Organic farming goes in circles  

Organic farming goes in circles  

A Slovakian eco-entrepreneur wants to promote outside his home country a system for the mechanical cultivation of agricultural soils that can work entirely without oil as an energy input.

Soil cultivation is generally done using heavy machinery such as tractors. While these have greatly improved agricultural productivity, they have environmental drawbacks, such as compaction of the soil because of their weight, and air pollution from consumption of fossil fuels.

Organic farmers in particular have sought more environmentally-friendly alternatives. One such is the use of gantries, or bridge-like frameworks from which tasks such as ploughing and tilling, planting of seeds, and weeding and maintenance, can be done with limited damage to the soil. In Slovakia, agricultural engineer Jan Šlinský has taken this one step further with the development of the AGROKRUH, or Agro-circle, system. This is an electronically-controlled gantry that rotates around a central point, and can be fitted with different implements to turn and cultivate the soil, and to water the crops.

AGROKRUH cultivates the soil in a spiral pattern, though planting of crops still needs to be done by hand. Whatever implement is fitted to the gantry gradually moves inward as the gantry rotates. The result is a circular plot of cultivated soil. Because the gantry control system is very precise, high yields of about 30 tonnes of vegetables from 2 hectares can be achieved.

A full analysis of the relative environmental benefits of AGROKRUH has yet to be done, but it has been calculated that to produce 21 tonnes of vegetables, an input of about 4000 kilowatt hours of electricity is needed - significantly less than greenhouse production. The vegetables grown using the system meet high organic standards, and are not damaged by soil compaction or emissions from agricultural machinery. Furthermore, if the electricity comes from renewable sources, AGROKRUH can offer entirely “green” production.

AGROKRUH is likely to need external investment if it is to be promoted more widely. At present, the system is used on a farm in Hruby Sur, east of Bratislava, and is planned to be adopted by two further farms during 2014.

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