The consequences of plowing farm ground are so serious, John Baker says the implements should have warnings on them similar to cigarettes.
We’ve always argued here at No-Till Farmer that tillage is addictive, especially when it’s recreational tillage that accomplishes little or nothing.
But Baker, a World Food Prize finalist and founder of Baker No-Tillage, says the consequences of conventional tillage are serious, noting the practice contributes to global warming, crop failures and erosion, and that tillage will eventually lead to famine in parts of the world.
Only 4% 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,” Baker says. “Plowing is like invasive surgery. It releases carbon into the atmosphere, which adds to global warming and depletes the microorganisms which enrich the soil.”
Baker notes that farmers can get away with conventional tillage in New Zealand because of its rich soil and pasture rotations, but other countries like Australia and the U.S. don’t have that luxury. “Instead, they’re turning their backs on plowing and adopting no-till as the only way to feed the population,” he says.
Baker has produced 100 Cross Slot no-till drills from his New Zealand factory that penetrate through crop residue and place seed and fertilizer in different bands at the same time. He says the system causes minimal disturbance to the soil, preserves soil microbial activity, reduces carbon emissions and improves crop yields.
“No-tillage is the equivalent of keyhole surgery, as opposed to plowing, which is invasive surgery,” say Baker, whose drills are exported to 17 countries. “No-tillage is the only method of seeding that can feed a hungry world in the decades to come. It’s that important.”
We can’t agree more with Dr. Baker’s viewpoints, but it’s hard to say U.S. farmers have turned their backs on the plow. While some 90 million U.S crop acres are no-tilled, according to USDA estimates, editors here have recently driven through parts of the Corn Belt where it’s hard to find any no-tilled fields at all.
While I’m not sure warnings on plows would work, it would be nice just to see farmers moving in the direction of no-tillage and leaving the land in better shape for the next generation.