Submitted to: International Soil Tillage Research Organization Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/5/2003
Publication Date: 6/27/2003
Citation: Norton, L.D., Ventura, E., Castro, C., Brown, G., Torres, E., Ramsier, C. Utilizing conservation tillage to improve plant growth and provide for sustainable agriculture. CD-ROM. Brisbane, Australia: International Soil Tillage Research Organization Proceedings. 2003. p. 851-856. Interpretive Summary: The sustainability of farming systems is a concern for all society. For more than thirty years conservation tillage to provide for sustainable agriculture has been promoted. Farmers have encountered many problems with the conventional no-tillage system used to control erosion and many farmers have not adopted no-till due to resulting lower crop yields. We have been working with innovative farmers to develop a more acceptable conservation tillage system that addresses many of the existing problems. We have combined chemical, mechanical and biological approaches to overcome some of the problems. We have found in both research experiments and on-farm trials that crop yields can be increased while inputs can be decreased. The approach provides for a more sustainable and profitable tillage system that is easily adapted to existing conservation tillage equipment. The system provides all of the benefits of erosion control and reduces the potential of pollution from nutrients because of strategic placement of fertilizer in the root zone. This research directly impacts farmers by providing them with an alternative conservation tillage system that is profitable and also minimizes soil erosion and water quality concerns. The system is being widely adopted within the U.S., and thus this research is also impacting U.S. agriculture as a whole by making it more sustainable and profitable, while controlling erosion and reducing chemical loadings to surface water bodies.
Technical Abstract: Sustainability of agriculture is important for all society and future generations. The question of what is and is not sustainable is always in debate. However, farmers that tend to the land have an understanding of what to strive for in some cases. The objective of this research was to develop a tillage system that is as close to sustainable with the technology that presently exists. This system was developed with researchers and agro-business working with farmers that identified problems with conservation tillage and in particular no-tillage and developed an approach to overcome many limitations to its adoption. This system includes the use of biological, chemical, nutritional and mechanical approaches to manage the soil/air/water interface and the soil/rhizosphere to effectively improve plant yields. The approach involves the utilization of specialized nutrients strategically placed in a modified no-till system designed to precisely place the seeds spatially and at the proper depth relative to fertilizer including micronutrients to affect the biological activity. This system has resulted in significantly improved yields with less inputs of fertilizer and has led to increased soil quality over time and sequestering of greater carbon due to increased below ground biomass. No single tillage system is perfect though and there is always room for improvement. We have been working with groups in the USA, Mexico and Brazil to improve this system by improving water use efficiency. This improvement includes the chemical additions of surface applied gypsum and anionic polyacrylamide to aid in maintaining an open soil/air/water interface. Measurements in the experiments include physical, chemical, and plant properties. The results indicate that yields were increased by 20%, soil moisture content increased by 70% and soil physical and chemical properties changed favorably as compared to conventional no-tillage. Above ground and below ground biomass were increased. These studies demonstrate that the modified no-till system can improve yields and nutrient uptake while maintaining the surface ground cover to control soil erosion. Future modifications include the addition of a new roughness imprinter to increase depressional storage when runoff does occur and further prevent water from eroding the soil that has been disturbed by placement of the seeds and fertilizer.