CATEGORY: SUSTAINABILITY (GROWER)
Sustainable farming methods have not only improved the soils but also the bank balance of Hawke’s Bay grower Hugh Ritchie.
The New Zealand farmer who grows a mix of vegetables, cereals and pasture seed, came back from studying agriculture at university with the goal to look at the family farm’s soil in “more creative ways”.
He’s used opportunities like a Nuffield Scholarship to travel to investigate different farming methods, and has continued a strong involvement in local research and innovation to progress his farm’s productivity.
The over-riding caveat, however, is making his farm operation sustainable.
Zero tillage to promote soil sustainability has always been a big goal for him.
“Organic matter is increased, erosion from wind and water is decreased, earthworms in the soil are increased, and internal drainage is increased,” he says.
Strip tillage is used in some crops which need a level of cultivation to grow, but the nature of this method – where only part of the seed bed is disturbed – is more sustainable than full tillage methods.
Hugh’s determination to become as sustainable as possible sees him involved currently with the development of an electro-weeder, which will “fry weeds” rather than relying on chemistry. It could solve the problems of resistance build-up as resistant weeds can be eliminated from the system, and then existing chemistries can be used to clean up weeds again.
Hugh says initially he was hoping the move to more sustainable farming methods would, at best, allow them to match their productivity under traditional methods. The fact that they can now produce greater returns in hand with sustainable farming has been a bonus.