Danish farmer Dennis Binder knows the importance of staying one step ahead. For 20 years he has managed a 250 ha farm growing barley, wheat, rape, and grass seed. Dennis explains that for the farm to succeed, he must constantly monitor a range of factors: the weather, the growth of his plants, and the creep of pests and crop diseases.
The weather is both a partner and an adversary. “You never know what to expect, or what the day will bring,” he says. “We work the farm based on each day’s weather. We plan based on local weather forecasts. You can bring the forecast with you in your pocket, on your mobile phone, but if you don’t quite trust it, you look to the horizon to see if rain is coming. Then you draw your own conclusions.”
Dennis follows the weather predictions and reacts accordingly. But he can’t control it, as he can some other key factors that affect production. “One of our biggest challenges is keeping the crops free from grass weed.” He explains that weeds are a major problem and controlling them is critical for each year’s output. “A big focus is also on keeping away fungal diseases, primarily in wheat and barley.”
He is constantly overseeing the details, because any missed step could mean losing the entire crop. To identify how best to tackle specific threats, including which — if any — products to use, Dennis examines insect traps. “We always have yellow pan traps in the field, to see what insects there are.” The traps collect the insects, and the farmer is able to make treatment decisions based on what they find.
“We don’t spray (pesticides) based on a schedule. We want to make sure we know which specific insects are in the field. And then we choose the chemical products best suited for the particular insect we want to target.
“Some seasons we hardly need to use any insecticide in the rape seed crop, while in other seasons there might be pollen beetles or gall midges in the rape, and we need to control them in order to get a good rape crop,” Dennis explains.
Dennis is a conventional farm. “We use pesticides to protect our crops, but we always use as little as possible and only as much as necessary.”
But Dennis feels misunderstood. “As a Danish farmer, I see that there is incorrect information about farming and agriculture in the mainstream press. Many parts of the population don’t know what goes on in agriculture today… We use pesticides in conventional farming to solve problems.
“For example, potato blight is a very real threat. If we were to switch entirely to organic methods, crops could fail. And then consumers would have to accept that there would be a shortage of potatoes come December, because the output would be only half of what was expected,” he says. Dennis questions whether consumers would accept that reality.
He is grateful that more recent Danish legislation has allowed farmers access to a broader range of pesticides. This helps him avoid resistance to pesticides and fungicides among certain crops. “The new pesticide regulation is positive for Danish agriculture. It is giving farmers new products that we have needed for a very long time.” He explains that the changes will help him compete with farmers from other European countries, many of whom have had access to a broader range of products for some time.
Every decision Dennis makes considers the effect on the environment. “As a farmer, I am a protector of the environment. Guarding nature is paramount to me.
For example, he explains that “We do quite a lot of bee-friendly strips along the fields.” They planted pollinator areas in the middle of the crops, along with wind breaks. “Along all these new plants there are bee-friendly strips. This way when the rape has bloomed in the autumn and not much else is blooming, there is something for the bees.”
How does Dennis summarise his ‘one step ahead’ mantra? “It’s about identifying problems before they happen. And when we do have problems in the field, it’s about having the right solution to remedy the situation, while maintaining the integrity of the surrounding environment.”