Those people who are eagerly declaring the plough dead and gone have obviously not considered the ingenuity of research institutions such as ZALF (Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research).

The research centre, based in north east Germany, has come up with a development which could well grant the humble implement a new lease of life and make it a useful tool for preserving carbon in the soil.

ZALF upsets tradition

This latest take on the plough might also give traditional ploughmen cause for pause for the alternate bodies are set to work at different depths, an anathema to the finely honed craft.

This new design is orientated towards the emerging concept of carbon farming which requires carbon management to become an integral part of how agriculture is conducted.

The main feature of this latest take on the plough is its differential in cultivation depth between plough bodies, creating an undulating horizon beneath the soil surface.

Government funded development

Research work on the effect of partial deep tillage which has led to this design was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

Lemken has taken the results of this research to create an implement for carbon enrichment in arable soils which the company will be bringing to the market in 2024.

The intention is that this new type of plough is used for meliorative tillage, i.e., it breaks up compaction, improving soil structure as a result.

Zalf plough soil
The plough looks as if it was built on a Friday afternoon, but it is all intentional and it does appear to eave a satisfactory finish

Having the bodies plough at alternating depths creates a deep furrow below the surface which is then filled in with humus-rich topsoil turned by the shallower body following behind.

Retention of carbon is paramount

According to ZALF, which has conducted long-term trials on the idea, more than half of the organic matter introduced in this manner is retained to secure the long-term storage of CO2 in the soil.

The research institute believes that this approach can increase yields by up to 5%, even in the first year. It also claims that the effect was first noted 60 years ago and has since been confirmed by its own more recent field trials.

In addition to the material benefits in the field, this carbon farming technology might also open up new income streams for farmers in the form of trade in CO2 certificates.

A potential future tax on CO2 emissions would therefore be avoided increasing the viability of the farm business.

Carbon farming is complex

However, it is becoming apparent that the dynamics of carbon sequestration are nowhere near as straightforward as once believed, and any method deployed to measure and reward it is very likely to be complicated and not immediately transparent.

Towards this end, Lemken points out that when paired with its iQblue connect module, the Carbon Farming Plough will be capable of collecting site-specific work data documenting the depth and position of the furrows.