirus. The impact was difficult to estimate but measures had to be taken and choices made. Now that the pandemic ...

Vervaet Dutch company Vervaet is definitely the reference in Europe for slurry and manure processing or beet harvesting. The company alternately produces beet harvesters and manure trikes...

Electrical weed control in fruit and wine plantations. Until recently, if you wanted to control weeds in fruit plantations or vineyards, your choices were either pesticides or ...

Automated planting with Agriplanter The development of fully-automated transplanters for plants with a root ball is continually evolving. Belgian company Agriplant's transplanter machines are just one example...

When the EU itself starts to engage in gold-plating, aren’t we making matters needlessly complicated? The European Commission recently presented its Farm-to-Fork and biodiversity strategies for 2030...

European green deal, it’s the economy stupid! While it seems appropriate these days to dispense with any sense of nuance in order to make a point, I would like to strike a balance between the different views on the green deal ...

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Milking near Brussels

"Urbanisation is a big problem in Flanders!" Bart Vanderstraeten (38) runs a mixed farm with his wife Marijke (31) in Merchtem, a village just outside Brussels (Belgium). In addition to dairy cattle and arable farming, there are also farm camps for children and team activities for companies. Various home-grown crops are sold in the farm shop, when it is closed customers can still go to the vending machines on the street side. Kim Schoukens Antoon Vanderstraeten



Bart is the 4th generation at the "Het Koeweidehof", as the farm was baptized. Bart's parents, who are still active on the farm, had an extensive herd of Belgian whiteblue beef cattle, various arable crops and in the winter ground chicory was cultivated. Bart, however, took the step to dairy cattle. "Dairy cattle provides a fairly high balance per hectare," says Bart. "Arable crops are seasonal and are more volatile on balance per hectare. The investment in the barn and equipment was not small, but if the bill is correct it can be justified." Starting a new dairy farm is no small task. Luckily Marijke already had experience with milking at home and her mother came by regularly to help Bart learn the tricks of the trade.

Milking with the robot Bart and Marijke immediately opted for a robot during the construction of the new barn. In June 2012 the construction of the barn started, the first cows arrived in November. In 2015, after the end of the milk quota, the herd expanded to about 120 heads and a second robot was added, again a Lely Astronaut A4. "In the beginning I went to work full time," Bart explains, "difficult to combine with traditional morning and evening milking. We started a new farm, so

we were able to control everything. We had no experience with traditional milking, so we were able to compare all the pros and cons in an objective way." For Bart, a big advantage of robotic milking is the continuous data that is collected, not only during milking but also during the day, real time, when walking around or ruminating. In traditional milking you look at the udder, while the robot displays a mass of statistics. "Before you effectively diagnose mastitis, a lot of other symptoms have already passed that you may not have noticed, such as reduced cow activity, reduced ruminant activity, mild fever and so on. The robot measures this much faster, so I can seclude the cow and treat her with light medication instead of antibiotics. I only want to use those when there's really no other way. The cow is also milked 4 times a day instead of 2 or 3 times to relieve the pressure on the udder. In this way I prevent the cow from becoming too sick and limit the loss of milk. The loss of milk due to mastitis can quickly reach 750 litres!" The peace and quiet in the barn of Bart and Marijke is striking. "I'm convinced that I know my animals better than someone who milks traditionally, the hours they spend in the parlour, I spend between my ladies in the barn." Bart and Marijke's cows give between 34 and 36 litres per day

on average. They are top athletes with whom nothing can go wrong. By regularly checking out the animals and with the statistics of the robots, the animals can be followed up very quickly. "You can't let a crippled cow walk around for a week! They go directly into the hoof trimming box so I can take care of them as soon as possible. Running on a limp quickly costs 1 or 2 litres milk per day. With a quick follow up, I can see results the day after", Bart explains.

Feeding with the robot In addition to the Lely milking robots, the Dutch manufacturer also supplied a complete feeding robot. "With the expansion of the herd, the feed mixer became too small. I had to fill 5 wagons and was spending 2.5 hours a day just feeding all the animals on the farm. I looked at a few tracks, such as a new combination for myself, but also a larger self-propelled feed mixer to be used by others as a form of agricultural contracting," Bart remembers. "At that time, I could still count on external help, but when that help fell away and due to lack of interest from other farmers, I also put aside the idea of contract feeding. During a chat with Lely, the concept of robot feeding came up. After some calculations, I went for that solution." Automatic feeding not only gives Bart satisfied cows, but also


The cows are automatically fed by the Lely Vector. Both own grown products and those of colleagues are sold in the farm vending machine.

extra time. Twice a week the feed kitchen has to be replenished, the rest of the time the robot will take care of the feeding itself. In that way, there's always fresh food in front of the fence.

Flax as a new arable crop The Koeweidehof also has an extensive arable farming branch. Approximately 160 hectares of land are cultivated, half of which is used for roughage production for dairy and beef cattle. The other half is used for, among other things, potatoes, onions, cereals, corn and, since 2019, also flax. "Urbanisation in Flanders is making agricultural land scarce. In addition, land can be bought by anyone. For example, many plots of land are bought by people outside the sector, often occasional purchases as an investment. Such people can pay considerably more than we can as young farmers. We then have to rent the land again at often high prices. It is then crucial to look for crops that make the high rents justifiable" Marijke's parents also have an arable farming branch on their farm. In 2016, a large potato


storage shed was built so that the young farmer himself could also start storing potatoes in this shed. The intention is that in the future the company would evolve to 2 locations. Dairy cattle at the Koeweidehof, the arable farm in Londerzeel, 14 kilometres away. When Bart's parents stop farming, the beef cattle and the ground chicory will probably go out. The expansion of Brussels and the surrounding villages is putting increasing pressure on agricultural land. For the (young) farmers, their land is an economic fact, but the citizens see the fields as an opportunity for relaxation. Buying up land by citizens to take it out of agriculture, for example by turning it into gardens, also causes rising prices. "Within Europe, every region has its problems or peculiarities. With us, it's urbanisation and its consequences. I hope that the competent people within the EU will really take this into account in the future", Bart still sighs.

Biogas From the beginning Bart made the choice to extract biogas from

his manure. Because the company was started from 0, the installation could be optimally integrated. For example, the floor of the barn has been adapted to remove the manure as quickly as possible by means of a slurry scraper. "The milking and feeding robots demand their share of power. The price of electricity has risen by more than 70% in just a few years; for a company like mine that would mean an enormous increase in the cost per litre of milk produced. By fermenting the manure in a Biolectric pocket digester, I create my own green energy for my company" The first small digester was built together with the stable in 2012. Last winter it was replaced by a slightly larger 22 kW installation. The cow manure is transported via a scraper into a small pit where it is pumped into the digester. The fermented manure is pumped from there to the manure storage. The collected gas is converted into electricity by an engine. Bart uses the digestate as a fertilizer on his grassland and fields. On holidays with young farmers Bart and Marijke got to know each


Biolectric's pocket digester converts the manure into electricity.

