In Conservation Agriculture (CA), mechanized land preparation uses different machinery to abide by the pillar of minimal soil disturbance. Namely, it uses an attachment called a ripper. The one we had available at training was a spring loaded ripper. It has three components and are in the order of their function:
1. Discs – They create the path for the other parts of the ripper by cutting lines into the
Ripper: Note the created rows and minimal soil disturbance
land where the rows will be and most importantly, as they are sharp, cut through any cover crops to avoid them being dragged and instead remain covering the soil.
2. Ripper – These narrow, long curved spikes sink into the top soil, effectively ‘ripping’ it. They create the depth necessary for planting seeds as well as allow for water to trickle deep down. If the land is in its first year of CA, a ripper is able to break through the compacted soil created through conventional land tillage. The springs are part of this component. Of all stages, this part faces the most resistance from soil. The springs are in place to allow flexibility if the spikes hit rock. The springs allow the spikes to push up and ride over hard blocks underneath the surface.
3. Roller – The last component acts as a smoother by breaking up larger chunks of earth that may have been pulled up from the ripper. This helps keep the plot as even as possible and assures the farmer is working with soil rather than chunks of earth.
When comparing it to a standard disc plow, the benefits are lofty. In our cost-benefit analysis practical, the tractor driver was not used to using a ripper and it took a couple turns until he got the hang of it. No doubt the 35 minutes it took for him to rip would have been closer to 25 had he been used to it. Looking at fuel consumption alone, a ripper is cheaper to run. In Northern Ghana, mechanized land preparation is a service provided by the few tractor owners. Last year it cost anywhere between 40 – 60 GHC per acre to plow. Ripping could perhaps be offered at a lower rate to farmers as the business cost of fuel would be greatly reduced, thus benefiting both farmer and land preparation service provider.
Aside from less soil disturbance and erosion with a ripper, other benefits not shown on the cost-benefit analysis include:
-a ripper creates the rows, saving farmers time and effort. The farmer will now only have to worry about plant spacing within rows.
– farmers can plant early which can lead to higher yields (will depend on rainfall but annual pest problems can be avoided),
– ripping window is long (in Kenya, said to be five months)
A ripper would work very well in northern Ghana – all these benefits could be reaped. Northern Ghana has a shortage of functioning tractors (repair parts and qualified mechanics are either non-existent and in shortage). A long ripping window eases the pressure on farmers to do land preparation. One can take care of this stage of land preparation a couple months before they would plant. Now…all we need is a ripper…