On a recent trip to France with Lemken, high-tech organic tillage farming came to the fore.

On the Rousselat Farm near Auxerre in Burgundy, about two hours southeast of Paris by bus, Arnaud farms with his father and, as he says himself, he is lucky enough to have his grandfather to consult with as well.

His father has been farming since 1991 and, after his studies, Arnaud joined the team in 2017.

He was told to start spraying one day and said he didn’t want to as he didn’t like the idea of it.

The farm then began the conversion to organics. Arnaud commented many times that management and precision are a key part of organics.


Crops on the farm include wheat, corn, sunflowers, soyabeans and sugar beet. Organic sugar beet is processed about 80km from the farm and a payment of about €86/t is available, with crops generally yielding 50t/ha on average.

Basalt and biochar.

This year’s crop will probably be harvested before the end of October, but Arnaud commented that he expects yield to be down to 40t/ha this year, because crops were hit badly by frost.

Labour is a massive cost in this crop, as much of the weeding is carried out manually.

However, not all of the weeding is manual. A Steketee hoe is run on the farm and plays a much bigger role than the weeder alone, as the farm continues to develop and work on its organic strategy.

In the beet crop, the mechanical hoe comes out first at the two-leaf stage and the maximum depth it will run to on the farm is 2cm, but manual weeding is still needed and this is a big cost.

Arnaud admitted that every year, the family says they will not grow it again, but they always do.


Wheat yields on the farm are at about 3.5-4t/ha, but hit about 3t/ha this year as 60% of the crop was hit with frost. An average yield on conventional wheat in the area would be 7.5-8t/ha.

The next crop of wheat will be planted on the farm sometime around the 1-10 November.

The delayed sowing is to reduce weed, disease and pest problems, which Irish farmers will know.

About five days after sowing, when one leaf has emerged, a tine weeder will travel over the crop.

This won’t harm the wheat, but will leave a clean crop for the winter and a comment was made that if you can see the weeds, it’s too late to do the job.

Cereals are planted at 25cm spacings and the mechanical weeder will run through a crop once or twice, the first at 6km/hr and the second at a higher speed of about 9km.

A number of different attachments are used for different jobs and a seeder has been added to the weeder.

As crops become bigger, the camera which guides the weeder so it can read the crop better and this allows speed to be picked up. The machine works to an accuracy of 2cm.

The weeder must follow the line of the sower all of the time. Spacings are 25cm and are made wider for the wheels and all of the crop needs to be covered, so it’s quite an operation.

Prices vary for products, but in general, organic farmers often receive double the price which would be received for conventional crops, but at a significantly reduced yield.

A weeder that’s more than a weeder

In the cereal fields, the weeder is now helping to add to the organic system on the farm. In May or June, the weeder travels through crops and, as it moves, clay, seeds of soybeans, alfalfa or buckwheat are planted.

The tine weeder is used at the one-leaf stage on the wheat crop.

The soybeans were planted with the weeder on 5 June and harvested on 14 October this year. They came in at a yield of 0.4t/ha. As well as fixing nitrogen, an extra crop is being added to the land in the year.

Arnaud said that while harvesting the cereal crop, there is great satisfaction in seeing a crop of soy beans or buckwheat growing through the stubble as the crop is cut.


The alfalfa that is planted into the wheat crop receives a liquid fertiliser produced on the farm around 25 October and the crop acts as a fertiliser. It is incorporated like a catch crop. The farm is plough-based and that works well in organics for weed control.

The family has begun to focus a lot on organic fertiliser. They purchase chicken manure and spread this on their own farm, as well as providing a spreading service to local farmers.

Organic fertiliser pellets are purchased (at about €580/t containing 10% nitrogen) and again, the mechanical weeder will pay its way here, as when the weeder travels through the crop in March, they plan to drop pelleted organic fertiliser beside the crop.

Organic sugar beet on the farm.

They also apply basalt and biochar to some crops. With things like this, the family are very open minded. They will try different techniques and see if it is impacting on crop yields. With the biochar, Arnaud commented that the combine will be the test to see if it’s working and they have agreed to try it for five years, as improvement with soil takes time.

The soil is on a limestone base with a high clay content and a pH of 8.4. Phosphorus availability can be an issue on this high soil pH land.

Arnaud and his father have set up a facility on the farm to ferment different products, which are sprayed onto crops to add micro-organisms to the soil. This is the next part of the journey for the family.