Milking is also done automatically. A choice that was made during the construction of the new barn.

The Koeweidehof also has an extensive arable farming branch

Approximately 160 hectares of land are cultivated, half of which is used for roughage production. The other half is used for, among other things, potatoes, onions, grain corn.

other during a trip of the Groene Kring, a Flemish association for young farmers in which they were both active. "While traveling in Germany, we visited John Deere's factory, among other things," remembers Bart. "I had just graduated and I didn't think about becoming a farmer at all. I started working at the Aveve Group where I sold crop protection products, among other things. When my parents started talking about quitting the farm, it began to itch.... It would have been a shame to lose the work of my parents and grandparents." Bart and Marijke both followed a higher agricultural education. Marijke's background at home made the choice for dairy cattle easier. The dairy cattle also made it easier for her to find her place on the new farm. She also introduced the farm camps for children and team building FarmFun for companies at the Koeweidehof.

Difference on the rules between EU and Flanders The impact of Europe's regulations on a company like Bart's cannot

be underestimated. In addition, Belgian and Flemish rules also apply. For example, when it comes to greening, the different rules have to be taken into account. "We have a mixed farm, so we automatically have enough different crops. This is different for farmers with only dairy cattle and the associated maize and grassland, who then have to look for a third crop. The differences in rules often cause confusion. For example, the descriptions of "catch crop" are different for the local Flemish legislator than for the EU. The VLM (Vlaamse LandMaatschappij) doesn't allow to have leguminous plants in the mixture, whereas the EU rules allow this. This makes it extra difficult for us!"

Bart & Marijke jointly operate the Koeweidehof, a mixed farm in Merchtem (Belgium), just outside Brussels. In November 20012 they started a new dairy farm. For both milking and feeding they opted resolutely for robots. From the manure of the cows, biogas is made which is converted into electricity for the farm. You can follow the Koeweidehof on facebook


From a desk to the farm, how strawberries changed Matija’s life Matija Brinjak, 29, started out as a medical technician. This year he will harvest his third crop of strawberries. He will also add vegetables to his rotation. Here is the story of a first generation farmer in Veliki Banovac, Croatia.

Sanja Rapaić - Agroklub Matija Brinjak



60 days after planting, Matija harvested 250 kg of sweet strawberries, his first harvest ever.

“Let's not look at each other as competition, the more we grow, the less imports there will be!”

In his small village, Veliki Banovac, in the vicinity of Pakrac, Matija Brinjak is the only farmer that grows fruit. Without any experience he started growing strawberries. He financed everything with his own funds, and the effort invested in strawberries paid off in the first harvest. The young farmer harvested 2 tons of sweet fruits. This year, he is expanding production to watermelon and lettuce, and his plans are not over. "If someone had told me ten years ago that I would be farming, I would have answered 'no way.' Now I’m growing fruits and vegetables on my open-air farm, ”says Matija. In his family, Matija is the first generation of farmers, as he puts it, "the one who broke the ice." Although employed by the Inclusion Promotion Association in Pakrac, Matija fell in love with outdoor produce two years ago when he decided to try fruit growing.

The yield of two tonnes of strawberries exceeded expectations “In late 2017, I opened a small family farm, and in the spring of 2018, I planted the first 4,000 strawberry seedlings. Although strawberries

are planted in mid-August, I decided to experiment with spring planting and planted Clery and Joly strawberries in early April. Already after 60 days I had my first harvest. The yield was 250 kg of strawberries, which exceeded my expectations as it is known that strawberries have to be well rooted first. “The first year I only irrigated the soil, without adding nutrition,” recalls Matija. The first steps were difficult for Matija because he lacked experience and knowledge. Next to running the farm, he spent a lot of time seeking expert advice and learning the trade. The hard work payed off, last year the Matija family farm had their first real strawberry harvest. "Considering the number of seedlings and the weather conditions being extremely unfavourable for strawberries, I am more than pleased with last year's crop. We picked 1,600 kg of first class strawberries and 400 kg of second class strawberries. This is a great yield from an area of 2,000 square meters. We planted eight rows, each 85 meters long, almost 700 meters of total length,” says the young farmer. Next to the strawberries, Matija is tackling new challenges this year.


Matija is the only small farmer in his area that grows fruit and vegetables.

Watermelons in western Slavonia "Strawberries remain our most important crop, but we are looking in to expanding our crops. We will try our luck with growing watermelons and lettuce. We plan to continue to increase production, but in a context where we can do all the work within the family, ”says Matija, whose wife, parents and brother work at the farm. During harvest season, there are always two to three extra pairs of hands to help . They do not plan to hire workers for now. They started the whole business with their own funds, which, says Matija, was a big amount, so it will take time some time to see the return on their investment. "Since I do not have enough arable land or a sufficient number of seedlings, I am not eligible to apply for any of the measures in the Rural Development Program. So everything I do, I finance myself. Fencing and securing the field was a big part of the investment. Next to that, I bought low tunnels, plastic foil, the strawberry plants and other materials needed to start our farm. At the end, the amount I put in starting our operation went up to several thousands of euros,” says Matija.


Fresh strawberries straight from the farm Although many farmers complain that selling products directly from the field or farm is a problem, Matija thinks otherwise. "Strawberries are a beloved fruit, everything I produce, I sell at my doorstep. Often there is only 2 hours between picking the strawberries and selling them to the customer. The fruits can mature on the plants, instead of being picked in a green state and ripened in big storage facilities.” Growing fruits and vegetables in open air comes with one big disadvantage. As a farmer, you can’t control the weather. Matija is looking into growing strawberries in a greenhouse to avoid bad weather conditions. This spring he invested in a 90 square meter greenhouse in which he will grow Clery strawberry plants, an early producing variety. “The greenhouse will contain at least 2.000 strawberry plants, planted in gutters and watered using drip irrigation. I also want to invest in another smaller greenhouse of about 70 square meters for lettuce, peppers and tomatoes,” explains Matija. The investment is planned in steps, due to the amount of money that is needed.

The ultimate goal, he says, is an annual production of 2,500 kg of strawberries using 5,000 strawberry plants, 2,500 kg of watermelon and 500 kg of lettuce grown outdoors. "If my finances allow me to increase production, I think of greenhouse production in the first place because outdoor production is too much of a risk," says the young farmer. He proudly points out that young people do not leave his small town. Within one kilometre there are 5 to 6 family farms active in the town of Veliki Banovac. "Most farmers from this area are engaged in arable farming. For now, I am the only one who is growing fruit, and as of this year, also in vegetable growing. If there are farmers who want to experiment with growing strawberries, they are free to contact me for tips. I spent a year collecting information and learning and I would to share my knowledge with colleagues,” he says.

Own produce above imports When moving into this business, Matija visited a dozen farms to obtain at least some useful information, advice or guidance through conversations with seasoned growers, but did not find any goodwill.


Matija can count on his wife Maja and the rest of his family for help and support.

