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Group Schumacher Eike Zschoche, Landwirt

Eike Zschoche: “Very reliable – especially in wet crops“

“Unconventionally successful”

Feature by Andreas Frangenberg

Manager of a 400ha farm, successful breeder of Harzer Rotes Höhenvieh cattle, grass seed propagator, qualified butcher and a farmer who is committed to direct drilling and ammonium-enriched Cultan fertiliser application and at the same time interested in sustainable farming and increasing humus – these are just a few of the distinguishing features of this particular farm machinery engineer with a PhD degree who is not easily pigeon-holed. Andreas Frangenberg spent an afternoon at the ‘unconventional’ farm and was intrigued by what he found there.

Diversity is what defines Eicke’s private interests and hobbies as well as his professional life. He is into machines, greening rooftops, keeping bees (domesticated and wild), conservation farming, classical concerts and brass music – to mention just a few of Dr Eicke Zschoche’s interests.

In addition, he has always been in search of scientific insights that are not readily available. After attending a Polytechnic College for ten years, he served an apprenticeship as a farm machinery mechanic. Then he went on to pass the university matriculation examination and studied agricultural machinery, ending up with a PhD. As if that wasn’t enough, he passed his master craftsman exam as a butcher in 2004 and went on to gain further qualifications in bee keeping and strategies for increasing humus. Eicke is also a keen follower of the Kaindorf Humus Days and the findings that are presented here.

Group Schumacher Schwerpunkt Grassamenvermehrung Focus on grass seed propagation

Diversity in all contexts

Eicke Zschoche is fascinated by diversity – in his private life and of course in his job. Any issue that calls for a new approach, sharing information with colleagues, evolving the farm in any respect and observing the mechanisms of nature is all ‘grist to the mill’ for him. In 1990, he returned to his grandparents’ house and picked up on the tradition of the 25ha farm that has been the home of his family for several generations and has meanwhile grown to 400 hectares of shared-farmed and owned land, nearly all of which is arable crops –

wheat, rye, barley, triticale, rape seed and sugar beet. 10-25% of the land is dedicated to grass seed propagation and a smaller percentage to that of alfalfa and buckwheat. All seeds go to propagation firms for processing and selling.

Another speciality is the herd of suckler cows and a 100-head herd of Harzer Rotvieh cattle which he and his wife Christine started in 2002. The cattle used to be a three-purpose breed, but they farm the cattle solely for the production of meat that is marketed through their F2C (farm-to-consumer) scheme, although some animals are also sold to breeders. The Zschoches are delighted by the quality of their meat – and so are their regular customers.

Group Schumacher Grasssamenernte mit Rotormähdrescher Harvesting grass seeds with the rotary disc mower

You’ve got to have the knack

The grass seed propagation side of the business is focused on annual rye grass, perennial rye grass, reed fescue, meadow grass and cocksfoot. It is necessary to have the knack of getting the right level of nitrogen that is applied to these grasses. On the one hand, it takes enough N to ensure a good growth and stems bowing gently when ripe, but on the other hand, too much N encourages excessive growth so there are too many green leaves and even lodging near harvest time.

“Too many leaves, especially when wet, at harvest time will form a sticky mass, and all of the potential yields are lost on the walkers,” explains Eike. “In fact, yields vary greatly. In excellent years, for example, we harvest up to 20,000kg/ha of perennial rye grass, whereas in average years it’s just 10,000kg/ha and in other years some plots are a complete loss. In terms of profits, the average gain on wheat is more or less in line with what is possible in this region.”

Group Schumacher Case IH Rotormähdrescher Case IH axial flow combine

Having the proper equipment is important, too

The special thing about marketing seeds is that the batches have to be absolutely clean and free of chaff and straw. “Harvesting grass seeds actually calls for an axial flow machine, because it threshes the material particularly gently. This applies even more to rye grass which can be threshed at a moisture content of 40 percent. “If you wait too long, you’ll see the seeds shedding from the ears,” says Eike. Cocksfoot grass, by comparison, is much more robust. As these seeds are not shed, they can wait until the residual moisture is down to 18-20 percent.

“When we had to replace the Fortschritt E517 combine, we asked several manufacturers for a trial machine for seed propagation during one season. The response was not exactly enthusiastic – except from Case IH,” says Eike who would never buy a Twin Rotor combine in the first place. “Just image that ‘sausage’ of wet rye grass moving up the elevator. When this hits two rotors, a blockage is the inevitable outcome.”

Group Schumacher Case Variotisch mit EasyCut Case variable table with EasyCut

Eike has been using a Case IH AF 7088 since 2010. The machine has the axial rotor that was on the first trial machine as well. His experience with this threshing system was so good that he decided to buy the machine: “Any thresher does fine when the crops are dry and mature and not green, but things get very different in green, wet or lodged crops. Here, it takes a combine with a single rotor.” Eike is very happy with the machine’s 7.32m wide 2050 header model with a variable table.

Group Schumacher EasyCut in Grassamenernte The EasyCut system in grass seed harvest

Cutting system with a high reliability factor

After the original cutting system became worn, Eike had the header converted to the Schumacher system. After all, the conversion of his old Fortschritt combine to the Schumacher system had proved very successful at the time. “On this occasion, too, the decision proved very good, because the cutting system comes under a particular strain in wet material. The absolutely smooth and reliable drive and especially the typical face-up, face-down arrangement of the Schumacher sections are perfect for the conditions we have in seed propagation. They make for an absolutely reliable cut. This is truly a clever solution. The system makes combining grass seeds a doddle,” tells Eike.

As my visit comes to an end, he shares another thought: “It’s not only the powerful, low-maintenance and hard wearing system that counts. Reliable service, too, is very important for me. Back then when the drive broke down on my old E517, I drove my car to Eichelhardt on a Saturday evening to get the necessary part.”