British farmers are embracing a solution to combat deteriorating soil over centuries of use and reducing crop yields based on research from New Zealand scientists.
The evidence that English soils have degraded, especially over the last 50 years, was debated at a series of meetings in Britain last month called by New Zealand agricultural scientist, Bill Ritchie, and attended by more than 200 key farmers, agronomists, researchers and consultants.
All nine meetings concluded that traditional methods of tillage and even minimum tillage no longer work and farmers are unable to meet increasing demands for food.
Despite improvements in plant genetics, agri-chemicals and fertilisers, yields have plateaued and, in some cases, declined, Bill Ritchie says.
The solution is regenerative agriculture which requires implementing ultra-low disturbance techniques for sowing seed.
The evidence is found in comprehensive research and farmer experience in 17 countries around the world where growing crops with minimal soil disturbance can regenerate the soil to its former physical, chemical and biological properties.
The greatest example is Cross Slot, a no-tillage machine manufactured in New Zealand, where seed and fertiliser are drilled directly into the ground causing minimal soil disturbance. No-tillage, invented in Great Britain, has been refined in New Zealand following 30 years of research at Massey University, and Cross Slot machinery is sold extensively in Australia, Canada and the United States.
Cross Slot is unique in that it has the capacity to handle a wider range of soil conditions than any other no-tillage machine.
Bill Ritchie says theres been a significant shift in farmer attitude in Britain. For more than 10 years, Bill and CEO of Baker No-Tillage, Dr John Baker, have been explaining the why of no-tillage. Now theyve progressed to how it can be implemented Bill explains.
Hes returned with considerably more confirmed orders for Cross Slot drills than expected with many more expressions of interest. The orders result in a 15-fold increase in drill numbers from the United Kingdom in three years. Further orders have been confirmed from other countries.
We were able to show examples on British farms of degraded, waterlogged soils with very little, if any, earthworm activity. However where soil at the side of a field had been left untilled, we saw a much better soil structure. The soil was darker indicating higher levels of organic matter, water was able to penetrate and earthworms were active, he says.
Through these examples and, in our discussions, we convinced farmers in nine separate locations that the English situation was serious, crop yields would continue to decline and farmers would find it very difficult to meet a 50 percent increase in global food production by 2050.
Bill Ritchie, who is General Manager and a Director of Baker No Tillage, felt vindicated when farmers acknowledged that their crop production methods had to change and there was significant interest in Cross Slot as a solution.
He explained that one of the breakthroughs came as a result of the visit by four British Nuffield scholars to Cross Slot headquarters in Feilding last year. Two of the scholars subsequently ordered Cross Slot machines and have spread the word through social media.
The same problem of degenerating soil applies to the rest of the world, such as the United States and Australia. Soil degradation from intensive tillage (ploughing) is a global issue in arable agriculture and ultra-low disturbance is the only answer, Bill Ritchie says.
Cross Slot has been invited to hold a further series of presentations in England later in the year.