"I had a hard time getting the information, so I had to learn almost everything myself. I want such a bad relationship between domestic farmers to change. We do not need to look at each other as competition because the more quality our own farmers grow, the less imported products will be on the market. Lower prices for imported fruits and vegetables are not always a draw for customers. For example, last season strawberries were sold at retail chains at a price of 10 kuna per kilogram (€1,34/kg), while the price of my strawberries was 25 kuna (€3,34/kg). Still, everyone who tried them became loyal customers, who are coming back for more,” says Matija. The difference between strawberries picked 14 days ago, while still green, and matured in cold storage and homegrown, fresh strawberry picked 2 hours ago is incomparable, and customers taste the difference. That’s why they are coming back to Matija’s farm. According to Matija, the price of fruits and vegetables is a much less important factor than quality.

EU help is needed For Matija, publicity is an important issue. Although he sells all of his harvest in the booth in front of his house, a larger reach would mean

2.5 tonnes of strawberries are sold directly to the end customers.

The strawberries are sold at home in a stall he built himself.

more opportunities to sell. As his farm is to small to qualify for EU funding the young farmer wonders if the EU has no other possibilities to help small farmers like himself. A possibility would be more handsdown help like publicity campaigns for local fruits and vegetables or a network to spread knowledge. “I started out with nothing but my own money, no bank loans or EU funding. This make me vulnerable. I gathered quite some knowledge during the previous years but in the end, if I run out of money, I will have to stop with my small farm”, Matija explains. “I understand that large corporations have easier access to funding because they have a team of lawyers working for them, but eventually it’s young farmers like me that provide a future for the rural areas in Europe.”

Matija Brinjak (29) is a young farmer in Veliki Banovac, in the vicinity of Pakrac, Croatia. 3 years ago he started growing strawberries, this year he will also be growing lettuce and watermelons. He farms on 1,2 hectares of sloping ground. Together with his family he harvested 2,5 ton of strawberries last year, all of which are sold at their doorstep. The young farmer is planning to invest in greenhouses to reduce the risk of bad weather on his crops. You can follow Matija on Facebook Source: Agroklub


25 years of Fendt Vario Stepless driving with tractors has become a habit. In fact, so many farmers are used to it that manufacturers have started to develop all-mechanical transmissions that have all the characteristics of a variable transmission. Twenty-five years ago, nobody could have surmised that the introduction of the Fendt Vario would have such an impact. But the groundwork for the Vario transmission was laid much earlier. Antoon Vanderstraeten Antoon Vanderstraeten, Luc Wittewrongel, André Xhonneux, Kevin Vervoort, Fabrikant The story of the Fendt Vario starts with Hans Marshall, a pioneering engineer, who worked in the Marktoberdorf plant. Marshall was toying with the idea of developing a transmission that could distribute the engine’s full power to the wheels, without loss and without engine torque interruption when switching between gears. The new transmission combined hydro-mechanical drive technology. The idea evolved and Marshall submitted an 18-page dossier in which he discussed the principle behind the new transmission in elaborate detail. Fendt was awarded patent no. 2335629 on 13 July 1973. Ten years later, after a lot of tinkering and testing, the company finally completed its first prototype. In 1986, it was scaled up to an industrial project. The project was led by


Hans Marshall and Richard Heindl. The first working prototypes of the Vario transmission were integrated in Favorit 600 tractors. Unfortunately, Hans Marshall died during this period. The development of the new transmission also prompted a need for parts that had not yet been developed. Initially this posed a problem as Fendt’s suppliers had neither the knowledge, nor the machinery for the intricate work that was required. Fendt therefore decided to invest in the required machinery itself, gathering a team of experienced mechanics so that the parts could be produced in-house. This is one of the reasons why the Vario transmissions are still produced in the brand’s own factory. The first real field tests with the new Vario technology were done

using an 824 Favorit, which was fitted with the new Vario transmission. The tractor set to work, with a 7-furrow plough, a 6-metre wide mower, a harrow, and a tipper. The tests went on day and night. During the ensuing winter months, the test tractor was used in combination with a dumper in a mine. As time went by, the transmission was continually adjusted. At the end of 1993, the new technology was subjected to a comparative test. A Fendt 824 Turboshift and an 824 Vario were used for the same job, under the same circumstances, with the same driver. The outcome? After ploughing 1,000 hectares, the Vario consumed 3,500 litres less diesel! Other tests were subsequently performed, with different combinations, amounting to 40,000 hours of testing.


The Fendt 926 Vario was finally revealed to competitors and visitors at the 1995 Agritechnica trade show.

926 Vario and ML200 After the introduction in 1995, the Fendt 900 Vario series was launched to market one year later. The first 900 series comprised four models, with engine power ratings in the range of 160 (Favorit 916) to 260 hp (Favorit 926). Under the hood, Fendt installed a MAN D0826 6.8 l six-cylinder turbo-charged engine with intercooler. The Vario transmission had two ranges, from 0 to 36 km/h in the first range and maximum 50 km/u in the second range. The electronically-controlled transmission facilitated the elimination of the gear levers from the cab, which were replaced with a joystick. This was another major innovation, that Fendt pioneered.

The Fendt Vario is a popular tractor for soil dumpers. This 926 Vario is still used on a daily basis.

The first Vario transmission was assigned type number ML200, as a tribute to Hans Marshall. The box is built around a split power line, which supplies power to the hydraulic and mechanical transmission components with a planetary gear set. The ring gear powers the hydraulic components, the satellite gears transmit power to the sun wheel. This gear in turn supplies power to the mechanical A new 942 was also featured in Steeno’s comprehensive demo.

The 900 series retained its rugged looks across generations.

Old but not worn. The first generation of Varios is still put to the test!



900-reeks Gen6 is


The 1000th Fendt 1000 was


transmissions have since been


produced whopping 250,000 Vario produced.






Launch of the 1000 Vario, with which Fendt broke through the 500 hp barrier. The new 800 and 900 Vario series followed one year later Fendt launches 2 new Vario 500 Vario The Fendt 939 Vario is launched to market. Introduction of the 936 Vario, the most powerful Fendt tractor at the time.


launched a complete Vario series, comprising 11 models,


ranging from 86 to 270 hp. The Fendt 700 Vario series was launched. Presentation of the 1995

The front wheels were powered by the ML 200 transmission using a mechanical transmission on the rear axle. The coupling between both axles could be engaged and disengaged from the cab.

series, the 300 Vario and the

With the “Vario 2000”, Fendt

first Fendt 926 Vario at Agritechnica In the autumn, the 824 Favorit Vario was compared with a 824


components. The hydraulic pump, which is powered by the ring gear, has a maximum swing angle of 45° for forward gear and 30° for reverse gear. Two hydraulic motors ensure that the tractor starts moving from a standstill. The faster the tractor driver, the faster the hydraulic power decreases, and the faster the mechanical power increases. The tractor is 100% mechanically driven as it hits maximum speed.

