Conservation agriculture

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It promotes adequate biomass levels for permanent residue cover and assists in control of weeds, pests and diseases. Rotations also ameliorate soil physical conditions, recycle nutrients and can fix atmospheric nitrogen. In semiarid conditions, appropriate crop rotations involving deep-rooting crops can also make still better use of residual soil moisture. As a result, soil erosion is reduced by about 90 percent and soil biological diversity maximized adapted from FAO, e.

In such systems soil damage is reduced and recuperation of soil architecture is much more quickly achieved than by unimproved fallow systems. Appropriate crop rotations are as important as the soil cover and no-tillage practices Plate Grasses, in particular, increase the aggregation and stability of soil particles which provide a range of small voids resulting in increased porosity Plate A dense growth of nitrogen-fixing vetch within a zero tillage rotation.

Development of porous soil architecture beneath a grass crop in rotation. Interplanting maize in furrows drawn through a young cover of a low-growing vetch; in the foreground is soil which has been scarified - the earlier alternative. Residue-based zero tillage is implemented gradually on structurally damaged soils. At the start, tillage with tined equipment scarification can be used to break up the underlying pan and let more rainwater back into the soil, while leaving some of the plant remains on the surface Plate In this way the soil is opened up and the previous crop's residues are incorporated.

It may necessary to start renovating the soil by enabling more rainfall to become soil moisture, but too frequent scarification can also damage soil architecture because of the shattering effect on soil structural units. Following the break-up of the underlying pan, strip cropping with a legume between rows of the main crop e. Finally a complete cover of crop residues without further soil disturbance by tillage could be established Plate The residues change overtime from being a protective cover to becoming an integral component of the soil Plate In the process, the worms and other soil mesofauna burrow within the soil seeking food and thereby provide channels and biopores through which air and water can move easily.

It might be expected that zero tillage would be no better than scarification opening large spaces in the soil and leaving a rough surface in increasing moisture in the soil, but this is not the case, as shown in Figure This shows changes in levels of soil moisture under wheat, at three depths, under conventional soil preparation, scarification minimum tillage and zero tillage, during the crop's vegetative stage in the growing season.

Plant-available moisture was greater and water stress, due to drought, shorter under zero tillage than under the other methods. Soil moistre available to plants at different depths during the vegetative phase of wheat growth, under three methods of soil preparation Derpsch et al. Plate 75 shows the differences in the soil physical conditions from a residue-based zero tillage system and conventional tillage system on the same soil type.

Original Research ARTICLE

Other experimental work showed that where the cover of residues was similar, the percentage of rainfall which infiltrated into scarified and zero-tilled soil differed by only percent Derpsch et al. Nevertheless, Figure 24 shows a disproportionate benefit to zero tillage in terms of amount of soil moisture and duration of its availability to the plants.

This reflects differences in pore space distribution within the soil architecture between scarification and zero tillage. This farmer has studied the comparative effects of zero tillage - on the left - vs. The fact that differences in the three-dimensional arrangement of the root habitat contribute to differences in root growth and function, even though soil moisture conditions may be almost the same, has profound implications. The best conditions for root growth and function appear to be where there has been no disturbance by tillage implements and where soil organisms are doing the work of burrowing, transforming and aggregating soil constituents.

It may also be that differences in soil moisture inferred from runoff measurements under different tillage treatments may be insufficient to explain differences in root measurements and in final yield.

To stop wasting fertilizer, find dud spots in corn fields

These show that under residue-based zero tillage, yields of both maize and soybean have been rising and have become less variable from year to year Figure Annex 8 provides information on similar experiences of a large-scale farmer in Chile. The impacts of zero tillage ZT and conventional tillage [8] CT on soil health are shown by comparing some soil indicators for both systems:. Saturnino and Landers measured the number of maize roots in each 10 cm layer of soil to 1 m depth after 15 years of constant treatment zero tillage and conventional tillage.

The results in Table 18 show marked differences. Zero tillage and crop rotation favour recycling of nutrients and better soil structure, resulting in better root development and higher production. A research report from showed similar differences in root distribution of soybeans. While the total number of roots was the same to 1 m depth, they were more evenly distributed down the profile with zero tillage than with conventional tillage Derpsch et al.

