A Manawatu scientist could well be the winner of this year's World Food Prize for his contribution – dubbed the Microsoft of agriculture – to expanding the global food supply.
Dr John Baker, chief executive of Baker No-Tillage Ltd, received international acclaim when the company reached the final of last year's World Technology Awards in New York. Now he’s been nominated for what is considered to be the Nobel Prize for food.
Among the World Food Prize’s advisors are two former presidents of the United States, George H. Bush and Jimmy Carter; the 2012 winner will be named next month in Iowa, and awarded the US$250,000 prize in mid-October.
Baker’s company exports to 17 countries throughout the world and its claim to fame is the Cross Slot“no-tillage” seed drill. Rather than ploughing land in the conventional way, it sows seeds directly into the unploughed ground with minimum soil disturbance, slicing through crop residue or vegetation. It sows the seed and fertiliser in different bands at the same time, covers the slot, traps humidity, preserves micro-organisms and soil life and prevents carbon in the soil from escaping into the atmosphere.
“What we’re doing is stopping the destruction caused by ploughing which opens up the soil, loses humidity and releases carbon into the atmosphere - eventually turning arable land into a dust bowl,” Baker explains.
“Ploughing is like invasive surgery. No-tillage is keyhole.
“Our drill has been referred to as ‘the Microsoft of agriculture’ and I’d like to think that it will be eventually recognised as one of New Zealand’s technological icons that will benefit humanity around the world.”
He says the Cross Slot seed drill method can boost yields by up to 50 percent, and is recognised as the best in the world by both the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) and the USDA (US Department of Agriculture).
Baker No-Tillage Ltd has been exporting the drill quietly for 14 years from a small prefab in a paddock and a town factory, and, for 30 years before that, Baker was an agri-tech scientist at Massey University inventing improved methods of no-tillage seed sowing.
His drills are also sold throughout New Zealand, but Baker says New Zealand farmers can often get away with less-than-perfect methods of growing crops because of our benign climate andabundance of soil moisture.
As a result, he has focused his attention in areas of the world where his drill can be the difference between putting food on the table or not at all.