For his 80th birthday, Wendelin Vix has brought together his souvenirs in a beautiful, abundantly illustrated book. Not only has he retraced his childhood during the German occupation, the Second World War and the Liberation, but also his three years of war in Algeria. Back home at the end of 1958, he bought his first tractor, a 25hp Man, with a plough and cutterbar, then a welding set to adapt the implements. Married to Annette in 1962, he had three children, Michel (who unfortunately died suddenly in 2014), Marie-Jeanne and Jean-Marc, who succeeded him as head of the farm business, before François, his grandson, took over his parents’ share, in October 2022.
A hard worker, with instinct
At the start of the 70s, a project for extending a chemical company factory over 150ha was abandoned, giving the farmers in Wantzenau the opportunity to expand. A small group of them invested in more powerful tractors, and a combine harvester. “We were told we would fail, remembers Wendelin, but my calculations proved to be correct.” Guided by a notebook where his father Aloyse had noted the ideal geometric location for working and above all for mechanising the production of hops, Wendelin made his name with the Hop Planters Association of Alsace (Cophoudal).
Innovative, he was one of the first in the region to irrigate maize, to the extent that seed producer KWS asked him to start producing maize seeds, costly in both time and labour, but profitable. Wendelin, who had “maize in his blood,” went on to develop the irrigation system, before passing to another big project in 1973 together with his brother-in-law, René.
Both of them abandoned maize drying in cribs (air drying) in order to invest in a combine with corn header, a dryer and storage silos. With the land used for maize now being available earlier in the autumn, the two men bought a shiny John Deere 4230 with SG2 cab, and all the equipment needed for the 120hp of the tractor to grow wheat.
“You must believe that we were right on target as numerous colleagues followed us,” remembers Wendelin. Curious by nature, our man visited France, Europe and the United States, where he looked round the John Deere factory in Waterloo and the Head Office in Moline. For the occasion, he took English lessons in Strasbourg. He made seven further overseas trips with Annette.
Land made for corn
In 1997, the EARL Vix limited company was created, and Jean-Marc took over the La Neumatt farm. At that time the farm covered about 160ha and was fragmented into 50 cultivated patches. It is focussed on the core activity, irrigated grain maize, which covers about 130ha every year. The land is of good quality and the Rhine water table stable and available. Three, four-span electrically operated irrigation pivots were installed in 2020.
“Our largest land parcel, about 50ha, has rarely disappointed us. So, we continue to cultivate in a proven manner, based on ploughing and careful seedbed preparation by twinning tractors in front and behind,” explains François Vix, who took over managing the farm in October 2022 after acquiring his parents’ share in the business. Today, it extends to around 220ha.
Alongside maize, soybeans were introduced successfully, yielding up to 4.3t/ha. Cereals are mostly seeded using a three metre John Deere 750 A direct drill. This drill’s well-established planting technique has satisfied the clients of the Agricultural Work Company (AWC) that François and Etienne Schneider created. In parallel Etienne runs a Red Label (recognised quality) poultry farm. The two colleagues share equipment and exchange information. François sums things up by saying: “We always manage to balance things out.”
Maize storage is controlled thanks to the installation designed by Wendelin Vix back in 1975, with a 25t bin, large enough to process all the harvest and to sell it afterwards by full lorry loads to local starch and semolina producers. During one of his first trips to the United States Wendelin noticed mobile gas fired driers, which he acquired to end the heavy work associated with the cribs. This equipment, which more than paid off a long time ago, is still used today, under the watchful eye of François, to produce more than 20t of kernel per cycle.
Carefully maintained machinery
From his early start as a farmer, Wendelin Vix believed in quality to differentiate himself. He explains: “In 1973, we bought the John Deere 955 combine for its threshing cylinder with eight bars in place of the usual six. We work the machine at 400rpm, only for the corn, to reduce kernel breakage.” Still faithful to John Deere for harvesting, François Vix and Etienne Schneider have been able to take delivery of a new S670, but to keep the clients of the AWC happy, will keep the 2258 which is still going strong despite its 23 years and 4,000 hours. “I find that the machines have become easier to maintain,” Etienne notes. I spend more time greasing the headers than I do greasing the S670.
Pioneer of maize seeds in Alsace, among other achievements. Wendelin Vix, here close to his dear wife Annette, holds his souvenir album in his hands. With almost 50 passionate pages, the Liberation of 1945, his life as a farmer, as a father and union representative, are all reviewed here. He has not forgotten to emphasise the central role played by mechanisation nor to mention the report that Le Sillon consecrated to his family in 1997.
A good mechanic, François Vix puts the last hand on the 16-16 Lanz from 1955, a French tractor that he was able to buy from a German collector before giving it a second youth.
Pride of the family, a collection of 24 tractors, sometimes dragged out of brambles and repaired by François, are under cover on the Vix farm, as well as a Lanz combine and a Fahr binder.
Another example concerning satisfaction with quality is the Max Emerge Plus planter with six rows, which has covered 4000ha without fault, other than changing discs. François Vix agrees: “We like to keep the equipment clean; we maintain it to last for a long time. For example, I don’t hesitate to entrust the machines to the nearby Haag dealer for an Expert Check service during winter.” The tractors bear witness to the Vix’s dedication to maintenance of their machines. They cover several generations, including a 4955 and a superb 8100, and in support of the main tractor, a 7230R from 2019, bought second hand with 1,000 hours.
- Six John Deere tractors
- Two combines
- One 15t capacity chaser bin
- One self-propelled sprayer with 32m booms
- Three ploughs including one seven-blade-plough
- One seedbed preparation machine, 7.50m wide
- One John Deere fixed chassis six row planter with front hopper
- One “extra wide” centrifugal fertiliser spreader
- Three electric powered irrigation stands
- One direct John Deere 750 A seed drill
The young farmer is aware of his assets: good quality land, access to water for irrigation, and an Alsatian environment with promising opportunities. But workers are almost impossible to find, now that Jean-Marc, his dad, wants to take his well-earned retirement. François uses an RTK guidance system, to which he has access through the Haag dealer: “It allows me to often work at night, to take advantage of the best weather conditions.” The yield mapping functionality on the new S670 combine, interests him greatly, in particular for trying out dose modulation of the seeds.
François notes a rare advantage of climate change: “We can now cultivate late varieties of corn, with a 450 index, even 500, which have great potential.” Restrictions on the use of fertiliser worry him more. As to access to pesticides in the future, François Vix makes little fuss about it. “If we are given the time, why not evolve towards organic?” Optimism but not without realism, a wholly Alsatian approach.