Sugarbeet harvest record despite drought year

Farmer Christian Flögel walks alongside a sugar beet clamp. A clamp is a type of storage for bulk goods.

A farmer with passion and an advisor with the best seeds – a successful duo, which brought in a record harvest for an eleventh-generation farm during the drought year of 2018.

Christian Flögel does not sound romantic when he talks about his soil: "My soil is my productive base – it is the capital." But Flögel is a passionate farmer. Even as a child, it was clear to him that he would be the one to take over the family farm. "We leave nothing to chance," he says, "I pay attention to the details in order to create something big." He said he was no better than other farmers, who were also thinking about their farming methods. But: "Maybe I think about it in greater depth."

These small cogs which drive the machine bring him perhaps one or two percent more yield here and there, "but the bottom line can then grow into ten percent". In addition to all the large equipment, Flögel relies above all on one of the oldest agricultural tools – the spade. "I use it in the spring to check if the soil is ripe, if I can sow beets. What is the moisture level like and the soil composition? Is the soil clumpy, friable or rather crumbly?"

Flögel focuses sharply to get to the bottom of these questions and pushes the spade deep into the cold earth, carefully levering out the soil sample and dropping it again from a height of one meter. "The earth must detach itself easily from the spade and break into even crumbs on impact." Flögel repeats the procedure at different places in his field. Only when the soil has reached the right degree of crumbliness everywhere does Flögel think about sowing.

The interplay of craftsmanship and technology leads to success

In addition, the field must be level with the table, or, using the technical term, he says: "Fully reconsolidated." This means that the seed can be sown more effectively, which in turn means more even growth in the field, which leads to a higher stocking density. In the end, this means that the land can be harvested with almost no wastage. "That's what I learned from our former operations manager," says Flögel, "the cleaner and more thorough the preparatory work, the easier the subsequent steps will be."

In addition to his experience, farmer Flögel relies on modern technology. The tractor is equipped with Real-Time-Kinematic (RTK), a satellite-supported navigation system that precisely measures the field and allows the tractor to keep to within two centimeters of the track during sowing. "I don't leave an inch unused," says Flögel. It is precisely this interplay of craftsmanship and technology that leads to success.

"Extra effort pays off"

Flögel had to learn early on to take responsibility and make decisions. His father died young, his mother and stepfather raised him according to the motto "If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right". And the operations manager was a perfectionist. These things make an impression. But if all this were not worthwhile, Flögel would be the first to let it go. But, as he says: "Extra effort pays off." Presumably his attention to detail also helped him through the drought year of 2018. 2018 was not only the second driest year in Lower Saxony since 1881, but also the second warmest. 4600 farmers applied for drought aid, and the policy provided a total of more than 35 million euros.

Climate change fosters inventiveness

It is important to Flögel not to sound arrogant. And he doesn’t. But the 41-year-old is convinced of what he is doing. And his success is proving him right. The drought year of 2018, which was difficult for German agriculture due to extreme weather conditions, was his absolute record year. While other farmers in the region were able to achieve a farm average of around 16 tons of sugar per hectare with their sugar beet, Flögel put 19 tons on his bottom line. "I couldn't believe it," the farmer recalls. He called Nordzucker immediately after the first delivery. "I checked with the beet office to see if the values on my tablet were correct." They were indeed, and the best harvest in the history of the farm had been brought in.

Long-term commitment instead of short-term success

On the one hand, Flögel attributes the harvest success of 2018 to the soil. "Börde soil can store a lot of water and pass it on to plants," he says. This would have saved us during the drought year of 2018 and partly during the even more difficult year of 2019. On the other hand, Flögel also knows that he has a reliable partner at his side in KWS seed advisor Fritz-Jürgen Lutterloh. Flögel has been a farmer for 15 years now, and for 15 years he has relied on Lutterloh's advice.

"Long-term commitment is more important to me than short-term success," says Flögel. Both of them, who often drive together across fields or talk shop over a cup of coffee, describe their relationship with the same word: Trust. Lutterloh knows the region and its farmers. He has been advising farmers on seeds for 27 years. Initially, he encountered suspicion. "I come from the district of Celle", smiles Lutterloh, "and where I come from, the soil is very light." No comparison to the dark brown to deep black soils of the Hildesheimer Börde. It was a case of earning trust by offering reliable advice and support.

What about weather extremes?

The next sowing is due in the coming weeks. "We will have to deal with more extreme weather conditions," says farmer Flögel. But sugar beet has great potential, he said, because "it can cope with warmer temperatures". He will therefore continue to cultivate it. Asked about country lore, Flögel says: "It's a leap year in 2020. And it's actually "leap year, cold year." Sugar beet does not tolerate cold well. It remains to be seen whether country lore holds true in the 21st century. One way or another: Flögel is well prepared – and well advised.

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