|GHALEY, BHIM - University Of Copenhagen|
|RUSU, TEODOR - University Of Agricultural Sciences And Veterinary Medicine - Romania|
|SANDEN, TARU - Austrian Agency For Health And Food Safety Ltd (AGES)|
|SPIEGEL, HEIDI - Austrian Agency For Health And Food Safety Ltd (AGES)|
|MENTA, CRISTINA - University Of Parma|
|VISIOLI, GIOVANNA - University Of Parma|
|O'SULLIVAN, LILIAN - Teagasc (AGRICULTURE AND FOOD DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY)|
|GATTIN, ISABELLE - University Of Rouen|
|DELGADO, ANTONIO - University Of Sevilla|
|VREBOS, DIRK - University Of Antwerp|
|SZEGI, TAMAS - Szent Istvan University|
|MICHELI, ERIKA - Szent Istvan University|
|CACOVEAN, HORIA - University Of Agricultural Sciences And Veterinary Medicine - Romania|
|HENRIKSEN, CHRISTIAN - University Of Copenhagen|
Submitted to: Sustainability
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/10/2018
Publication Date: 3/13/2018
Citation: Ghaley, B.B., Rusu, T., Sanden, T., Spiegel, H., Menta, C., Visioli, G., O'Sullivan, L., Gattin, I.T., Delgado, A., Liebig, M.A., Vrebos, D., Szegi, T., Micheli, E., Cacovean, H., Henriksen, C.B. 2018. Assessment of benefits of conservation agriculture on soil functions in arable production systems in Europe. Sustainability. 10(3):794. https://doi.org/10.3390/wu10030794.
Interpretive Summary: Documentation of conservation agriculture effects on soil functions are lacking across large agricultural regions. To address this critical information need, a study was conducted to compare effects of conventional tillage and conservation agriculture practices on five soil functions across four major environmental zones in Europe by applying expert scoring based on a synthesis of existing literature. Significant differences between conventional tillage and conservation agriculture practices were observed across environmental zones. Overall, conventional tillage had negative effects on soil functions, while conservation agriculture practices had positive effects on soil functions. Variation in treatment responses across environmental zones highlighted the need for soil function assessments at smaller spatial scales. Decision support tools directed for use at the farm-scale are needed to facilitate the adoption of agricultural practices that enhance soil functions.
Technical Abstract: Conventional tillage (CT), with reduced alternatives in crop rotation (monocropping), is the norm in European farming. CT may cause adverse effects on some of the five major soil functions, viz. primary productivity, carbon sequestration and regulation, nutrient cycling and provision, water regulation and purification, and habitat for functional and intrinsic biodiversity. Conservation agriculture (CA) constitutes zero or non-inversion tillage, residue retention in soil surface and diversification of crops with rotations, for optimum use of available soil and water resources whilst minimizing external inputs, soil degradation and cost of production. Although potential benefits of CA are frequently reported from specific sites, there is no holistic analysis of CA benefits on the five main soil functions across Europe that can help stakeholders to make recommendations and take decisions at a continental scale. The major gap is that most studies addressed only one or two soil functions instead of the whole suite of five soil functions. The objective of this study was to compare effects of CA and CT practices on the five soil functions in four of the major environmental zones (Atlantic North, Pannonian, Continental and Mediterranean North) in Europe by applying expert scoring based on a synthesis of existing literature. Significant differences between CT and CA was observed across environmental zones. CT had overall negative effects on soil functions across the environmental zones with a mean score value of 0.48. In comparison, CA and its components had overall positive effects on soil functions across the environmental zones with mean score values ranging from 0.76 to 0.84. The positive aspects of CA when compared with CT, was dependent on the environmental zone and there is a need for assessment of soil functions at farm scale. For informed decision-making on soil functions, we propose a dynamic conceptual soil function assessment framework called ‘Soil Navigator’, a decision support tool, where farmers can select the provision of a suite of soil functions at the farm scale.