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New machinery in the mountains

Marianne Stamm visits Switzerland’s bi-annual ag machinery show, AGRAMA

The Swiss Farm machinery and technology show, AGRAMA, is over. My farming neighbours are back home dreaming about that shiny green 200 horsepower Fendt or John Deere tractor with all the newest gadgets. Some will turn the dream into reality.

Although I’ve enjoyed operating farm machinery since I was a kid, I’ve never been one to care too much about the details of it. So I talked to a farm neighbour, Markus Stamm and a machinery dealer, Daniel Müller, to try to get a feel for you of what interests the Swiss farmer.

Environmental issues are the driver for two technological developments. All the tractors at AGRMA were outfitted with improved emissions technology to comply with tougher European engine emission standards that come into effect January 1, 2017. (Some machinery dealers are urging farmers to purchase a current tractor before the end of the year to avoid the new rules.) Markus was checking out the sprayers at AGRAMA. By 2020 all sprayers must be equipped not just with a rinse tank (that’s already requirement) but with a separate tank with separate pump that effectively cleans the main tank without a trace of chemical residue.

Daniel told me that GPS tracking systems are becoming more popular as systems are more accurate and licenses more affordable. One reason GPS systems have taken longer to take hold over here is that farmers often switch equipment on the tractor several times a day — harvest and planting sometimes take place almost simultaneously. Fields are small and seeding takes hours, not days. Whether it is worth it to program a tracking system for a couple hours in the field is the question.

In Switzerland, harvest and planting sometimes take place almost simultaneously.
photo: Marianne Stamm

The most interesting thing Daniel saw was at a trade fair in Hannover, Germany: a Dutch company is advertising a dual wheel system, where the duals can be folded in hydraulically. As roads are narrow, the duals often have to be added in the field. This can be a big time and energy saver.

Tractor size increases

Considering that the average farm size in Switzerland is about half a quarter section (it’s actually smaller when you include the alpine farms), it always surprises me to see the machinery farmers here operate. Daniel says that farms have increased somewhat in size as young farmers pick up land from retiring farmers, but that doesn’t explain the gain in size of tractors.

Twenty years ago, a 100 horsepower tractor was considered big on an average farm in our area of Switzerland. Today the average tractor is 120 to 140 hp, Daniel says. It’s not unusual for him to sell a tractor in the 200 hp league. Besides the prestige factor (where don’t we find that?) it’s a time factor, he says. The Dads are getting older and can’t help as much anymore. It’s cheaper to purchase machinery that does the job faster and more efficiently than it is to replace Dad with hired help.

Today the average tractor in Switzerland is 120 to 140 horsepower.
photo: Marianne Stamm

It still takes a smaller tractor on the farm though, Markus says. Every farm is required to maintain a certain percentage of acreage in natural habitat, usually narrow strips along the creeks and field edges. He’s also concerned about soil compaction with the bigger tractors in Schleitheim’s heavy clay soil. The new Kubota tractors are lighter, he says. Daniel is selling some of those now too although green is still the dominant colour as in Fendt and John Deere.

What Markus also noticed is the increase in machinery geared to the organic farmer. Row weeders are rigged with an automatic row finder besides the tracking system. Organic farming is becoming more attractive to young farmers as conventional farming makes less economic sense.

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