942 Vario and TA300 Following the launch of the 926 Vario, Fendt took a bold leap. Twenty-five years later, the risk proved absolutely worth it. The newest addition to the Vario family is the new 900 series that was launched in July 2019. For the first time, the top of the range model, the 942 Vario, has broken the 400 hp barrier of the 900 series. The entire series comprises 5 models, starting with the 930 Vario with 296 hp and ending with the 942 Vario 415 hp. There is a minor overlap with the 1000 series, the 1038 Vario has an output of 396 hp. The VarioDrive concept that had been previously implemented in the 1000 series has now also been applied to the 900 series. Thanks to the VarioDrive the engine’s power

is distributed to the front and rear axles. The basic premise of the VarioDrive TA300 transmission is the same as the ML200. The MAN 9 l 6-cylinder motor powers the hydraulic pump, via a planetary gear set, which supplies the two hydraulic motors with oil. The oil flow is split between the hydraulic motors with a T-coupler that acts as a simple differential. At speeds under 25 km/h, the 900 Vario is permanently in 4-wheel drive mode. When the speed rises above 10 km/h, the front axle drive decreases and more power is transmitted to the rear axle. As is the case with the ML200 transmission, the mechanical transmission ratio increases in line with the vehicle speed. Besides the split drive of the front and rear axles, both axles are still connected by means of a strictly mechanical transmission. This minimises slip with Fendt Torque Distribution. When the transmission control system detects slippage of one wheel or both wheels of an axle, the mechanical coupling between the two is closed causing both axles to work together and eliminating the slippage. The TA300 transmission has one range that can go stepless from 0 to 60 km/h.

Favorit Turboshift. The advantages of the Vario transmission were obvious!



First extensive field tests with a 824 Favorit, fitted with a Vario transmission, in


Czech fields. The first transmissions were integrated in Favorit 600 test


tractors. First working prototype


Patent no. 2335629 for the fundamentals of a transmission with hydromechanical drive technology.


The design of the first Fendt Vario series was remarkably similar to that of the existing 800 Favorit series. The straight hood with a slight curve at the front contributed to the sturdy and rugged looks of these tractors. The wide rear fenders with rounded corners only enhanced the tractor’s imposing silhouette. Whereas the exhaust still protruded through the hood of the 800 Favorit series, it was moved to the right A pillar of the cab in the first Varios. To the left, Fendt provided an inlet tube for fresh (dust-free) air. The position of the exhaust and inlet of the also enhanced the rugged, sturdy looks of the tractor. Another characteristic of both types was the sound of the engine. Connoisseurs can recognise the combination of the heavy engines and the whistle of the turbo from afar. The combination of their rugged looks and the distinctive sound of their engine has turned both these types into icons in their league.


The newest generation on show during a beet harvesting demo.

This Fendt 926 Vario was the first of its kind to be imported in Belgium. HervĂŠ Mylle sold it to a farmer in Wallonia, who subsequently traded it in for a 936 Vario. A tractor with a backstory!

Left: the ML200 transmission of a first-generation Vario. To the right, the last-generation VarioDrive.


926 Vario Gen1

942 Vario Gen6


256 hp

415 hp


MAN 6 cylinder 6,8 l.

MAN 6 cylinder 9 l.




Lift capacity

9.180 kg

9.750 kg

Tyres front

540/65 R34

IF 710/60 R 34

Tyres rear

710/70 R38

IF 900/60 R 42


8.250 kg

11.300 kg


Corona and agriculture

The impact on our industry 16


This is the first time, for all of us, that we are experiencing a pandemic like coronavirus. The impact was difficult to estimate but measures had to be taken and choices made. Now that the pandemic is more or less under control, the time has come to take stock. What are the consequences for our sector? Antoon Vanderstraeten Antoon Vanderstraeten & Fabrikanten

In December 2019, several people fell ill in Wuhan (China), with symptoms of pneumonia. One and half months later, the first cases in Europe were diagnosed and then it went extremely fast. In just a few days, the infections increased by thousands at a time around Europe. On 11 March 2020, the WHO officially recognised the outbreak of COVID-19 as a pandemic. A few days later, most European countries made the decision to close their national borders as part of a lockdown. The agricultural sector, and its related sectors, was considered a key sector, in which work could continue. Initially this meant that not much changed for farmers, although the restrictions had a number of consequences, nonetheless. Some manufacturers of machines and materials chose to close their plants to prevent possible contamination and the spread of the disease. In many cases, the choice was prompted by the rules that were imposed by the different countries.

In the field As most grains, rapeseed, and roughage are sown before winter, the pandemic had no impact on this. Nor did it have much of an impact for crops that are sown and planted in spring. Because this is done mechanically, with machines, farmers and contractor workers were able to respect the necessary social distancing, ensuring that work could continue without too many problems. The situation was quite different in the fruit and vegetable sector, however,

where workers often sit very close together. Many Western and Southern European companies depend on Eastern European workers for the planting and harvesting of their crops. Suddenly they had no workers to rely on, because the borders were closed and due to the fear that the workers would become infected. Companies, often assisted by national or regional federations, tried to find workers on the national level, but many vacancies remained unfilled. The national governments of Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands supported them, calling on people to step up. To avoid jeopardising the strawberry and asparagus harvests, among others, the German government enacted special measures to transport 40,000 seasonal workers to Germany by plane. The special rules also meant, among other things, that these workers were quarantined on the farms where they worked and that they were not allowed to have any contact with other workers. In Belgium and the Netherlands, an airline called The Aviation Factory operated special charter flights to fly in Romanian workers from Cluj and Iasi to Eindhoven to assist Belgian and Dutch horticulturalists. “The fact that Europe chose to let seasonal workers fly in again fairly quickly is positive in itself. Unfortunately, there were differences between the various Member States�, says Jo Lambrecht, Manager Sales & Marketing at Belorta, one of the largest cooperatives in Europe, with 1,100 Belgian and Dutch affiliated growers.


The asparagus harvest seemed compromised at the start of the season, but the situation quickly stabilized.

“Based on the supply figures, we can conclude that the majority of the affiliated growers were able to maintain their production during the lockdown. The impact of the weather seems much greater than that of the pandemic, I think. In terms of product marketing, the first weeks were a real rollercoaster. We noticed an increase in turnover (up to 30%) during the first week of the lockdown because people started to hoard. This happened in Belgium and abroad (Belorta exports 55% of its products, ed.). Consumer sales soon stabilised, albeit at a higher level than in previous years, because people were forced to cook themselves as all the restaurants were forced to close. The demand for packaged products also increased substantially, probably because people were afraid of contamination.” There were a number of logistics and transport problems in the early days of the lockdown too. Trucks could not cross the border, but these rules were soon relaxed on the European level. For more distant destinations, the lack of containers proved problematic, as these were stuck in Chinese ports that had come to a standstill,


The activities in greenhouses was able to continue despite the pandemic.

