From Farmer to Farmer
Supporting Pollinators in the Grassland of the Marshlands
Interview with Nils von Deetzen from Jade in Lower Saxony, Germany
Interviewed and reviewed by Mathias Paech (Grünlandzentrum Niedersachsen/Bremen e.V.), written by Anna Vollmer
The marshlands of Jade in Lower Saxony, Germany are home to Nils von Deetzen, his family and their farm. In total their farm consists of 175 hectares of which 15 hectare are managed as arable fields and 160 hectare as permanent grasslands for their dairy cows. On the arable fields Nils grows maize and cereal in rotation. Depending on the weather conditions, he either grows both at the same time or one after the other. The Hof von Deetzen is managed conventionally but Nils integrates wildflower strips, species-rich grasslands, Natura 2000 guidelines as well as lapwing and godwit nest protection into his farming practices.
The establishment of their species-rich grassland
In 2020, Nils started to establish BEESPOKE grassland seed mixes in collaboration with the Grünlandzentrum Niedersachsen/Bremen e.V. They sowed 5 hectares of species-rich commercial grassland on Nils' marshland. On each of the 5 hectares a different composition of a grassland mix was sown. Besides the BEESPOKE mixes, Nils manages another 25 hectare of species-rich grassland and another 3 ha of flower strips. The farmer started the establishment of the species-rich grasslands with the motivation “to initiate new processes and try something new, which is a bit future-oriented”. He appreciates these areas for their ecological benefits providing pollinator-friendly areas. At the same time he values them to be able to further process the cuttings as silage to feed his dairy cows with. For Nils, the decision to implement the wildflower and species-rich areas was clear quickly. For his father Udo, it needed some more convincing. Paul comes from a generation where everything was supposed to be managed and grown fast and to a maximum. Nils says that, “now there’s such a slowdown process, so I had to lure him in with the little things – for example, that the seeds are provided and the costs are covered and this makes it more tempting”, Nils adds laughing.
On their farm they aim to distribute their different fields, species-rich grasslands and wildflower areas across the land “like a mosaic” to create a valuable “interplay between the pasture grass and this species-rich seed mixtures. […] We have a few fields where cereal grows, where corn grows. We have areas, which are used either more extensively or more intensively, so legumes or pasture grass. Then everything is spread out a bit so that there really is an alternation. We also have a few areas that are involved in agri-environmental schemes where we maintain field margins […].”
© Georg Bareth
Maintenance and obstacles
All in all, Nils is positively surprised by how well the establishment and management of the areas worked out. “Red clover and white clover, they have established very strongly. Ribwort was also very well represented in the last three plots, although it was only included to a certain extent [in the seed mixes], but it has nevertheless established itself very well.” Before, these areas were managed as grassland. This led to weed infestation by sorrel. He avoided to use pesticides and managed to control the sorrel by mowing it early enough before its seeding to prevent further spreading. Over time, especially in the third year, gaps in the vegetation occurred. Nils suspects that the growth of the areas could be affected by foraging geese which bring quite severe damage to the grasslands of the area. However, Nils observed that the clover species spread out well and thereby also filled up some of the gaps.
The high amount of clover can impair the quality of the silage that Nils is making from the species-rich and wildflower cuttings. The high levels of crude protein in the clover can negatively affect the cows. For this reason, Nils is cautious when making silage from the strips and prefers to mix the species-rich cuttings with some pasture grass. Thereby the silage he processed from the areas were not of worse quality than the ones made from the usual pasture grass. And the cows seem to really like the silage from the species-rich grasslands.
Monitoring pollinators and ecosystem benefits
Nils did not conduct active monitoring but definitely noticed a difference in his pollinator supporting areas. “[T]here were always butterflies or bees, they really appreciated the area. Always when you would walk through these areas you would see pollinators, which you would not have seen on the normal areas.”
In order to actively monitor the pollinators, Nils would like to receive the proper guidance how to conduct such a monitoring. “It always has to be convenient for a farmer, I would say. If it's too time consuming, nobody would do it. I have to be able to do it from time to time and not like that it’s going take half a day. It always has to be easy to implement, then I think it is more likely to be accepted [by farmers].”
Actively monitoring species on farmland might not only benefit the animals but might make farmers see their land with different eyes regarding habitat for wildlife. Nils receives subsidies for the protection of each lapwing and godwit nest on his land. By learning what to pay attention for in order to find and protect these nests, his awareness for the birds and their habitat on his land grew.
When Nils noticed other birds feeding on the insects that were attracted by his wildflower areas, he was happy to see that he is not only helping pollinators but supports a whole cycle in the ecosystem.
Wishes for further advice and recommendations to other farmers
The maintenance of the wildflower areas and species-rich grasslands and their sustainable management is something that Nils would like to learn more about. This is in particularly important for him regarding the more restricted use of pesticides. He feels like there already is a lot of knowledge which is constantly growing, so he would like to stay updated with new useful insights. Moreover, he would like to learn more about how to deal with processing legumes as feed especially regarding the advantages of saving Co2 and using less mineral fertilizer. He would be open to receive more of this knowledge by participating in more farmwalk events or simply in a printed form.
Nils encourages other farmers to try out new things and to consider the participation in the BEESPOKE or a similar project. He recommends to just see how the participation and establishment of measures goes; figuring out what can be applied in the same way as in the project guidelines and what could be implemented in a different way adapted to own needs and farming practices.
Therefore, keeping an open mind and considering new opportunities to apply pollinator friendly or other agri-environmental measures could benefit the restoration of the surrounding nature as well as the development of the farm itself.
© Nils von Deetzen