Thursday, March 27, 2014

Belgium and France

Oops, forget we spent our last day in Germany in Cologne. Didn't leave Ulrich's until 3pm and got in at 8pm without a hotel booked, but stumbled on one near the Rhine and city centre - more luck than management. Had dinner in the hotel bar and the guys next to us where doing tequila slammers but with orange and cinnamon with Tequila Gold - new one to us. Had a look around the city the next day - the cathedral was amazing, think the tallest I have seen. Tracey loved all the shoe shops but couldn't find a pair to fit!

Unfortunately we had to leave Cologne by mid afternoon as we wanted to get to the Menin Gate Last Post ceremony at Ypres in Belgium, held every night at 8pm since the memorial was opened after WW1. I attended the ceremony last July on the Nuffield Global Focus trip, but hadn't realised at the time that my great uncle and four of his cousins had died there and were on the wall, so I was pleased to be back. 

The Last Post Ceremnony

We went thought the Flanders museum the next morning and visited a few of the historical sites around the town before heading for the home of Antoine Bertin and his parents in Normandy, France, not far from Giverny where Monet's garden is. 

I was hoping to meet up with Peter Jan in the Netherlands about covers crops and Thierry Tetu in France to look at his research on nitrogen fertiliser efficiency, but both were unavailable so will follow up when I get home. 

Arrived at Antoine's with only a day of seeding left to finish their spring program, which was lucky for Antoine as we weren't the only visitors. Susan and Kate Hodge from near Spokane in Washington State, USA had dropped in for a few days. Susan works for the Randy and Lisa Emtmann near Spokane, who we have met through Cross Slot conferences and their son Greg stayed with us a couple of years ago.

If anyone is wondering what these Cross Slot conferences are all about, once a year owners are invited to attend a conference/bus trip where we go to a country where the seeders are being used and visit them and other farmers in the region that are pushing the boundaries in whatever agricultural enterprise they are involved in. I try and go each year as I see it as a great chance to look outside the farm boundary and see at what's happening in the world of agriculture - it's my annual week of professional development! 

Antoine owns a Cross Slot with his friend Gregoir and he is currently doing 60ha of no till out of the 300ha of crops he grows, but is aiming to increase the area. He is using cover crops wherever he can based on oats, tillage radish, phacelia, field peas, faba beans and Niger and the mix is dependent on the following crop. His rotation includes wheat, barley, faba beans, field peas, canola, sugar beet and linen (same family as linseed/flax), with most autumn/fall sown. The region is the main linen producing area in the world. 

Antoine with Tracey, Susan and Kate - barley sown into cover crop

Good root growth from the cover crop

It was great to see Antoine and his parents, as we spent a weekend with them in 2012 and wished we could have stayed longer then, as on this trip. Antoine took a liking to meat pies when he worked in Australia and New Zealand, and wanted me to cook him one on our last visit. So the girls and I took over the kitchen and did a combined Aussie/Kiwi/Yankee meal of meat pie and mashed potatoes/salad with chocolate blondies and bread pudding for dessert. I don't think if Madame Bertin ever thought her kitchen would be the same! Your turn now Antoine with the pie making. 

Nice pie Antoine! 

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