Home » Issue 21 21-2020 » Practical experience » The choice of reason: Arnaud Caillouel, FR

The choice of reason

Arnaud Caillouel has been running an arable farm in Normandy since 2004, In 2012, he also took over the farm of his parents. He is constantly looking for possibilities to improve and develop the farm and the cultivation strategy. With terraHORSCH he talked about mechanical weed control and the future of contractors.

Arnaud Caillouel sticks with the traditional Normandy crops linseed and sugar beet. But he still constantly tries to increase the range of activity of the family farm. When livestock farming in his region decreased more and more and as a result the land for the cultivation of silage maize, the farmers started to grow sugar beet. In the rotations that are typical for the region sugar beet are grown every seven to eight years. This way of thinking is firmly rooted among the farmers in this region. Arnaud Caillouel explains: “We know that with the end of the quota the cultivation of sugar beet might become difficult from an economic point of view. However, the sugar refinery Saint Louis in Etrepagny is not yet closed. So we have a secure buyer. Sugar beet still achieve high yields in Normandy and remain an important part of the rotation. This is why we decided not to be pessimistic but to believe in the crop and to continue to invest in the corresponding machines.”
The strategy of his contracting business is based on several columns. The first is the clientele. Arnaud Caillouel attaches great importance to regular customers and adapts to their requirements. The second column is the technology he works with. In this respect he clearly stands out from his competitors. He offers machines you only seldom see in the region – fully equipped, solid and precise. The farmers normally do not buy such machines themselves as the average farm size in the department Eure only amounts to about 150 hectares. Moreover, such machines require know-how which cannot be acquired easily. And last but not least he tries to optimise the working hours of his employees. Every new line of business has to provide for the necessary utilisation so that his employees have enough work all year round. Thus, he does not have to employ temporary staff and he conserves the know-how of his drivers who do not only know the machines by heart but are also known and appreciated by his customers.
Arnaud Caillouel continues: “This led to completely new questions. My customers are more and more worried about the future of farming. Especially about how it will go on without glyphosate. Or about weed resistances. Although our rotations are relatively wide it becomes more and more difficult to fight ryegrass and black grass. Most of our customers run their farm conventionally. They normally solve weed problems with plant protection agents. But when there is a work peak, they also look for other solutions. This is why I decided to invest in a hoe. In spring, from April to June I can hoe sugar beets – in the four-leaf stage and until they cover the soil completely as they are sown with a large distance of 50 cm. In the meantime, I hoe between 250 and 300 hectares of sugar beets.”
90 % of his customers spray plant protection agents and only after having done that resort to mechanical weed control. On his farm Arnaud Caillouel decided to have it the other way round. He first hoes and only uses herbicides as a last resort. “I think this is the best solution if we want to meet the expectations of the consumers who want us to use less chemical plant protection measures”, Arnaud Caillouel explains. “I have been using hoeing technology since 2015 and I noticed that the total costs including purchase, working time and diesel per hectare are similar to the costs of plant protection. You spray ten hectares in one hour, with a 12-row hoe you need five hours for the same area. My farm is my test laboratory. With the cultivation methods I test on my own fields, I often challenge the surrounding farmers, but this way I can give them food for thought. I hope that my hoeing tests especially in sugar beet and rape make the farmers use the services of my contracting business.“

Why hoeing?

It rains a lot in the department Eure. The soils are fertile and thus, they soon are covered by weeds which in addition tend to spread considerably and to grow quickly. “We made tests with a rotary cultivator to fight the weeds in wheat. But every second year it is not enough: the ryegrass either develops as well as the wheat or it is too muddy to drive into the field”, Arnaud Caillouel describes the situation.

The weed harrow can damage the existing crop and, thus, delays the growth. There has to be a growth difference between the cultivated plant and the undesired vegetation. Therefore, it is difficult to use these machines to an optimum capacity. In this respect Arnaud Caillouel’s point of view is quite radical: “We are a commercial enterprise. This is why our machines have to work.“
For the farmer the hoe is the tool of choice. “I opted for a hoe because we normally sow with a spacing of 45 cm or 50 cm. Thus, a tractor can always drive over the field during the whole development stage of the plant as soon as the weeds become a problem. An example: Sugar beet can grow to a maximum height of 40 cm. Therefore, the tractor can go over them without hurting them. This in turn allows for using the hoe during the whole lifetime of the plant. With sugar beet, it works excellently. In addition, the machine has various equipment options. You can work deeply to expose intractable weeds or superficially if the weeds have not yet developed well.
For rape, too, we carried out tests on our farm. We sow rape with a spacing of 50 cm at the end of August till the beginning of September. The ideal time for hoeing is between the 15th of October and the 15th of November. But every three years the weather upsets our plans and we cannot hoe at the ideal time. We then use the sprayer and an additional weed control measure – especially if the window is very small. I think that we will continue to sow with this spacing as we do not notice any yield loss. If we use our hoe in rape in our customers‘ fields in autumn, we can use our hoe to a profitable capacity. At the moment, we mainly use it in spring.“

Transformer test

Arnaud Caillouel had the opportunity to test a HORSCH Transformer 6 VF on his farm. He describes his experiences: “The machine I tested was a pre-series machine. Though I was very sceptical with regard to the camera, it really works simply and reliably. There were the typical difficulties with a camera at sunset when the light reflects in the lens. But we constantly refined the settings and finally achieved a very satisfying result.
The machine reacts very fast to the information supplied by the camera – that was really amazing. In addition, in curves at a speed of 4 to 5 km/h no sugar beet was damaged. The reactivity and the reliability are excellent – it is obvious that it is a HORSCH hoe!
I was able to work up to 2 cm beside the young plants, thus only 10 % of the surface were left untreated. Compared to my current, manually controlled hoe this is a significant different: It leaves 20 % of the surface untreated.
I mainly worked with duck foot coulters. They do not mix the earth and work the same way as my own tool. Wear is extremely low: I worked 250 hectares with the same set of tines. Normally I only manage about 65 hectares. I also tested the carbide coated points. They are definitely better than anything else on the market and they showed no signs of wear.
The hoe was equipped with harrows behind the tines. The harrows do not apply any pressure. They distribute the weed so that it fades in the sun and remove clods that are taken to the surface with the weeds. In fact, if the weeds are cut off and remain upright, they can grow again after hoeing if it rains.
The depth of the units is adjusted via pins. The system is good because it is very simple. There are 12 holes with a distance of 0.5 cm you can use to fine tune the adjustment. No effort is required. The adjustment of the harrow elements, too, is carried out by means of pins. It is easy to adjust the switch-off of the individual rows and it reacts excellently. I was able to control it directly from my Fendt 516. However, I would recommend to equip the machine with a double acting cylinder to achieve more reactivity when the elements penetrate the soil. It definitely provides more support on the headlands.“


Contractor Arnaud Caillouel was thrilled that he could test the new hoe on his farm: “I already am a HORSCH customer. I have a HORSCH Leeb LT sprayer and a Terrano I am very satisfied with. It was a great chance to test a new machine and to contribute my experiences to future developments. The machine completely convinced me, but at the moment the Transformer is only available as of a working width of 6 m. Unfortunately, the machine is too large for the small agricultural structures in Normandy. So I am going to wait for a smaller working width. My summary: solid and reliable – like all HORSCH machines.“

Read more about the Transfomer VF.