Recently there have been many reports about the negative sides of ploughing. The productivity of our soils has constantly increased thanks to the invention of the plough millennia ago, but now ploughing could be a cause for the decline in soil productivity.
Dr John Baker, an international soil scientist who studied at Massey University, says that ploughing also contributes to global warming and our greenhouse gas emissions.
“When a farmer ploughs and cultivates a paddock it releases CO2 into the atmosphere. The vast majority (95 percent) is released from soil with the other five percent coming from tractor exhausts,” according to Dr Baker.
He says 20% of CO2 in the atmosphere comes from ploughing and in New Zealand 2.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide from ploughing is released every year.
This has enormous repercussions for the climate, but it also has a direct effect on the quality of our air and waterways. “If you want quality air and water and sustainable food production, you can’t do it without quality soil.” That dust on poor roads comes from poor soil, and poor dry soil also captures less water content, increasing run-off.
But the international scientist says it doesn’t need to happen. He has researched, invented and manufactured a drill that sows seeds and fertiliser into unploughed land. It prevents carbon from escaping into the atmosphere while trapping humidity and improving yields. His technology is recognised by the United States Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United States Department of Agriculture as the best available.
Dr Baker says local councils have policies that address water and air quality, but soil quality is largely left out of the mix. “If promoting soil quality and discouraging conventional tillage was included in all environmental policies, then local authorities would be making an investment in the future prosperity of the region because healthy soils produce greater pasture and crop yields,” he says.