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Keynote speaker backs GM-linked farming system

PUBLISHED: 16:29 07 November 2017 | UPDATED: 16:37 07 November 2017

Maria Beatriz Giraudo, who advocates “no-till” cultivation. Picture: Oliver Vitola

Maria Beatriz Giraudo, who advocates “no-till” cultivation. Picture: Oliver Vitola

OLIVERFOTOS.COM

A farming system linked to the production of genetically modified (GM) crops has been championed by the keynote speaker at a prestigious East Anglian farming conference.

Dr Belinda Clarke, of Agri-Tech East, with Prof Ian Crute, former chief scientist at AHDB, on the Earlham Institute stand at REAP 2017. Picture: Contributed Dr Belinda Clarke, of Agri-Tech East, with Prof Ian Crute, former chief scientist at AHDB, on the Earlham Institute stand at REAP 2017. Picture: Contributed

Maria Beatriz Giraudo, winner of a global prize for agriculture last year, told an audience of some 200 farmers and scientists how “no-till” cultivation was promoting the productivity and sustainability of soil in her native Argentina.

“Since 1970, soil erosion has reduced by 90pc in my country, soil fertility has improved, yields are higher and operating costs are lower as a result of no-till methods,” she told the REAP conference at Hinxton, Cambridge, organised by Agri-Tech East.

No-till, which prohibits the use of ploughs and other soil-penetrating tools, is believed to allow more water to get into the soil and increase organic matter and nutrients in the soil. Over time, in many agricultural regions, it can reduce or eliminate soil erosion.

Ms Giraudo, an advocate of farming methods that reduce polluting and toxic inputs, added: “Everybody associates no-till with GM, but it doesn’t have to be so. I’m in favour of using fewer chemicals while increasing production.”

She said her father was considered “mad” when he switched to no-till agriculture 40 years ago in Argentina. Now it is widely used in the country and has been adopted in the US and sub-Saharan Africa.

A member of the audience questioned the efficacy of no-till in root cropping and Ms Giraudo was unable to produce evidence, but the no-till concept was backed by start-up business, the Small Robot Company.

Following the REAP theme of “today’s knowledge meets tomorrow’s technology”, co-founder Sam Watson-Jones said: “Switching to robots is a technological leap forward with enormous environmental benefits.

“Robots will be more accurate when applying chemicals and fertiliser, treating only the plants that need to be treated.

“We will follow a no-till approach with our robots. It’s the best of both worlds, having increased yields as well as minimal chemical usage through greater precision.”

In a separate development, Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East, announced a joint initiative with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to boost innovation.

The two bodies will combine to fund the appointment of a knowledge and innovation facilitator in the new year to deliver a programme of new projects.

“There’s more and more we want to do as an organisation, and this 50:50 partnership will give us an additional pair of hands.”

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