While his neighbors are busy tilling their fields in the spring, South African farmer Danie Bester is out playing golf.
It’s because Bester has adopted no-till, a key practice in regenerative agriculture, on his 2,700-acre farm in Balfour, about 55 miles southeast of Johannesburg.
HEALTHY SOILS. No-tiller Danie Bester says his fields are in better shape than other South African farms using massive amounts of fertilizers and pesticides. Photo by Phill Magakoe, AFP.
"My seed beds are already growing, and my weed control is already going," Bester tells an AFP reporter. "I don't have to do that big amount of preparation like the other guys are doing."
Bester grows cover crops in the off season to replace pesticides, irrigation and heavy tillage. Cattle graze in the cover-cropped fields, adding manure as fertilizer, while worms and microbes are hard at work in the undisturbed soil, improving its health ahead of the next planting season. He’s spent years testing his soil quality and manages his fields in blocks of about 54 square feet.
It’s taken a lot of trial and error, but his dedication is paying off. His corn and soybean yields are among the highest in South Africa, earning him several national awards. No-till is also a sustainable solution for a country faced with climate crisis. Experts say South Africa’s climate is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.
However, no-till is rare in South Africa, which has the most industrialized farms on the continent. Most operations are large-scale and monoculture, and rely heavily on pesticides and fertilizers. Bester hopes other farmers will see his success and give no-till a try. It seems to be working — several of his neighbors have already switched to no-till.
It’s important to think far into the future when making decisions about farming methods, Bester says. His goal is to use practices that will ensure the land is fertile when his two young children are running the farm.
"We've got to get the soils back to what they were a hundred years ago,” Bester says. “The longer the soil will be healthy, the longer we will be able to produce food.
No-Till, Covers and Livestock Tame Volatile Weather Challenges: Howling winds, dryness and poor soil quality create tough conditions in South Africa, but Egon Zunckel is making no-till work with limited irrigation, cover crops and livestock.
Conservation Farming Improves Water Use, Yield: South Africa’s water scarcity — and the need to import well over 1 million tons of wheat annually — mean that the country’s winter wheat growers increasingly have to optimize their water-use efficiencies.
Information Revolution Needed to Promote No-Till Worldwide: Increasing worldwide adoption of no-till will require a shift in mindset and a localized approach.
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