as did the fact that cargo planes were grounded. The additional turnover that was generated during those first weeks of the crisis does not mean that European farmers and horticulturalists did not suffer as a result of the crisis. A quick check reveals that a large group is being paid a lower price for its products, while raw materials such as seeds, animal feed and medicines have increased in price. This has consequences for the company’s turnover, undermining the company’s desire or opportunity to invest. In addition, the situation also caused a lot of stress and worries. Professor Sebastian Lakner, who lectures in Agricultural Economics at the University of Rostock, thinks the corona crisis will have a number of consequences for the future. “This crisis has revealed a number of problems in terms of working conditions in the agricultural sector”, he says. “In Germany, for example, there were three slaughterhouses with high infection rates. Further investigation revealed that the workers lived together in

poor conditions. In addition to this, many farms and slaughterhouses engage in rather questionable practices, registering workers as self-employed persons or charging them high prices for the accommodation that they provide. The German government therefore banned the use of subcontractors in this sector from January 2021 onwards.” So far other claims, such as the fact that agriculture would be seriously affected or that this would compromise the EU’s food supply, have not been confirmed. Lakner did point out that that mutual trade and well-functioning supply chains played an important role in securing supplies during the lockdown. World trade issues therefore still have all the potential to become critical if some exporting countries decide to impose export restrictions. Finally, the reform of the CAP after 2020 will become an important topic for discussion in the months to come. The EU Commission has presented its biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies. Both have major implications for agricultural policy. Currently attempts are being made to take environmental themes off the


All manufacturers implemented special measures to prevent transmission of the virus.

Several manufacturers, including JCB, used the freed production capacity to make tools to battle Covid-19.

agenda, citing the COVID-19 crisis as a reason, but the published facts do not support this argument. And while this argument is largely made up, it is fair to say that the climate and biodiversity crisis continues unabated. So there is a lot at stake for the next reform. Currently it is completely unclear whether the reform of the CAP will be an ambitious one, or whether we will have a business-as-usual CAP in the coming years.

In factories Whereas the direct impact of coronavirus was not that substantial in the field, the situation was completely different in the plants that produce agricultural machinery and accessories for this sector. Because a number of European manufacturers work with Chinese suppliers, production was delayed in various plants, during the first weeks of the crisis, such as at JCB, due to an expected lack of parts. Shortly after the WHO labelled the corona outbreak a pandemic, a number of manufacturers made the decision to close down their factories. “On 20 March, our

CNHi closed all of its factories at the start of the pandemic. Today, all production sites are active again, with the necessary precautions.

management made the decision to suspend the majority of our European assembly operations, in light of the supply chain constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic”, says Silvia Kaltofen, PR Manager Case IH Europe at CNH Industrial. Since then the majority of our plants are operational again, but the health and safety of our workers continues to be a priority when making decisions about suspending or restarting assembly activities. To this end, our company is following all national directives by implementing stringent measures. We continue to share and leverage internal best practices globally. This latest decision was reached in agreement with all the social partners in the countries in which our company operates.” Spanish company Ovlac also suspended all production. “Because of the Spanish government’s measures, we were forced to close our factory for eight business days”, says Pablo Gutierrez, Director of Communication at Ovlac. “The consequences of this closure, and of the coronavirus crisis as a whole, are negligible for us. None of our

employees fell ill, our suppliers continued to supply us with parts and orders have also picked up again, returning to normal levels after a minor dip during the first few weeks. If we have learned anything from this crisis, it is that teleworking is a workable option for our company. It enables us to work more efficiently while also saving time because people no longer lose time commuting to and from the office.” According to Gutierrez, the pandemic will not have any major consequences for the future. “We think that life will return 90% back to the known “normal” after a few months. Whether this is wise, is an altogether different question.” Other companies that completely shut down production include JCB, Kuhn, Merlo, Deutz-Fahr and Manitou. A number of other manufacturers were forced to reduce their production. Claas slowed down production, while Agco was forced to close its Marktoberdorf and Asbach-Bäumenheim plants due to a lack of parts, while other plants were able to continue producing. John Deere’s engine plant in Saran (France) was forced to


The Belgian company AVR was able to continue its production during the pandemic.

suspend production, which had an impact on the rest of the production line. A number of manufacturers used the freed-up production capacity to produce safety equipment. JCB produced steel enclosures for ventilators in its cab factory in Staffordshire. Both Massey Ferguson in Beauvais (France) and John Deere used their 3D printers to print face shields and fastening material for these face shields. By mid to end April, operations resumed in most plants, in some cases after extensive disinfection. However, there were other manufacturers who chose not to close their plants, where production continued. “During this pandemic, it became clear that the agricultural sector was a key sector. As a manufacturer in this sector, we made every effort to remain operational”, says Tine Coopman, Marketing & Communications Manager at AVR. “The pandemic did not have a substantial impact on our company. We had already received most of our orders in the period between November and January. None of the contracts were cancelled. We had a few more absentees than usual during the early weeks of the outbreak, but none of them had the virus. To ensure our employees’ health and safety, we took the necessary measures and ensured that everyone followed them to a tee. We have been implementing the new guidelines that were issued by the government for quite some time now. We have enforced minimum occupancy in our offices. Employees who can work remotely work from home. Our production facilities are spacious, ensuring that our production workers do not have to come near each other. Company visits are the exception,


but we enforced the COVID measures for this. We will continue to do this for as long as necessary. Obviously, we embraced digital technology. We held a digital press conference, which was a new way of working for us, even though we are machine addicts.” Slovenian company SIP was also able to keep production going. “Fortunately, the corona outbreak did not hit Slovenia as much as it did other European countries. We were therefore able to continue producing without interruptions”, says Mihael Miheljak, Marketing Director at SIP. All the measures we took to protect our employees proved successful since the onset of the crisis. The SIP plant did not have to suspend production at any time. As we rely on European suppliers for the most part, we didn’t experience any disruptions in terms of parts deliveries. In fact, we even almost used 100% of our production capacity during this period. Several trade shows and demos had to be cancelled, however, due to the travel restrictions that were imposed. Field support was also disrupted by this measure.” It is unclear whether the pandemic will have long-term consequences for manufacturers. The pandemic did change these companies’ views on how to do business. “Our management is of course evaluating the consequences of this crisis on our business on an ongoing basis”, says Silvia Kaltofen (CNHi). “Based on the evolution of the pandemic and the overall outcome, they will decide on the necessary actions at the appropriate time. We have of course modelled a variety of possible outcomes, so we will be ready to respond in a timely manner.” She

adds that “it is difficult to evaluate the situation at the moment, due to its very fluid nature, but we believe that the situation will return to more normal levels in due course”, Kaltofen adds. “The measures have a domino effect. Due to the compulsory closure of hospitality firms, the market for potatoes for chips collapsed, which put a strain on all the underlying links. This also had an impact on our customers, on potato growers, in other words. As a result, our order intake for 2021 will be under some pressure, especially in Belgium”, says Tine Coopman (AVR). “But we had had years in Belgium where the average price for potatoes stood at €2.5/100 kg. This year we expect the average price to be higher. In the long term, this definitely could have turned out much worse for us.” According to Mihael Miheljak (SIP), the real effect on businesses will be felt during the last two quarters of the year, if a second or third wave will hit Europe. “In the future, the European Union will have to rely on domestic food production. Support for European farmers will be crucial if we want the food supply for its citizens to remain independent”, he adds.

