Heating up

The Albrechtsfeld farm estate is located in the Burgenland, the region of Austria with the lowest elevation and highest temperatures. It takes a lot of flexibility to get good harvests.

December 07, 2017

The estate works a total of 1450 hectares of agricultural land, of which 450 are in neighbouring Hungary. “But the most distant fields are only 23 kilometres away,” says Alexander Thiess, overseer and director of Domaine Albrechtsfeld GmbH. An agrarian engineer educated at the Francisco Jospehinum in Wieselburg, he has run the operation for some years now. During this time he has been part of big changes in the way things are done. “In 2010 we switched to organic farming,” he says, “meaning that we stopped using artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. We also started raising cattle.”

Big changes
The herd now totals 100 head of Aberdeen Angus cattle, of which 65 are mother cows. “The animals are mostly black, and are calm, good-natured and easy-going. Their first calving is at around 30 months,” says Thiess. Grazing is part of the farm’s crop rotation. “We mostly plant winter wheat, alfalfa, winter rye, yellow millet and oil pumpkin,” reports Thiess. “We work a lot with outside contractors, who do our harvesting for us.”

Difficult soil
Agriculturally, it’s in a challenging location. Thiess explains: “We’re at the edge of the Pannonian plain, the lowest elevation, warmest area in Austria.” The shallow black earth of the region is fertile but difficult to work, since it’s gravelly and sandy, and doesn’t retain water well. “We have an average annual rainfall of 400 to 450 millimetres. But this year it hasn’t been quite 150 millimetres.” That’s much too little for conventional agriculture. “Nothing happens without irrigation. The harvest would be a lot smaller,” Thiess thinks. So irrigation is the largest cost factor for the operation. Several large 100,000 l/hr capacity pumps move water to the fields through underground irrigation lines.

Things are changing
Thiess fears that it will just get warmer. “Rainfall is getting less and less predictable. When it does come, it’s all at once, while the dry periods are getting longer. Yet recently we’ve been having more problems with late frosts.” The high wind also dries out the fields. Irrigation takes its toll in dry phases. “This year the groundwater level dropped by over a meter,” he says. Water could become a scarcity factor. “So down the road we’ll be favouring other crops.” Currently testing is underway with aridity-loving yellow millet and edible amaranth, which is ideal for gravelly soils. “In any case, we’ll be ready,” says Thiess with confidence.

Extensive cultivation
The farm estate does a lot of its work with machines. “We only have two big tractors and one cultivation tractor in operation,” says Thiess. “So utilization is very high.” At 0.62 hp per hectare the machine park is at the low end; the average Austrian farm has over four hp per hectare. The first contact with Farmtech was at the Agritechnica in Hannover. A local Farmtech dealer made an offer on a Fortis 3000, which was demonstrated and ultimately purchased. “We’ve been using it for two years now and are quite happy with it.” The Fortis sees a lot of use, about 450 hours a year. “We use it as a spreader and push-off trailer for manure, and for silage.”

Versatile machine
“The Fortis is a very tough, versatile machine,” says Thiess. “It’s user-friendly. The hydraulic chassis is so good you hardly notice it when towing. Pushing off with the scraper floor works perfectly.” The farm is particularly happy with the distribution and spread pattern in manuring. At Albrechtsfeld the manure has a high straw content. “The wide tyres keep ground pressure low, so we can always use it. But the tractor needs to have at least 300 horsepower,” adds Thiess. He also has a suggestion for improvement: “The display is on the small side, and you can hardly use it when the machine vibrates in the field. It would also be nice if future machines were Isobus-compatible.”

Top service
Thiess has only good things to say about Farmtech service: “The service is really top-notch. Reaction time is never over a day. The technicians always know what they’re doing, and problems are solved quickly. I always tell the people in Ljutomer what the issues are by phone before the technician gets here, and then the repairs usually get done quickly. I wish everybody’s service worked as well as Farmtech’s.”