Conservation agriculture compared with conventional tillage results in markedly reduced soil erosion and runoff, as shown in results from Brazil and Paraguay. This effect is attributed to the increased soil porosity beneath residues due to biological activity. Note the saving of mm water by reduction of runoff in southern Brazil and mm in central Brazil Table A group of farm families, whose houses were on the slopes of cultivated fields recently transformed by zero tillage, said they were pleased that the runoff water and sediment no longer rushed down the hillsides into their houses, damaging the rugs and carpets on the floors author's field notes.

If runoff and erosion are symptoms of soil misuse, the major reduction in both occurrences signifies that their causes must have been significantly reduced. Soon after the adoption of zero tillage on rolling wheat lands, farm families observed that a pond which formerly had been dry for much of the year filled with water and hydrophytic vegetation took hold again Plate Further down the catchment, the river, which had ceased to flow in the dry season began to flow again throughout the year, so that a small farmer on its banks was able to improve his livelihood by investing in irrigation equipment and in excavating fishponds.

This farmer now keeps fishponds full of water through the year and charges people to come fishing for fun at the weekends Plate Improved management of the soil upslope resulted in this pond reappearing and persisting through the dry season Toledo, Brazil. Further down the same catchment, the adoption of zero tillage crop production above showed its effect in much-extended river flow, with considerable income improvements for this small farmer Toledo, Brazil.

Farmers have responded to the economic benefits of zero tillage. Yield increases of 20 percent or more, coupled with reduction of production costs by a similar percentage, have had positive effects on farm income.


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Savings of time and labour have contributed to improvements in farm families' livelihoods. For instance in Paraguay, on farms using conventional tillage systems, severe losses of soil, nutrients and organic matter were seen as a root cause of declining yields of a range of crops. Some farms had adopted zero tillage, others not.

Farm records over 10 years were used to construct economic models and indicators of differences. On representative mechanized ha farms growing rotations including oats, soybean, sunflower, maize, wheat, crotalaria, vetch with zero tillage ZT farm incomes rose while those using conventional tillage CT for rotations with soybean, oats, wheat, maize fell. The returns on capital increased on farms using zero tillage, but declined on those using conventional tillage. Reduction of tractor-hours, reduced use of fuel and lower costs of repairs, etc.

In another study in Paraguay, the economics of zero tillage on seven smaller farms 20 ha or less without tractors were studied. Five out of the seven farmers had both conventional and zero tillage areas on their properties Table The small-farm study illustrates that zero tillage is not only financially attractive to small farmers but also has high economic pay-off for the nation. These included the saving in nutrients lost from soil from erosion, plus the costs saved in reduced tractor hours, less fuel and fertilizer.

What Are the Three Principles of Conservation Agriculture ? | Lexicon of Food

A report indicated the annual benefits if residue-based zero tillage systems were to be applied to the full 6 million ha Box 8. Extending the time of concentration; better recharge of underground aquifers, improving groundwater reserves and dry season flow in springs and streams;. The zero tillage systems of Latin America thus are not only a great improvement on former tillage-based systems, but also have major off-site and national benefits, to which improvements in soil moisture management make a large contribution.

The effects are illustrated by the colour of the water going over the Iguassu Falls in southern Brazil Plates 78 and By chance these two Plates were taken from the same viewpoint 7 years apart, one in the wet season when high runoff also transported much eroded soil, the other in the dry season when water that had seeped down through the soil to the groundwater provided the dry-season flow. River flow in two seasons before and after the improvements in the catchments wrought by widespread conservation agriculture in the form of residue-based zero tillage Foz do Iguassu, Brazil.

People who recently visited the site during the rains say that the water even in the wet season is now as clear as it is in the dry season Benites, pers. Conservation agriculture has been successfully employed in subhumid as well as humid climates, but there are still some constraints in semiarid environments that may hinder its immediate application. Typical of these constraints are:. A number of approaches have been explored and are being tested to overcome these constraints.