It is unclear whether the pandemic will have long-term consequences for manufacturers.


Almost all fall 2020 shows are canceled. 2021 will be a busy year!

TRADE SHOWS The pandemic has also had consequences for agricultural trade shows around Europe. These were unable to take place due to the various national measures relating to events with more than 100 to 1,000 people. Some were postponed until autumn. In other cases, the 2020 trade show was simply cancelled. Maskiner under Broen (Denmark) has been postponed until 2022. The EIMA Bologna, which was supposed to take place for this year in mid-November, has been postponed until February 2021. SIMA, which was supposed to take place for the first time this year in November, has also been postponed to February. Ordinarily SIMA always took place in February, but the organisation decided to move the event to November during even years. As a result of the pandemic, the organisation was forced to reschedule it to the original date. “Several exhibitors asked us whether we would consider rescheduling this edition to the original date”, says Isabelle Alfano, SIMA’s trade show director. “The coronavirus pandemic has hit firms in this industry hard, including on the financial level. That is why we were happy to respond to their request, which is why the next trade show will take place in February 2021.” In Belgium, the Foire de Libramont was cancelled as a result of the pandemic. In the Netherlands, both the Potato Demo Day and Agrotechniek Holland were cancelled for this year. In Germany,

the DLG Feldtage and EuroTier/ EnergyDecentral exhibitions were postponed to 2021, which is shaping up to be a very busy year, with both EIMA and SIMA in February, the DLG Feldtage and Agritechnica in Germany and national trade shows such as Agribex (Belgium), ATH (Netherlands), Maskin-Expo (Sweden), Agromek (Denmark) and many others. “As organisers of Agritechnica, EuroTier and Feldtage, we are in close contact with the exhibitors throughout the year. This continual commitment to the agricultural sector at the practical level enables us to select suitable dates. This also applies in the case of a postponement of a show”, says Peter Grothues, Managing Director of the Exhibitions Department at the DLG. “The first thing we need to do is get feedback from the companies and farmers, whom we already have access to through our working groups and members. Our selection of dates for 2021 is driven by these two groups, farmers and exhibiting companies.” “I believe 2021 will be a challenging year full of ‘special editions’ as we are all having to adapt to new conditions. However, in these past four months we have already accumulated a lot of new knowledge about how to handle this situation effectively. The Covid pandemic has also given us the space, if you like, to come up with new and creative ideas for our exhibitions and events,

which in the future may mean that we are able to reach even more people. The objective of the DLG – the German Agricultural Society is to further knowledge and for us, exhibitions are a fantastic tool that enables efficient knowledge-sharing between farmers and equipment makers. We are focused on continuing to make that tool more efficient. No one knows what will happen in the next two years, but I am convinced that as time goes on, we shall learn much that will help us return to a new normal where farmers will still be able to benefit from exhibitions.”, Grothues concludes. Now that the pandemic is weakening worldwide, we look back on an unprecedented period. The agricultural sector was labelled a key sector, an acknowledgement of the work that so many hands do in the fields, in greenhouses, and in stables. Will we, as a sector, come out unharmed on the other side of this crisis? As far as we can determine, the impact is less than feared. But the impact is definitely there. The agricultural sector is a long-term sector, where choices that are made today will only yield results in a few months’ time. Whereas the consequences are almost immediately noticeable in other sectors, our sector will only be able to assess the real impact of this pandemic in the long term, in the next months or even years.





a small family business transforms into a leading international player Dutch company Vervaet is definitely the reference in Europe for slurry and manure processing or beet harvesting. The company alternately produces beet harvesters and manure trikes in its plant in Biervliet, depending on the seasons.

Kim Schoukens Antoon Vanderstraeten, Tom Goaverts & Vervaet


A Hydro Trike injects digestate in corn in Italy.

How it all started The story of Vervaet started in 1957, when Frans and Richard Vervaet, the sons of agricultural contractor Jef Vervaet and his wife Madeleine, decided to set up their own company. “They repaired and serviced anything with an engine, from fridges and motorcycles to cars and even tractors”, according to the company. As a result of the explosive growth of mechanisation during this period, there was a lot of demand for their services. In 1958, the brothers became Nuffield Tractors dealers. The customer base and the company expanded and by 1960, they moved into new premises in Biervliet. In time, Vervaet also became a dealer for Simca and McCormick, forcing the company to expand again in 1961. To ensure the company’s continuity and growth, the brothers acquired several other companies in the early seventies. Vervaet switched from McCormick to John Deere and the rest is history.

Own production By this time, several of Vervaet’s ten children had joined his contracting business. In those days, Walter and Marcel Vervaet needed a self-propelled machine to harvest sugar beets, which is why they started thinking about how to develop such a machine.


Lifting sugar beets near Brussels (Belgium)

In 1974, Frans, Richard, Tonnie, Walter, and Marcel Vervaet joined forces. Together they built a self-propelled one-phase bunker harvester for sugar beets based on the principle of the combine harvester: a header for harvesting at the front with a large bunker at the rear. During the very wet fall of 1974, the new machine proved its worth: it was able to continue operating thanks to its large, simultaneously driven wheels, whereas tractor-drawn harvesters got stuck in the mud. Thanks to the machine, the topping, harvesting and transport could be done by one person. A real revolution compared with the traditional twoor even three-phase harvesting process. The concept of a self-propelled beet harvester proved far from popular, however, and Vervaet ended up investing a lot of energy in convincing people of the concept’s merits. The development of the machine did not go as seamlessly as they had hoped either.

After a few years, the first machines were traded in for new ones and the used ones were rebuild and adapted in line with the newest techniques. As they were technically new, they were resold, under warranty. An approach that would prove highly lucrative.

Four years after the construction of the first bunker harvester, the Vervaet family made a second attempt to build a new, improved machine, partnering with Heyens (of Hulst, the Netherlands). Heyens came up with a concept without a topper, but with a better harvesting system. It was a success. The machine performed well in the field and garnered a lot of interest. While the bunker harvester was more expensive than traditional machines, it was also more cost-efficient to use.

Two years later, Robin and Edwin joined the family business. In 1990, the two brothers developed a threewheeled vehicle for slurry injection, together with Dany Dieleman, anticipating on the new legislation that would ban the aboveground application of slurry. The Hydro Trike was born.

By the early eighties, the first hydraulic drive systems were fitted on machines and the operator’s comfort was significantly improved thanks to the modern Claas cabs.

Hydro Trike To give Robin and Edwin, the second generation who were raring to join the company, the space they needed to operate and further professionalise the company’s operations, Vervaet was split into three entities in 1987: a Mazda car dealership, a John Deere agricultural machinery dealership, and the production of self-propelled beet harvesters.

