Erwin Westers – Supermarkets didn’t care about his quality so he focussed on selling seeds to other regenerative farmers

A conversation with Erwin Westers, regenerative farmer, about soil biology, the German regenerative movement, the seed business, healthy seeds, healthy soils, healthy people, epigenetics, taste, flavour and why there is so much to learn in the German-speaking world on regeneration!


This episode is part of the Nutrient Density in Food series!
This series is supported by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of The Environment, which is a private foundation with a mission to protect and conserve the natural environment. The Grantham Foundation raises awareness of urgent environmental issues and supports organizations working to find solutions. Over the last few years, the Grantham Foundation has funded an extensive portfolio of projects focused on reducing emissions and removing carbon directly from the atmosphere.

It is all about soil biology. Erwin found it out after farming low till and with cover crops for over 5 years, not without results, but not with the impact he hoped it would have. Until it clicked: with help of the German regenerative movement they started to focus on soil biology because if that isn’t there the cover crops are not digested on time to provide the fertilisation for your cash crop. It almost sounds like magic, but you can really reduce your inputs (organic manure, chemical NPKs etc. to almost zero) and still harvest an interesting cash crop year after year.

As long as big distribution supermarkets are not willing to be pay anything extra for quality and taste coming from soil building farms and he has experiences to back this up, it makes sense to focus on the seed business. Because there is a growing demand for organic biodynamic seeds, most of the seeds in the organic and biodynamic world comes from chemical agriculture and are not bred for healthy soils (which could explain some of the yield differences), are not open pollinated, etc. And these seed companies (not the big 4) are willing to pay for quality and taste for the end product.


Since Erwin started working with all the regenerative methods, they saw an enormous improvement in the soil structure. They also started seeing on the soil tests the improvement in organic matter. In the last 5 to 10 years, they went from 2 to 3.7 on organic matter.

”And then it’s very important to have this understory, especially of grasses and clovers. That is vegetative, so that is still in the stage of delivering a lot of root exudates to the soil. And if we let that understory stand after harvest and all winter, then we have almost one year of grass-clover and herbs growing there while we produce a cash crop. And that gives a lot of opportunity for soil biology to form a lot of fungal networks.” – Erwin Westers

”Don’t be dogmatic and say I don’t plough and I use cover crops and that’s it, or I don’t use manure and that’s by definition a good thing. No, that’s not, you should just try to understand the system. Don’t be dogmatic. Of course, as a biodynamic farmer, we don’t use chemical inputs. We are dogmatic about that. But all the other things… Never say never and be open to everything and try to understand what’s best for soil biology, try to be a microbial manager, just as if you’re making cheese or wine or beer. You have to manage these microbes and not think, I have this machine and that kills all the green manures. So that’s good. So I can sell, think about what is best for the soil to convert this green manure into fertilisation for the cash crop and how can I steer this process in the right direction, and maybe what kind of machine can fit my needs. So, don’t think out of technique, but think out of the microbial manager that you are.” – Erwin Westers


Erwin’s father did a lot of research in the internet and found people all over the world and in Germany too. He and his father attended events and courses back1 in 2010. They were also farmers who did not work with manure and worked a lot with cover crops and minimum tillage, and the topic of the courses focused on that.

”We went there more than 10 times on course, and they also evolved, because they also found a system of only looking at what machine and what cover crop and how to kill was actually a dead end. There was more to it. And then around 2014 they shifted the focus, or they expanded their focus also on the microbiology”. – Erwin Westers

”It’s amazing. And this technique is now implemented, I think around 1500 farmers have taken this course in the last 10 years. And it’s around 60,000 hectares here in the German- speaking and Dutch-speaking part of Europe that farmers are familiar with and implementing these techniques.’’ – Erwin Westers


According to Erwin, the farmers in Germany also had insights and methods that were new to them, but they also were at a dead end, and together they found out about the importance of soil biology.

”They would convert these green manures into nutrients for the crop […] And around 2014, they shifted also to let’s have a good look at that. And how can we shift these processes in spring, when we want to terminate this cover crop for our cash crop? It’s often cold and wet or dry or whatever, the circumstances are mostly not ideal. And we want to have this conversion of this cover crop to make fertilisation for the cash crop and how do we give this process a boost that goes into a good direction? And one of these implements that came about was the use of herbal ferments.” – Erwin Westers

”But we have this technique that is very shallow and it mixes the soil with the green manure and you get these clay particles to be mixed with these sugars that are still active in this green plant and these amino acids. And this creates this clay bond on the top layer where there’s a lot of oxygen and a lot of CO2 can exchange with the air.” – Erwin Westers

‘’So, it was really amazing, in such a short time you can change your soil to a great crumb structure. If you really pay attention to how this conversion and decomposition… How do you optimise this? How do you give this microbiologist the right boost and put it in the right direction so that it can work for you? And then it can till your soil without you having put all the diesel and all the iron in the ground” – Erwin Westers


At that time, Erwin also found out that in the seeds-producing business, there is a different relationship between producer and buyer, they are at the same level.

”They’re the reason we turned biodynamic, because they said, well, we have a lot more demand for that seed, and maybe that fits you because you don’t use animal manure, very little, and maybe you should do a little when you go biodynamic. Since we were not dogmatic, that’s fine. So, we did that. And they are very interested in the way we can produce seeds that have higher germination rates.{…} So they’re really interested in how these regenerative practices give this very good seed quality, and they support me in researching. So, they pay, for instance, for plant SAP, and they pay for another sampling. And then they have researchers on their payroll who make these very good research papers on that, in which we together grow.” – Erwin Westers


”The nicest thing about these biodynamic seed companies, there are a couple, they’re really open about that. So, it’s all open-pollinated seeds. So, they don’t have hybrids, we also grow hybrids for other companies, but they’re very open. In their catalogue, it says from every seed, which producer produced that. And then at the end of the catalogue, they have this section where all these producers are named. And there they are. And this is what they do. These are the practices that make them special.” – Erwin Westers


Koen and Erwin also talked about:

  • What is epigenetics and how does it work
  • Seed vs. Consumption
  • What is the nutritional output of flowers
  • Where should people look for good seeds




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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.

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