The promise of conservation agriculture

| May 15, 2017

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Two of this week’s Farmer stories focus on conservation agriculture, as does our Script of the Week.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the tillage methods used by most farmers are a major cause of soil erosion and desertification on many agricultural lands. As a result, farmers and scientists have been working to find alternatives to conventional tillage—ways to farm that cause less soil disturbance, and therefore reduce erosion. Conservation agriculture is an alternative to conventional tillage that attempts to reverse the process of soil degradation.

The main practices used in conservation agriculture are:

  • Reduced tillage or no tillage
  • Establishment of a permanent cover on the soil
  • Use of crop rotations and crop combinations

When a farmer plows the land to prepare for planting or tills the soil to control weeds, the soil becomes more vulnerable to erosion. Sometimes, the soil structure is destroyed. Instead of routine plowing, farmers who use conservation agriculture aim to disturb the soil as little as possible by using reduced tillage practices such as no-till, ripping, or planting pits.

At first, there may be increased weed pressure. But over time and by using complementary practices such as cover cropping and crop rotations, farmers who practise reduced tillage often find that soil becomes more fertile and can hold more water, and that crop yields stabilize and eventually increase.

Learn more about conservation agriculture in this background document. This may inspire you to interview an expert on the topic or to interview farmers who are practicing conservation agriculture.