In the early nineties, a factory was built in Biervliet for the production of these new machines. By 1992, the company produced 15 Hydro Trikes


Beet harvesters for season 2020 in production

a year, in addition to the same number of beet harvesters. As a result of the enormous potential of these machines and growing demand, Vervaet tapped into new international markets, including the UK, Belgium, France, Sweden, and Denmark. Production flourished and soon the existing plant had to be expanded again.

17T beet harvesters Soon competition increased thanks to new machine launches. The demand for a larger machine with a greater bunker capacity, larger wheels and better cleaning of the beets grew. In 1993, Vervaet struck back with the prototype of the 17T beet harvester. The new concept was such a success that the decision was made to increase production from 13 to 25 harvesters the following year.

Vervaet 2000 In 1999, Vervaet took full control of the production. To achieve this, the plant had to be expanded and the company needed to hire more employees. Beat Eater and Hydro Trike for XXL Vervaet was the first company to launch a six-row harvester, as well as the first company to launch a ninerow concept in the 2000s, called the Beat Eater. During this period, the demand for harvesters that could

One of the first harvesters was restored and can be admired in the showroom.

compact the soil evenly increased. The company believed that the only way to achieve this was to develop a nine-row machine, to increase capacity, without increasing the speed too much. The Beat Eater was a huge success in the small beet harvester market. Five machines rolled off the line every year. The concept of the Hydro Trike XXL was revised, with an additional tank behind the existing trike, increasing 3 the total capacity to 24m .

Vervaet today A new decade brought new expansion. By 2010, the agricultural machine division operated out of three plants. A new warehouse, showroom and storage shed were added to the premises in Biervliet. One division that is becoming increasingly important at a modern company such as Vervaet is R&D, which continually monitors the market to develop new variants. All the development is purposefully done in-house. Since then, the company also developed an umbilical version of the Hydro Trike. This self-propelled slurry injector with a draghose has several advantages, including higher capacity, one wide wheel per track and it can easily turn on the headland, while the pump continues to operate on the suction side. The international market for this machine (Germany,

France, Italy, and the UK) became increasingly important. In 2016, the first self-propelled trikes for vinasse were supplied to the French market. These machines can spread small amounts across large widths and can achieve extremely high speeds in the field: up to 35 km/h. The Hydro Trike Universal Spreader was updated and adapted to meet the requirements of the French and British markets, respectively. At the same time, Vervaet continued to work on the development of its beet harvesters: in 2010, the Beat Eater 617 and 625 won awards at BeetEurope. Six years later, the company designed a new type of beet harvester, called the Q Series. The Q616 is a light-weight vehicle with a 16-ton bunker, whereas the Q621 is heavier because of its 21-tonne bunker.

Third generation Since then, the third generation has joined the family business. The company premises cover a surface area of 50,000 sqm. of which 13,500 is built up. Ten percent of the turnover goes to R&D and the company produces 75 to 100 new self-propelled machines every year. What originally started out as a small family business soon became a leading player on the international agricultural market.


Electrical weed control in fruit and wine plantations. Until recently, if you wanted to control weeds in fruit plantations or vineyards, your choices were either pesticides or attacking the weeds mechanically. In 2018, AgXtend, a subsidiary of CNH Industrial, launched its Xpower to market, which uses electricity to kill weeds. The manufacturer has now developed a narrower Xpower unit for use in rows, such as in fruit plantations and vineyards. Antoon Vanderstraeten Fabrikant



The electrodes ensuring the transmission of current to weeds.

This XPS unit generates the electricity for the electrodes.

AgXtend introduced its first Xpower machine in 2018. The basic principle of the machine is to deliver a lethal dose of electricity to the plant above-ground and in the soil using stainless spring steel applicators that drag across the soil. The electricity needed for this is generated by the tractor, which drives a generator via the PTO. The concept is based on a closed electrical circuit: the high voltage electricity is generated locally by the mechanical energy of the tractor. The electric current passes into the plants and then into the soil through the electrode. The electrical circuit is closed via a second electrode that either touches other plants or the soil. The effect on the plants is comparable to a non-selective, systemic herbicide such as glyphosate. After a first type with a full-field effect, called the Xpower XP300, the manufacturer has now also developed a machine that can weed the strips between vines or under fruit trees. This new

A few minutes after the treatment, the plants are already discolouring.

machine is called the Xpower XPS-R. The XPS-R has a working width of 55 cm on either side, 25 cm fixed and 30 cm on movable arms. Extensions of 20 cm and 40 cm, respectively, can be used on either side if necessary. The distance between the rows in the plantation is 1.8 to 3 metres. The AgXtend Xpower XPS is mounted on a Hexagon 729 hydraulic chassis from Clemens GmbH & Co. For front mounting on the tractor, the components of the XPS-R can be mounted on a standard SB2 frame from CLEMENS GmbH & Co. In the event that there is a lot of dense development of monocotyledons or if a higher working speed is required, two additional high-voltage units, the XPS Power Boost, are optional. The XPS-R has a sustainable effect against chemical weed control. The system is in fact residue-free. Insects or other forms of soil life are not affected by the treatment either. As the machine is not subject to legal restrictions, it can

also be used along waterways. Compared to mechanical weed control, the Xpower XPS-R has the advantage of not stirring the soil, preventing the creation of a fresh seedbed for weeds or the stimulation to germination of weed seeds. In addition, there is also no risk of erosion. The Xpower XPS-R works best on young weeds, with dicotyledons being more impacted by the treatment than monocots. In older weeds or areas with a lot of monocotyledons, the driving speed must be adjusted for effective treatment. A few 0-series of the machine were built early 2020 for further extensive testing. The machine should be commercially available by the end of 2020.


Automated planting with Agriplanter The development of fully-automated transplanters for plants with a root ball is continually evolving. Belgian company Agriplant's transplanter machines are just one example. The company spent more than 10 years developing its robotic transplanter system. Today, several of their machines are already in operation all over Europe. The company recently commissioned its largest machine in the south of the Netherlands. Antoon Vanderstraeten Antoon Vanderstraeten & Fabrikant



Agriplant started out in the seventies. At the time, a Belgian SME called Pype imported paper pots, to facilitate the transplanting of seedlings. The company reached out to a planting machine manufacturer to devise a way of planting these paper pockets. In Belgium, seedling trays are traditionally used for this, meaning the machines needed to be customised to be able to plant these paper pot seedlings as well. As such, the machine needed to be technically adapted, in addition to ensuring compliance with European standards. Unfortunately, the market was not yet ready for automated transplanting machines at the time.

