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BBC Broadcasts Kiwi View on Improving Soil Health

BBC Broadcasts Kiwi View on Improving Soil Health

February 12, 2014

International soil scientist, Dr John Baker, is causing a stir in Great Britain.

His views on low disturbance low-tillage have been expressed in a number of British farming magazines and, earlier this month, he was interviewed on BBC radio which has a listening audience of about one million people.

John, whose father was born in England, is encouraging British farmers to utilise the fallow periods between harvest in summer and the next sowing season in autumn.

He says many farmers traditionally leave their paddocks bare rather than use the time to produce organic matter. Dr John explains that sowing a cover crop during that period allows micro-organisms to develop and grow which enriches the soil.

“Bare soil isn’t healthy soil,” he says. “Even dead crop residues and weeds are better than bare soil.”

Farmers can either feed the cover crop to stock as in New Zealand or spray it out and drill it directly into the soil. During that time the organisms in the soil will have increased the nutrient supply and soil structure.

“It requires a special low-disturbance direct drill to drill through the residues without hairpinning or blocking but the pay-off is a gradual ramping up of crop yields,” Dr Baker says.

“One US report suggests that 15 percent increases in crop yield can be attributed to maintaining symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi alive within the soil using cover crops between annual main crops.

“It’s of vital importance to have continuous cropping on the same piece of land. It’s the magic bullet to sustainability.”

Dr Baker emphasises he’s not preaching to UK farmers. Being partly British he has strong links with England and wants to help their farming practices become more sustainable so they can improve their crop yields even further and provide enough food for their population.

“On my way to an international conference in North America, I’m planning a lecture tour of England in June and early July this year and my message is that increased biological activity by soil micro-organisms will lead to healthier and more productive soil,” he says.

“Low disturbance no-tillage is the key to maximising micro-organism numbers in most soils and could also be the answer to enriching the heavy, damp and compact English soils.”

No tillage was invented in Great Britain and refined by Dr Baker and his team at New Zealand’s Massey University and he wants both countries to benefit from the combination of inputs.

Following his 30 years of university research, Dr Baker developed and manufactured Cross Slot low-disturbance no-tillage drills which penetrate through crop residue or vegetation on top of the ground and sow seed and fertiliser in different bands beneath it at the same time.

The process causes minimal disturbance to the soil, traps the humidity, preserves the micro-organisms and soil life and largely prevents carbon from escaping into the atmosphere. Further by leaving the stubble and straw from the previous crop to decompose on the surface of the ground, it helps sequester new carbon into the soil.

Low disturbance no-tillage builds and repairs soil health cumulatively while ploughing destroys it cumulatively. No-tillage is the equivalent of keyhole surgery as opposed to ploughing which is invasive surgery and contributes to global warming, crop failure, soil erosion and eventually famine and drought in areas of the world.

Baker No-Tillage Ltd markets the Cross Slot technology throughout the world, especially in North America, Australia and Europe but Dr Baker says no-tillage, done properly, can be particularly effective in the heavy, compact soils in Britain.

He is delighted his research and opinions have now been read in 10 major British farming publications and heard on radio. He says Britain doesn’t realise how far ahead New Zealand has moved towards sustainability.

“Low-disturbance no-tillage is the cheapest, easiest and most effective way to achieve food sustainability and, while doing this, it will also save farmers money. It’s the classic win-win,” Dr Baker says.

Cross Slot technology is recognised by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the US Department of Agriculture as the best in the world and, last year, Dr Baker was nominated for the World Food Prize.


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