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Farmer harvests twice a year

Farmer harvests twice a year

19-06-2009
On Mors, a small island in the Limfjord in northern Jutland, Herluf Hensberg has taken a peep at farming practices of the future adapted to a new climate, and in doing so he has greatly inspired his fellow farmers.

In reality, no one actually believed that Herluf Hensberg would be able to do it.  No one has ever managed two harvests a year in Denmark. Harvesting twice a year has traditionally been reserved for farmers in far warmer regions. However, last year when Mr Hensberg decided nonetheless to attempt bringing in the harvest from his fields twice during the same year, this was no far-fetched idea.  The climate is changing, so why not give it a try, as Mr Hensberg explains.

"We are seeing the effects already. Today we harvest some 14 days earlier than just 10 years ago. And last year the harvest promised to fall even earlier, so we decided to give it a try and sow a special type of Swedish barley as soon as our winter barley had been harvested.   The type of barley that we sowed has been developed for cultivation in the far north, where the growing season is very short, so we thought, let's try with 15 hectares of this barley and see how it goes," says Herluf Hensberg. 

The first responses came very soon after. Journalists called to learn more about the farmer who believed it was possible to harvest twice within the same year, and soon after Mr Hensberg saw a second spur of interest, this time from his fellow farmers, calling him from all corners of Denmark.

"Suddenly, other farmers started calling to ask where I got my seed corn from and how things were going. They could see that what I was doing might very well make sense," says Herluf Hensberg.

Better than ploughing the plants under
Mr Hensberg thinks it's an obvious idea, since the Danish regulations on control of nitrogen leaching and runoff from fields mean that fields may not be left bare after harvesting. As many other farmers, Mr Hensberg used to merely plough under the plants that had been sowed and left to grow after the actual harvest.

"But surely we can sow something useful instead. Climate change might help us out here," Herluf Hensberg explains.
When the ordinary harvest comes earlier in the year, we will have more sunny days for maturing a new round of crops. The number of sunshine hours is decisive for whether the corn matures well enough, so the extra 14 days is a huge advantage. The temperature in itself is less important. Last autumn, Herluf Hensberg harvested his extra crop during frosty weather, which was actually an advantage.

"It is much easier to manage the harvesters on a surface that is hard from frost and the corn is nice and dry from the frost," says Herluf Hensberg.

Will try again this year
He gained no financial benefit from last year's experiment, but Mr Hensberg gained experience that has encouraged him to make an attempt at two harvests again this year,  and this time on twice the area - 30 of his total 350 hectares of farmland.

"Last autumn we were pretty badly hit by bad weather, so this year we have chosen a type of cereal that is more resilient to rain and wind. And although last year we brought in the first harvest on 17 July, we weren't able to sow again until 23 July, because the seed corn from Sweden was delayed. This year we are hoping to sow again as early as 15 July," Herluf Hensberg explains.

At the farm on Mors they plant two consecutive harvests of the same crop. This means that they can use the same machines for both harvests. However, many of the around 30-35 farmers who have contacted Herluf Hensberg to hear about his experiences, use other types of crop which may also be combined with a late harvest. These include early-harvest lettuce and potatoes.

However, it is not merely about exploiting the farmland better, Herluf Hensberg says. It is also about running a sound business.

"Preferably, we should be able to run a farm so that work is divided fairly evenly throughout the year, and so that we avoid periods where no value is being created. I give a lot of thought to what is needed to optimise my operation," says Herluf Hensberg.

Next time we'll try with maize
Thinking about optimisation has so far led him in the direction of a new experiment. Mr Hensberg is considering sowing maize after the next ordinary harvest of corn.  The maize could grow over winter and be harvested for biofuel in the spring.

"It wouldn't yield cobs, but maize really produces an enormous amount of biomass which could be sold as fuel. I confess I have thought about trying it on a couple of hectares," says Herluf Hensberg.