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Ploughs Need Cigarette-Style Warning on Them

Ploughs Need Cigarette-Style Warning on Them

August 13, 2013

In Holland the first beef burger without disturbing a cow has been eaten, globally governments intend to ban smoking and, in New Zealand, a soil scientist is campaigning to outlaw the plough.

World authority on soil science, Dr John Baker, says ploughing or conventional tillage contributes to global warming, crop failure, soil erosion and eventually famine in areas of the world.

Ploughing is like invasive surgery. It releases carbon into the atmosphere which add to global warming and depletes the micro-organisms which enrich the soil.

Over time tillage leads to soil erosion, crop failure and drought.

Dr Baker, who has a MAgrSc in soil science and Ph.D in agricultural engineering from Massey University, says the single greatest challenge facing the world today is feeding the extra 50 percent population by the year 2050.

“Only four percent of the world’s surface has arable soil and that’s not likely to increase so we have to learn to farm it more sustainably which we simply haven’t been doing,” John says.

“We can get away with conventional methods in New Zealand because we have rich soil and rotating pasture, but other countries don’t have that luxury. Instead they’re turning their backs on ploughing and adopting no-tillage as the only way to feed the population.”

Just as Professor Mark Post from Maastricht University says that killing cattle will become unethical and farming them for food is a costly way of using land, Dr Baker says no-tillage technology is by far the preferred way to grow food sustainably.

Professor Post has done something about his research by creating a burger made with real beef cells grown in a laboratory. He believes his product will hit the supermarket shelves in little more than a decade.

Dr Baker has already produced a hundred no-tillage machines. Following his 30 years of research at Massey University, he’s developed a no-tillage drill which penetrates through crop residue or vegetation on top of the ground and sows seed and fertiliser in different bands beneath it at the same time.

Unlike ploughing the process causes minimal disturbance to the soil, traps the humidity, preserves the micro-organisms and soil life, largely prevents carbon from escaping into the atmosphere and significantly improves crop yield.

“No-Tillage is the equivalent of keyhole surgery as opposed to ploughing which is invasive surgery,” he says.

As a result he now exports to 17 countries including Australia, the United States and Canada and this year was a finalist in the World Food Prize, announced at the US State Department in June.

His technology is recognised by the United States Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United States Department of Agriculture as the best available.

“No-tillage is the only method of seeding that can feed a hungry world in the decades to come,” he says. “It’s that important.”

And like Professor Post and cattle, Dr Baker looks forward to the day when tillage equipment comes complete with a cigarette-style warning on it.


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