Reduced tillage systems and energy use
Chair: Thomas Döring (ORC)
Oliver Crowley (ORC) and Jemima Showering (RAC): Non-inversion tillage with Eco-dyn cultivator
Presentation - Non-inversion tillage with Eco-dyn cultivator
Harald Schmidt (Stiftung Ökologie und Landbau): Evaluation of practical experiences on concepts of reduced tillage in organic farming in Germany (presented by Thomas Döring, ORC)
Presentation - Evaluation of practical experiences on concepts of reduced tillage in organic farming in Germany
Richard Gantlett (organic farmer): Non-inversion tillage: a farmer’s experience
Richard Gantlett farms at Yatesbury in Wiltshire on Silty Clay loam soil over lower chalk at the edge of the Marlborough Downs. Conversion to organic farming started in 1998 for this mostly cropped farm. Wheat, beans and malting barley are grown along with a pedigree Aberdeen Angus suckler herd. Clover pastures are an integral part of the rotation with around 25 varieties of various species of legumes, herbs and grasses. The farm has always seeked to avoid using the plough due to the soil conditions, so in 2004 the plough was sold to focus on the alternative methods of farming the soil.
Presentation - Non-inversion tillage: a farmer’s experience
Session Summary -
This session brought together the experience of researchers and farmers in non-inversion tillage (NIT) systems. Oliver Crowley and Jemima Showering presented the results from the first year of trials at Duchy Home Farm. This trial, replicated over three fields, compared spring oat performance under both Eco-dyn cultivation and conventional ploughing, and showed that the Eco-dyn compared favourably in terms of labour, energy costs and profit margin. However, despite producing marginally higher yields (4.3t/ha under Eco-dyn management, 4.2t/ha under conventional ploughing), the Eco-dyn system was less effective in controlling weeds. It is thought that weed control with the Eco-dyn could be made more effective by doing more than one pass of the machine; calculations showed that even with three passes, profit margins would still be £34/ha higher than those under the conventional ploughing system.
On behalf of Harald Schmidt, Thomas Döring gave an overview of a range of NIT practices in Germany. 15 organic farms were studied, 8 of which practised shallow (< 15cm) non-inversion tillage, and 7 of which practised deeper sub-soiling (> 15cm). Organic matter increased over time under reduced tillage, but the rate of increase was slow: over 20 years the organic matter increased by less than one percentage point. Since the methods of tillage were not replicated across farms, no direct comparisons could be made between the shallow and deep methods of non-inversion tillage. However, broad conclusions were that systems with reduced tillage can have positive effects on the soil and reduce fuel costs, but may increase weed pressure and result in lower yields. Overall, this study showed that organic arable production without deep ploughing is possible, and there are a variety of machines available.
Richard Gantlett gave an introduction to his farm and highlighted a range of farm management techniques which could reduce energy costs. Of these, reducing machinery cultivations and increasing bio cultivations were discussed in detail. He has found that whilst non-inversion tillage is not quite as effective in controlling grass weeds, it is much more effective in controlling perennial weeds. Non-inversion tillage has proved excellent for improving soil structure, and creates a good seedbed which retains moisture to allow seed germination. Since the weeding and sowing can be done in one cultivation, this method allows savings on fuel and time. Richard has also used ‘bio cultivations’ – that is, he has maximised the extent to which plant roots ‘cultivate’ the soil, by growing mixtures of legumes with varied root structure. This has not only improved soil structure but also helped manage weeds.
Key discussion points:
- The suitability of non-inversion tillage machinery on different soil types and weather conditions
- The key factors determining the efficacy of weed control in non-inversion tillage systems
- Higher seed rates may be required in non-inversion tillage systems
- The extent to which different types of non-inversion tillage machinery can be adapted