The Changemakers

There is increasing pressure on farmers to be efficient. New mindsets – and often a large ­helping of courage – are required in order for their farms to stay sustainable and profitable. Three CLAAS customers talk about how they are continuously reinventing themselves.

Text: Cornelia Theisen
Foto: Matthias Haslauer

Max von Laer,
Gut Fürstenberg

Why do I have 100 percent yields in this field – but only 80 percent in the one next to it? Could it be that, although I have harvested less there, I have also invested fewer working hours and less fertilizer? It is questions like these that farmers have to answer in order to ensure the survival of their farms. One of them is Maximilian von Laer, estate manager at Gut Fürstenberg, which is why he has been working with 365FarmNet for a number of years now. The goal of this collaboration is to fully automate the documenta­tion of sowing, fertilizing, and harvesting at five locations with a total surface area of 1,350 hectares, spread throughout North Rhine-Westphalia. Whereas soil cultivation used to have to be recorded by hand, today an app tracks what the machines are doing – at all times, at every location. “Well, in theory anyway,” says von Laer, laughing.

Even before the switch, the farmer was aware that it would only be the first step. And, of course, everything didn’t always go to plan. A lot had to be honed and adjusted – by both the farmers and 365FarmNet. “This is only possible through close dialogue,” von Laer explains. “And it’s always constructive, because both sides want to become more efficient.” There were also moments when he wondered whether all the effort would be worthwhile. “But I see it simply as my responsibility,” he stresses. “Toward myself, but especially toward the generations that will come after me.”

“I have a responsibility toward the generations that will come after me to push ahead with digital farming.”

Von Laer is looking ahead to the future in suspense, but without fear. And it is this future that the 58-year- old would like to keep actively working toward for a while to come. “We have good yields here, a favorable climate, and huge swathes of land. And as long as it’s there, it will be farmed,” he explains. “The only real question is: under which conditions?” A lot is in flux at the moment, animal husbandry is currently a huge issue for the general population – and Gut Fürstenberg produces a lot of feed. The question of organic farming also comes up again and again. The decision is a fundamental one, not just because it would be a huge investment, but also because the requirements make it almost impossible to carry out organic and conventional farming at the same time. “We have to keep an eye on issues like this, of course,” says von Laer. “But that doesn’t mean that we have to put every trend into practice.”

Familie Różański,
Nowe Skorowo

Only around a third of the land that the Różańskis cultivate is actually their own. This came about somewhat accidentally. Back in the 1990s, when it became possible to buy used Western equipment, Józef, the father of the family, was quite simply the only one who owned a combine harvester. However, because it was not working at full capacity with a mere 50 hectares, the enterprising farmer took on additional contracts. And this is how, back then, one thing led to another and today’s contractor business came into being over the years. Today, its portfolio includes nearly the full range of farming activities: spreading manure, cultivating the soil, sowing, maintenance, harvesting, and even bank stabilization on the coast.

“Of course, this is only possible with a sensible fleet of vehicles,” explains Tomasz, who shares his father’s enthusiasm for large agricultural machines and state-of-the-art equipment. This is why a few years ago the Różańskis began successively replacing their machines with new ones; a total of 17 machines have come from CLAAS. “It was a good decision,” says Tomasz’ brother Piotr in agreement. “The work is more fun, and it’s less strenuous. Overall, we are much more productive.” One challenge that the brothers have had to face time and again in their quest for growth is the search for good personnel. “We have a great team, but it has to grow with us,” the brothers explain. “And it’s not easy to find people who actually know how to operate the new machines correctly.” At any rate, the number of tasks is growing rather than shrinking, because the Różańskis’ customer base is growing. Their secret to success? Efficient, high-­quality work.

Ceres Agriculture,
New South Hampton

Mark Mason, co-founder and Managing Director of Ceres Agriculture in New South Hampton, is also convinced that farms need innovative ideas in order to survive on the market. One of the four main pillars of his operations, cattle ­production, is a perfect example of this. While other farms of a similar size keep and fatten up their cattle in feedlots, Mason says that “free-range husbandry has a positive effect on the welfare of the animals and therefore on the quality of the meat.”

He keeps his cattle in different paddocks, where a maximum of 100 cattle have access to 30 hectares of grazing area. They receive additional feed in the form of easily digestible, steamed grain flakes that are produced by the farm. He meets 50 percent of his requirements with his own arable land, and his facility is the only one of its kind in Australia. “Of course, it was a significant investment for us,” says Mason. “Back then, when we decided to do it, the technology was completely untested here; nobody believed that our cattle could put on as much weight as they would in a feedlot.” But their courage paid off: The meat has since received numerous awards, and almost half of it is exported. “In recent years, we have been working hard to develop a sustainable business and, in the beginning, we didn’t have anything this big in mind at all,” Mark Mason admits. “But we soon found out how big it had to get for everything to run smoothly. The scaling effect is one factor that helps us to remain competitive internationally,” he goes on to explain. He notes that sustainability is a must in this regard – both in environmental and economic terms.

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