Hay or silage may be produced as additional dry-season fodder from improved pasture species, or from forage trees or crops of high biomass grown specifically for this purpose Barber, Forage trees can be established as live fences along farm and field boundaries, and forage grasses may be produced as live barriers, on bunds, and along field boundaries and roadways. In Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, farmers are increasing fodder production by undersowing forage legumes in other crops, establishing forage strips between arable crops, and by oversowing mixtures of legume seeds on grazing areas Lemlem, Certain crop sequences are less suited to direct sowing into crop residues because of the likelihood that weed, pest or disease problems will become intensified by being transmitted from one crop to the next.

Examples of less suitable crop sequences and their specific problems encountered in eastern Bolivia Barber, are:. Weed problems may also be caused by volunteer germination of the previous crop; for example, sunflower volunteers can be particularly difficult to eradicate.

Pushing toward the integration of crop-livestock and conservation agriculture

To avoid such problems, appropriate crop rotations, acceptable to the farmers, must be selected. In environments where there are many constraints to the introduction of conservation agriculture, a pragmatic, phased approach may be the most feasible, in which individual constraints are progressively overcome until an appropriate system of conservation agriculture can be fully implemented.

This may require the planned introduction of measures such as improved grass species and fodder trees, hay and silage production, live fences, stall-fed livestock, improved crop rotations with cover crops, formation of farmers' associations, credit supply and local or international training visits for farmers, extension and research staff FAO, b.

The introduction of conservation agriculture is unlikely to be immediately successful on seriously degraded soils with surface crusts, compacted layers, low fertility or severe weed infestations unless these problems are first overcome by appropriate remedial actions. Hardsetting soils may not be immediately suitable for conservation agriculture because of the difficulties of overcoming soil compaction problems and maintaining good soil porosity within the topsoil and subsoil. Consequently crop rooting is frequently restricted to shallow depths. In this case, deep tillage followed by the establishment of cover crops prior to introducing conservation agriculture, and then the adoption of crop rotations that produce large quantities of residues, will progressively improve the physical condition of these soils and make conservation agriculture possible.

But given the prevalence of annual cropping around the world, those tons add up. Because conservation agriculture makes land more resilient to climate-related events such as long droughts and heavy downpours, it is doubly valuable in a warming world. Brazil and Argentina in the s: Farooq, M. New York: Springer, Annual crops…89 percent of…cropland: Toensmeier, Eric. The Carbon Farming Solution.

The Future of Farming

Conservation agriculture sequesters a relatively small amount of carbon —an average of half a ton per acre. Project Drawdown defines conservation agriculture as: an annual crop production system that provides biosequestration via crop rotation, cover cropping, and reduced tillage.

This solution replaces conventional annual cropping systems with tillage. The three components of conservation agriculture are: minimal soil disturbance no-till or reduced tillage , permanent soil cover cover crops , and diversified crop rotations. It is suited to both mechanized and unmechanized contexts. Climate mitigation from conservation agriculture is through reduced emissions from tillage and soil carbon sequestration. Conservation agriculture is modeled as a bridge technology, which transitions to regenerative agriculture over time. Converting from conservation agriculture to regenerative agriculture only requires the addition of one more practice compost application, organic farming, or green manure use.

The total land area allocated to conservation agriculture and regenerative agriculture is the same: million hectares of non-degraded croplands with minimal slopes, which is allocated differently under different custom adoption scenarios. In all scenarios, conservation agriculture grows until at least and then starts declining, but never shrinks below its rate of Five custom adoption scenarios were developed for conservation agriculture.

Some scenarios use the current global adoption rate of 0. The conservative scenarios assume adoption to continue through , while the aggressive scenarios assume that the adoption of conservation agriculture will reach its peak by and begin to decline as land area under conservation agriculture converts to regenerative agriculture. This conversion was assumed based on the increasing demand for organic and semi-organic agricultural products. Usually, the adoption area under any solution increases from the Plausible to Optimum Scenario; however, this is not the case for conservation agriculture , due to its transition to regenerative agriculture.

Thus, a continuous decrease in conservation agriculture leads to a continuous increase in regenerative agriculture from the Plausible to Optimum Scenarios. Sequestration rates are set at 0. These are the result of meta-analysis of 62 data points from 34 sources.

Emissions reduction rates from conservation agriculture are 0. Yield gains compared to business as usual annual cropping were set at 8. Financial inputs for conservation agriculture were determined via meta-analysis of 33 data points from 11 sources. Adoption of conservation agriculture was constrained by several factors.