Agriplant sells machines with 1, 2, 3, 4 or 6 rows

In 1998, Agriplant launched its first fully-automated planting machine for seedlings in trays and transplants with root balls. Initially these machines were imported, but the manufacturer started to develop its own models in the early 2000s. Agriplant’s engineers spent more than 10 years developing their own automated transplanting system, which is built around a robot module that lifts the plants from the tray and places them on the “sensor head”. The sensor head eliminates any root balls without a plant in them, ensuring that only root balls with seedlings are planted. In addition to the robot module, the machine has also been fitted with modules

for the supply and removal of the plant trays, a module that transports the plants to the planting element and ensures the correct planting distance in the row and, finally, the planting element. The various modules on the Agriplant machines are easy to distinguish because of their green colour. Depending on the customer’s wishes, Agriplant has 8 chassis types on which the various modules can be combined to build an automated planting machine, with fixed or interchangeable row distances or different numbers of rows. Currently, Agriplant sells machines with 1, 2, 3, 4 or 6 rows. The smallest distance between rows is 31.5 cm, for distances in row of 10 to 60 cm. The seedlings can be planted directly in the soil, in ridges or in beds. The 1-row machine plants a maximum of 14,000 plants/hour, the 6-row machine can plant up to 66,000/hour. In recent years, planting machines have been used in various European countries such as Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, and Italy, as well as in Canada. The transplanted crops are just as diverse as the countries in which they are grown. The main crops include cabbage, including broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, in addition to various types of celery,



The transplanted crops are just as diverse as the countries in which they are grown.

industrial tomatoes, onions, fennel, sweet potatoes, and herbs, which were also planted without problems. The automatic planting of vegetables saves farmers a lot of time. Compared to a manual planting machine, the speed of these machines is 4 to 5 km/hour faster. The precision in the rows also facilitates better and faster mechanical weed control. These are all decisive arguments at times when planting seasons are getting shorter and uniform crops are becoming increasingly important. Nor should the personnel costs for manual planting machines also not be underestimated for companies that must plant large areas. For one to four rows, you only need one person on the planting machine, but you’ll need two to plant six rows. The robot takes care of all the rest. More information about Agriplant:


6 ROWS AT ONCE At the beginning of this year, Sluis-based Iltom BV (the Netherlands), started using an Agriplant 6SP-A 6-row planting machine. Iltom specialises in the cultivation of celeriac. The first plants are planted in March under protective foil, so the first tubers can be harvested around mid-July. In 2005, the company switched to automated transplanting. In recent years, it had been searching for a more efficient machine, which is how it ended up meeting with Agriplant. Agriplant engineers incorporated Iltom's experiences into their design to further refine their machine. Among other things, the machine was fitted with furrow closure to be able to separately close the furrows. Besides this, the machine has a steered rear axle for better manoeuvrability on the headlands. The rear axle is fitted with Soucy tracks for minimal soil compaction between the planting beds. The planting robots are mounted stacked in pairs. The middle planting elements are staggered to the rear opposite the outer ones. The machine‘s width is thus limited to 3.5 metres. A row of tires under the drawbar evenly presses the plant bed between the tractor wheels. The machine can plant up to 66,000 celeriac plants/hour. More information about Iltom:


When the EU itself starts to engage in goldplating, aren’t we making matters needlessly complicated? The European Commission recently presented its Farmto-Fork and biodiversity strategies for 2030. To ordinary people, these two strategies may seem like they have much less of an impact on the agricultural and horticultural sector than the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), but anyone who is employed in this sector knows better. The ambition to reduce the use of pesticides by 50%, curbing the use of antibiotics for livestock by 50% and new food labelling rules: the incoming legislation hits farmers where it hurts, in their stables or on their land. There is nothing wrong with this per se. We are all keenly aware of the health and sustainability challenges that we face. We know all too well that action is necessary. The European Commission has now decided to move forward. But it doesn’t make matters any easier. Because these strategies are already being launched now - even before the CAP reform has been finalised and the final subsidies are granted -, the overall impression is that farmers must implement all these new measures before they actually know which resources they can rely on for this. We already know that the new CAP will impose more conditions for subsidies and goes much further than the current CAP where greening measures are concerned. The biggest challenge, however, is the EU’s position on a global market and how this will affect our competitive position on the world stage. This reminds me of the gold-plating the agricultural sector in Flanders when it comes to implementing European measures. This term describes the phenomenon whereby individual member states or regions over-regulate compared with

European legislation. This reflects their desire to be the best or most pioneering in class. There is nothing wrong with this either, as long as your own competitive position is not undermined as a result. But that is the risk we are running if you look at the long list of measures that will be imposed on European farmers: the CAP, the Farm-to-Fork and the biodiversity strategies combined create a hugely innovative framework for food production in Europe. At the same time it also poses several challenges, whereas the rest of the world will be able to continue producing in keeping with vastly different standards and at other prices. Can we not impose our measures on others, you ask? At the very most, this can solely apply to food that is imported into the EU but this is far from evident, however. In times of America First, it is wishful thinking to hope that other continents will follow suit, enabling us to impose our standards on the world quickly. In that sense, Europe is at risk of engaging in gold-plating, compared with the rest of the world. And as such, we are making matters needlessly complicated when it comes to trade, at a time when our economies are already languishing. Tom Vandenkendelaere Former Member of the European Parliament (2014-2019)


European green deal, it’s the economy stupid! While it seems appropriate these days to dispense with any sense of nuance in order to make a point, I would like to strike a balance between the different views on the green deal and its different strategies. On the one hand environmental organisations look at the green deal and its objectives convinced that it offers opportunities for farmers and will, without a doubt, bring prosperity to the sector and the environment. On the other hand farmers’ organisations tend to focus on the threats these strategies pose, the uncertainty about land use and investments, the loss of entrepreneurial freedom and that farmers ultimately will end up footing the bill. As young farmers we have the chance, and responsibility, to both discover the opportunities and outline the risks. Let it be clear that the main objective of creating a more sustainable world in which nobody is left behind is not up for debate. The premise that sustainability has 3 pillars (People, Planet, Profit) which are equally important and crucial is also not up for discussion. What is relevant, however, is how we define and achieve sustainability. I would argue that “sustainability” describes a process rather than a destination. It should not just be about envisioning the world in 30 years’ time. Sustainability starts tomorrow and this process won’t have ended by 2050. This implies that the road of sustainability must


focus on both the short and the long term. Boosting short-term profits by ignoring the environment in the long term is not sustainable, just like destroying the short-term financial perspective in order to save the environment in the long term is not sustainable. A catch-22, you might say. This clearly shows the need for balanced policies and an evolutionary process rather than a sudden revolution. Because of this, the European green deal, and the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies in particular for agriculture, should not only reflect on the Union’s environmental ambitions. If these strategies are truly designed to create sustainability, they must take into account the path to stronger economic resilience. How will the added value of “greener” food increase the economic return (as much as possible out of market, through public policy where necessary) for farmers, while still remaining affordable for consumers? As young farmers, across Europe, let’s take action and show how we think it is possible to reconcile these elements. Individually to prepare our farms for a new future, within our organisations by sharing these experiences and ensuring the right policy instruments are available.

Jannes Maes is President of CEJA, the European Council of Young Farmers. Prior to becoming President of CEJA, he served as the CEJA Vice President and as the international representative of Groene Kring, the Flemish young farmers’ organisation. When not engaged in politics and representation, Jannes can be found working on the family farm, alongside his father and brother.



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