Bare soil is also subject to erosion. Even when erosion is not visible to the eye it can be
a constant drain on soil fertility as it is always the finest, most fertile fraction of the soil
that is washed or blown away first. In its natural state soil has its own structure, a network
of solid blocks or crumbs separated by fissures though which water, air and plant roots can
This natural structure is weakened or destroyed by continuous ploughing, mainly be-
cause ploughing exposes the soil to excessive aeration which leads to a loss of organic mat-
ter, which is vital to the formation of structure. We then have to go on ploughing to create
an artificial structure.
So when we plough we destroy the natural fertility and structure of the soil and commit
ourselves to an endless round of ploughing and manuring. The result can be an increased
yield per hectare, but the inputs of work, energy and materials are also increased. So a no-
till system usually has a higher yield per unit of energy used, in other words a higher net
This does not mean we have to change to a diet of nuts, animal products and vegetables
in order to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels or hard labour. There is a no-till method
of growing grains, based on the revolutionary work of a Japanese farmer called Masanobu
The essence of his method is to reproduce natural conditions as closely as possible.
There is no ploughing, as the seed germinates quite happily on the surface if the right con-
ditions are provided. There is also considerable diversity, with a ground cover of clover
growing under the grain plants to provide nitrogen and the weeds are also regarded as part
of the ecosystem. They are periodically cut and allowed to lie on the surface, so the nutri-
ents they contain are returned to the soil. Ducks are let into the grain plot at certain times
of the year to eat slugs and other pests.
The ground is always covered. As well as the clover and weeds, there is the straw from
the previous crop, used as mulch, and each grain crop is sown before the previous one is
harvested. This is done by broadcasting the seed among the standing crop. Much less seed
is used than in conventional growing, giving fewer, but larger and stronger plants.
In Japan, the Fukuoka method has given similar yields to chemically grown crops and
some work has already been done to adapt it to European conditions. It is essentially a
small-scale style of growing, suited to smallholdings, as it is one of those methods in which
attention to detail replaces heavy work. It takes a great deal of skill to work with grain,
clover and weeds in such a way that each fulfils its function in the system without becom-
ing over-vigorous and crowding out one of the others. But all the work involved can easily
be done by hand.
It is not suited to growing huge quantities of grain, like those presently produced in the
industrialised world by means of large-scale mechanisation. But the vast majority of this
grain goes to feed animals, which could be far more efficiently fed by means of diverse for-