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New approaches to arable crop cultivation & cover crops
The latest from the TILMAN-ORG project, presenting results from long-term, EU-wide tillage and cover crop trials. An opportunity to consider making changes in the approach on the home farm.
Christophe Davide (ISARA): Chair
Paul Mäder has started out with an introduction to the EU-funded TILMAN project, which he leads, where 12 different countries are working together to develop robust and sustainable arable crop production systems, using reduced tillage techniques combined with the use of green manures. The main aims of the project are to design improved organic cropping systems with: enhanced productivity and nutrient use efficiency, more efficient weed management and increased biodiversity, but lower carbon footprints.
Marion Casagrande showed first results of the project’s farmer survey in Europe, where the main challenges and motivations of conservation farming were identified. It could be concluded, that the main problem is weed control and technical problems. The main reason for applying no tillage methods was soil conservation. The results depend also on the region, climate and size of the farm. Therefor also local knowledge would be interesting for the survey, for example: what did you expect form your choice of green manure? Generally, two main types of farmers were identified, the ‘soil conservationists’ and the ‘Agro-technically challenged’, lacking technical skills or knowledge, which the TILMAN project will address.
Julia Cooper has compiled the results of a network of 12 long-term trials around Europe, where conventional tillage and reduced/no tillage systems were compared. She mentioned however, that data is scarce for many parameters but for yield, pH, carbon or weed pressure the analysis was possible. Her results showed a slight trend for a reduction in yield (independent of crop rotation) for reduced tillage systems in the first years. Other experiments at Nafferton compared the yield of organic wheat with the yield of herbicide-treated wheat under reduced tillage; no significant difference could be found. Even if the organic plots showed a much higher weed pressure.
The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:
- Conversion Effect: during the first 2-3 years, reduced tillage leads to a decrease in yield; relationships change as the soil structure changes, N-mineralisation for example. But after this initial phase, field trials have shown that yield, soil organic matter and biomass of soil organisms is increased by 10-20% (50% for earthworms).
- Commenting on soybeans sawn directly in flattened (drum roll) winter rye in one of the field trials shown during the presentation, it was mentioned that this method protects the beans from birds and prevents weeds from germinating, while providing the crop with 5t/ha mulch. Depending on the climate, this is suitable for crops sawn in April/May, once the winter rye has reached the generative phase.
- A summary of the project survey results is published in the Organic Farming magazine, and the complete analysis of the results are expected to be published soon, check regularly on www.tilman-org.net
Individual speaker presentations and abstracts
Paul Mäder (FiBL): Overview of the TILMAN-ORG project (2.13MB)
Reduced tillage and green manures are environmentally friendly practices that increase levels of soil organic matter and biological activity, improve soil stability, and reduce fuel consumption and may mitigate the climate impact of crop production. The avoidance of deep ploughing is successfully practiced as no-tillage agriculture in conventional farming systems. However, these no-tillage systems rely on herbicides for weed control and mineral fertilisers for plant nutrients. As these inputs are banned in organic farming the TILMAN-ORG project focuses on efficient weed management strategies and improvement of nutrient management. Because there is little information on greenhouse gas emissions under reduced tillage in organic farming, greenhouse gas flux studies will shed more light on this challenging issue.
Marion Casagrande (INRA) and Joséphine Peigné (ISARA): Conservation agriculture in organic farming diversity of practices and motivations of European farmers (839KB)
One of the tasks of the TILMAN-Org project is to assess organic farmers' experiences and perceptions about reduced tillage and green manures. We carried out a survey with around 150 organic farmers that applied at least two out of the 3 following techniques: no tillage techniques, reduced tillage techniques and green manure techniques in 8 partner countries (Austria, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and UK). The questionnaire addressed the motivations and major problems when adopting each conservation technique. We also collected data on the detailed crop management of one winter and one spring crop per farm (especially tillage and green manure management). The objectives of the data analysis are to: (i) identify farmers’ profiles of motivations and problems, (ii) identify the diversity of practices and their combination in farms depending on country and farm characteristics, and (iii) analyze the relationship between farmers’ profiles of motivations and their conservation techniques. The results of our analysis will be presented and discussed during this session. The final perspective of this work is to identify promising techniques for designing new cropping systems for Organic Farming, taking into account soil preservation.
Julia Cooper (Newcastle University):
Using reduced tillage and green manures in organic systems – what is the research telling us? (5.72MB)
In the TILMAN-ORG project, results from studies using reduced tillage and green manures in organic systems are currently being compiled. The data is being sourced from both published sources and ongoing field trials. In this talk we will summarize what the data is telling us so far, focussing on the benefits that can be realised from these practices, as well as key challenges associated with reduced tillage and green manures on organic farms.