Column: Innovation: technical and cultural in farming; The Worm Forgives the Plough

A long time ago, I read that one of the problems in agriculture is that children used to learn practical mechanical things.

A long time ago, I read that one of the problems in agriculture is that children used to learn practical mechanical things by hanging around the blacksmith shops and watching new things being made along side the making and shaping of horseshoes.

Nowadays, my source said, there are no more blacksmith shops in our towns and villages.

There are the fabricating shops, which do some of the same things, but kids can’t just hang around and learn like they used to. The point is that young people need to learn by doing.

You can read a book or study the texts but one really needs to get hands onto the things and work them, make them, form them.

I found that at my ranch, the more tools and equipment we had, such as welding equipment, big vices and anvils for pounding steel, the handier the boys became.

I learned so much at my uncle’s elbow while he helped me adapt a mower to a tractor, like straightening a bent axle.

My forge, which beats cutting torches for heating larger pieces of metal, has taught many young people how to bend steel without weakening it by bending it cold. Those experiences might just steer a youngster to engineering of one kind or another.

Some historians credit agriculture and the smithing shops with many of the inventions, which went on to be the foundation of the industrial revolution.

Good or bad, tools were powerful and the shaped and sharp plowshares helped feed growing populations.

New techniques and tools or equipment can help or hinder soil health, depending on how they are used.

Zero and minimum tillage equipment was invented to overcome over ploughing which is disruptive to the health of bacteria in soils and which causes much erosion.

A 1973 book called The Worm Forgives the Plough, by John Stewart Collis, Penguin Press, was formative in a cultural revolution in agriculture which sought to restore fertility by better farming practices. Much research and on-farm trials have passed under the bridge since that book.

Recently on the scene as a guru in agricultural practices is Gabe Brown from North Dakota. (Google him if you are interested) He and his family farm thousands of acres.

He has become an avid promoter of “cover crops” which can be seeded over existing crops or put in fields recently cultivated. His method, which I call a cultural practice, is to plant many, even hundreds, of different seeds in order to have a stand of plants in which different plants having different nutrient needs bring up out of the subsoil a great variety of minerals.

This is a case of not putting all your eggs in one basket by planting only a few varieties and risking that the climatic and soil conditions are correct for what you have sown.

This introduction of biodiversity into swards of fodder (fields) is innovative. Worms and dung beetles process dead plant materials into growing plant food.

New cultural practices, like new technologies and machines, need to be learned by trial, by demonstration, and by adoption from those who dare to lead.

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which is starting at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake this January.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

International Women’s Day is March 8. (Internationalwomensday.com)
International Women’s Day 2021: #choosetochallenge

International Women’s Day is marked annually on March 8

Businesses in Williams Lake are invited to participate in a new sticker program that will help make their venues more accessible. (Williams Lake Accessibility Advisory Committee image)
‘Come On In’: New program aims to make Williams Lake businesses more accessible

Williams Lake Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC) is leading the project

Celebrate women in leadership, March 8, International Women’s Day 2021 (Unsplash)
EDITORIAL: International Women’s Day 2021 shines spotlight on achievements, ongoing inequities

COVID-19 increased gender-based violence, economic stress, the burden of care giving for women

Amarjit Khakh of Williams Lake. (Photo submitted)
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2021: Amarjit Khakh

Kindness and giving, key to full life

Sierra William (left) with her grandmother Eileen William. (Roger William photo)
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY 2021: Sierra William

Xeni Gwet’in woman finds strength in tradition

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered to a personal support worker at the Ottawa Hospital on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020 in Ottawa. Doctors in Alberta have signed an open letter asking for prioritized vaccination of health-care staff who work directly with patients on dedicated COVID-19 units. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID vaccines for seniors in B.C.: Here’s how to sign up

Seniors 90+, Indigenous seniors 65+ and Indigenous Elders can book starting March 8

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Software engineer Shaimma Yehia, 40, has been forced to re-skill during the COVID-19 pandemic after more than six years of unsuccessfully applying for jobs in B.C.’s tech industry. (Submitted photo/Shaimma Yehia)
Why skilled immigrant women continue to be shut out of B.C.’s booming tech sector

Experienced software engineer Shaimma Yehia, 40, hasn’t found a job since she migrated to Canada 6 years ago

Ron Sivorot, business director at Kennametal’s Langford site, the Greater Victoria facility that made a component being used on NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. (Jake Romphf, Black Press Media)
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover digging in with B.C.-made part

Kennametal’s Langford plant’s tooth blank is helping the rover’s drill collect rock cores

A woman walks through Toronto’s financial district on Monday, July 30, 2018. A new poll suggests most Canadians believe there’s still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in this country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Canadians, especially women, say gender equality not achieved in Canada: Poll

Poll results themselves underscore the challenge, with more men believing equality had been achieved

This image provided by Harpo Productions shows Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, left, in conversation with Oprah Winfrey. (Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions via AP)
Race, title and anguish: Meghan and Harry explain royal rift

Meghan said she struggled with concerns within the royal family about her son’s skin colour

Const. Allan Young. Photo: Abbotsford Police Department
Manslaughter charge laid in Nelson death of Abbotsford police officer

Allan Young died after an incident in downtown Nelson last summer

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Sarah Cotton-Elliott said she believed her children took a back seat to arranging equal parenting

Most Read