Take every day as it is. That is the motto of the farmer and contractor René Messer from the Canton of Aargau in Switzerland. His farm lies on a hill with a fabulous view to the Habsburg, which looks back on a turbulent history and has taught him a lot about life. Today, in addition to mother cow husbandry, he also runs a successful contracting business with his wife Regula. He is known well beyond the region as a specialist in slurry and fermentation residues.
Some 20 years ago, the farm that the Messer family owned for over 100 years, burnt down completely. “It took the arsonist, a pyromaniac from the neighbourhood, five tries to burn our property down to the ground,” he says, explaining the horrible events in the years from 1989 to 1991, which had a great effect on him and his family. “If you have to start over again after such a huge loss, which is in no way completely covered by insurance, you have to forge ahead full throttle and give more than 100 percent.” At that time, cows were still being milked on the farm so the dairy cow stable for 20 dairy cows was rebuilt first. Now, in the meantime, the dairy farm has become a herd of 20 mother cows and one steer from the Angus breed, primarily because of the poor milk prices. “Of course that alone is not enough to live from, so we asked ourselves at that time how we could continue with the farm,” explains René Messer.
“My father had always also worked off the farm. He was employed by a company that specialised in the application of sewage sludge. As the prohibition of sewage sludge application was being discussed in the mid-90’s, the company no longer wanted to invest in equipment. That was my chance to enter the business as a subcontractor and take over the entire distribution organisation. At that time we already covered the peaks with tractors, since trucks couldn’t manage the poor weather conditions on the fields.” In 2001, René Messer took over his parents’ farm and founded the Agromesser contracting company with his wife Regula, which now has seven external employees.
When the law prohibiting the application of sewage sludge went into effect in autumn 2006, many pig farms had trouble disposing of slurry, especially in the Canton of Lucerne. The phosphor content in the ground was too high and the quality of the water in the lakes was poor. The Canton of Aargau was the region that had applied the most sewage sludge on agricultural areas. So, on the one hand, there was a great demand for liquid fertiliser there and, on the other, an opportunity for the Canton of Lucerne to take slurry out of the region.
“So we delivered slurry to our customers, who we had delivered sewage sludge until now. The whole thing worked, and is still up and running today according to the polluter ciple. That means that those who have too many animals and otherwise would not receive direct payment, pay the bill. Our customers get slurry delivered for free. In the meantime, the number of animals has declined in the Canton of Lucerne, so we have split our core operations. On the one hand, we apply slurry for agricultural enterprises and collective farms. And on the other, as a second source of income, we have the so-called green thumb, the biogas facilities,” explains René Messer. There are no facilities for renewable raw materials in Switzerland, only recycling facilities. That means that in Switzerland only recycling materials, such as slurry, grain substrates or coffee grounds as well as other scraps from food production, go to the biogas facilities. “Here we have specialised on the application of fermentation residues, we have the necessary know-how here,” he says.
That the Agromesser company is a true specialist in slurry and fermentation residues, can be seen in many areas. The slurry is not brought out onto the field with slurry tankers as is usual, but with a hose system. “That means that we drive an empty tractor with a mounted distribution device around in the field and pull a hose behind us.” Each tractor and trailer, the Messers have three in operation, carries up to 900 metres of hose. The slurry is delivered by pumps with a 25-cubic metre capacity, which are on the slurry tankers that are standing at the edge of the field. Two to three tractors and trailers, comprising a Fendt from the 900 Vario series and a Tridem slurry tanker, bring the slurry to the field. “This way we can stay on the road with our large transport volumes and are very flexible on small as well as large lots of land. This also prevents soil compaction and gives us many more days of operation, since we can also drive on days with bad weather.
Another advantage is that with the mounted hose system, we can apply slurry on slopes using relatively small tractors, our 716 Vario and the 411 Vario. These areas would otherwise only be used for grazing.” Crucial for the high efficiency of the system is the very powerful pump system on the slurry tankers. René Messer developed the system in collaboration with the Bossini company. The Agromesser company is also the primary importer for Bossini. “The tank is filled in just seven minutes and emptied on the field in barely twelve minutes. This is made possible by the combination of a vacuum pump and a centrifugal pump. First the tank is filled with a vacuum, until the pump is really working hard, then the high-capacity centrifugal pump goes into operation, which cuts the slurry some 5000 times a minute. The slurry does not stick to the grass as much, it travels through the hoses better and can be pumped faster,” says Messer, explaining the advantages.
Efficiency was also one of the main reasons he chose the German tractor brand Fendt. The company grew up with Fendt and now has twelve Fendt tractors in its fleet: starting with a brand-new 939 Vario down to a 211 Vario and not to forget, a Fendt Farmer 2. “When we were thinking about switching from tandem to tridem tankers more than ten years ago to increase the volume for cost-effective production, we looked around for new tractors. Since we live and work in a very hilly region, we passed over the 200-hp category and went straight to the tractors from the 300-hp class. Besides a high output of up to 390 hp, Fendt convinced us mainly through its low unladen weight and its exceptional braking system featuring a compressed air brake system. Because safety is top priority for us,” says René Messer. The pumping system is specially manufactured for clever farmers; the axles are also custom-made. “On our slurry tankers, the first two axles are rigid and the third is a self-steering axle. This is also for reasons of safety. Steered axles are not available with spring accumulators and the best safety with compressed air brake systems is only achieved in combination with accumulators.” Another advantage of this axle is the clearly smaller turning radius.
The topic of safety plays a big role at the Agromesser contracting company, which can be seen in the fact that all Fendt tractors are equipped with LED lighting, special tyres, a reversing camera and an extra signal horn. “We not only pay attention to important safety features, our drivers must also take driver training courses regularly. After all, our chauffeurs are on the road a lot,” emphasises Messer. The contracting company’s tractors rack up a total of 10,000 work hours for road transport alone. That is an average of 1,700 work hours a year for the 900 Varios, which are used exclusively for on-road driving. All operations are scheduled from the field. “Since I work on the hoses in the field all day long, I coordinate the trips from there,” explains Messer “I like to be on the tractor and in the field, because I want to do the work on-site myself for my customers. Customers really appreciate it when the boss is also there,” adds Regula Messer, who takes care of the bookkeeping.
Not only the slurry operation in a radius of up to 50 kilometres must be coordinated and managed. The Agromesser company also offers additional services: “Besides the slurry business, which is the biggest part of our business, we also transport grain, apply lime, mow grass and bale silage.” With such a high utilisation, it is crucial that the machines have the highest reliability, in addition to excellent planning. And Messer absolutely appreciates that in Fendt tractors. “Besides the tractors themselves, good dealers and competent contacts play a decisive role. And that is what Odermatt Landmaschinen AG in Hunzenschwil, a subsidiary of the GVS Agrar AG, and our local Fendt Fendt dealership, is in any case,” says Messer, praising Martin Lieberherr from the GVS Agrar.