Personal Profile

Farming Systems and Agricultural Science in Transition.

Dr Maarten Stapper has lived, studied and worked in the Netherlands, Canada, USA, Iraq, Syria, and, since 1982, in Australia.

He has an agricultural engineering degree from Wageningen University, the Netherlands, in farming systems and catchment management in semi-arid tropics.

He did his PhD with the University of New England, Armidale, on wheat production systems, linking crop physiology with agronomy and daily weather in simulation modelling. Maarten was then employed by the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) at Aleppo, Syria, where he did his field work.

Maarten worked from 1983 to 1988 at CSIRO, Griffith, on irrigated wheat and introduced irrigation scheduling, a nitrogen fertilizer calculator and the first crop monitoring program for farmers to support their management decisions. He then moved to CSIRO, Canberra, to work on dryland wheat systems and the management of high-yielding irrigated wheat, which led him to the principles of biological agriculture.

After working for 30 years as a research agronomist in four continents, Dr Maarten Stapper has turned into an advocate of biological-organic farming systems.

With experience from the inside, he is a critic of GM technology and current agricultural science paradigm that both strengthen the moribund industrial agriculture as it continues to degrade soil, environment and food.

Maarten now works as a private consultant assisting farmers in the transition from industrial to biological farming systems.

As a farming systems agronomist Maarten has quantified production in many wheat paddocks in dryland and irrigation districts in southeastern Australia. In that work he has become aware that most problems start with the soil, and thus the search for solutions should commence there. Current soil problems are the result of gross oversimplification of fertilization and ‘plant protection’ practices that use harsh chemicals and ignore the delicate balance of microbes, trace minerals and nutrients in the soil. Hence GM technology is not the solution to our problems as it only treats individual symptoms and not the wider cause of soil degradation.

The main focus of Maarten’s work is helping farmers improve the profitability of their operations by harnessing the power of natural soil processes, improving their use of inputs and understanding those practices that negatively impact on soil health.

A healthy soil produces better crops and pastures, requiring less fertilisers and agro-chemicals for similar productivity, and resulting in healthier feed for animals and healthier food for humans.

Through Maarten’s research work, discussions with Landcare groups and a wide range of farmers, he has come to the belief that science must take a broader view to achieve the sustainable development of agricultural industries. To achieve this we have to look at the whole farming system – where every thing is linked to everything else.

Biological agriculture leads to higher biodiversity on farms and a greatly reduced impact on catchment environments. This process can achieve a doubling of the organic carbon content of the soil, and, if practised Australia-wide, could capture most CO2 released in the country and slow climate change.

Maarten is an expert in dryland and irrigated wheat production in semi-arid tropics and developed management guidelines associated with plant and crop development using the Zadoks Decimal Code.

He has been following world food production & consumption and Third World issues for more than 40 years.

Maarten loves cooking and is worried about food quality. He advocates least refined and processed, wholesome, nourishing traditions.

Maarten’s hobby is tracing family history back to the 17th century in Holland, Old Zealand, Frisia and Utrecht. He lived in the Middle East, with a strong interest in the history of Mesopotamia, and is a frequent visitor to India.

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