What is conservation agriculture?

Nowadays, it is very common to talk about sustainability, the fight against climate change and energy saving. Agriculture is not isolated from this reality and more and more people are promoting and working towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly agriculture: conservation agriculture.

Conservation agriculture was born with the aim of promoting sustainable practices in crop production and being an instrument to improve the fertility of our soils, save energy and water, and increase biodiversity in crops.

In this post we are going to see the role of conservation agriculture in the world, as well as its basic principles, its main objectives and practices.

What is conservation agriculture?

Contents [ hide ]

  • 1 What is conservation agriculture like in the world?
  • 2 What are the principles of conservation agriculture?
    • 2.1 Minimal mechanical alteration of the soil:
    • 2.2 Permanent vegetation and organic cover in the soil:
    • 2.3 Species diversification:
  • 3 What is conservation agriculture looking for and why is it done?
    • 3.1 Climate change mitigation
    • 3.2 Soil conservation
    • 3.3 Water holding capacity
    • 3.4 Biodiversity
    • 3.5 Economic and energy saving
  • 4 What are the most common conservation agriculture practices?
    • 4.1 Direct sowing
    • 4.2 Vegetable covers
  • 5 How can I manage different crops (extensive, fruit trees, etc), tasks, field notebook …?

What is conservation agriculture like in the world?

Conservation agriculture is possible anywhere in the world where agriculture is possible. Conservation agriculture aims to use current techniques and technology to achieve similar yields, establishing more sustainable and economical practices. It is for this reason that conservation agriculture is present in all areas of the planet where agriculture is done.

What is conservation agriculture like in the world?

What are the principles of conservation agriculture?

Minimal mechanical disturbance of the soil:

Conservation agriculture aims to create and regenerate soils full of life and microorganisms that are capable of naturally fertilizing the land. If we till the land, we alter the different layers that form in the soil, we oxidize organic matter very quickly and we eliminate a large part of the microorganisms that live in our soil. In addition, we expose our soil to inclement weather such as wind and rain.

For this reason, conservation agriculture encourages the minimum alteration of the soil and its different layers, reducing tillage and tillage practices to the maximum.

Permanent vegetation and organic cover in the soil:

Conservation agriculture seeks to promote soil fertility and prevent soil erosion. For this, it is very important to always favor a permanent live or organic topsoil. We have to take into account that the most fertile layer is in the first 15-20 centimeters of the surface.

Vegetable cover

Vegetable cover

Species diversification:

To avoid monocultures and the reduction of agricultural varieties and species as a result of seed patents, conservation agriculture promotes the diversification of agricultural crops on farms as well as the use of traditional and indigenous seeds in each area.

Farm with different crops

Farm with different crops

What is conservation agriculture looking for and why?

Climate change mitigation

As we have seen before, conservation agriculture promotes always maintaining a permanent topsoil or organic layer on the soil. This point means that by practicing conservation agriculture we increase the organic matter content of our soils and consequently it is a carbon reservoir (capture of atmospheric CO2).

In addition, avoiding tillage practices we also reduce CO2 emissions from diesel fuel combustion.

Soil conservation

Losing land to erosion on rainy days is losing money. The increase in organic matter and microorganisms in the soil notably increases the fertility of our soil, thus complying with one of the basic principles of conservation agriculture. In the following graph you can see how by increasing the vegetation cover we reduce erosion.

Soil conservation

Water retention capacity

With conservation agriculture we increase the percentage of organic matter and the structure of our soil. This fact makes rainwater much better absorbed (little runoff) and evaporates less.

Biodiversity

Currently and with the use of commercial seed patents, farms have increasingly tended to monoculture commercial varieties designed to be treated with specific phytosanitary products that are normally sold by the same seed houses. Conservation agriculture wants to promote crop diversity and the use of traditional varieties.

In this way, we greatly reduce the risk of pests and diseases and we will promote auxiliary fauna to combat a large part of these pests.

Traditional corn varieties

Traditional corn varieties

Economic and energy saving

Plowing less, fertilizing naturally and increasing biodiversity to reduce pests is synonymous with saving energy (diesel) and economical (phytosanitary). Conservation agriculture also aims to promote sustainable and economical practices.

What are the most common conservation agriculture practices?

Direct sowing

To avoid mechanical alteration of the soil as well as tillage and the risk of erosion, conservation agriculture mainly uses direct seeding as its clearest option for the implementation of the crop.

Direct sowing

Direct seeding is an increasingly widespread practice thanks to the ability of tractors and seeders to do this job with precision and perfection. This technique consists of opening a small hole in the ground using a disk, incorporating the seed and gently covering it.

This technique is carried out on top of the vegetable remains of the previous crop or a green compost.

Vegetable covers

Vegetable covers or also known as “cover crops” are part of sustainable practices in conservation agriculture. Its main function is to increase organic matter and soil fertility as well as prevent soil erosion. There are 4 types:

Spontaneous: Let the vegetation that grows spontaneously grow. It allows you to spend rainy days and increase the content of organic matter in the soil.

Spontaneous vegetation between rows of horticultural crops.

Spontaneous vegetation between rows of horticultural crops.

Catch crop (or nitrogen capturing crop): Sowing nitrogen-demanding crops (rapeseed, ryegrass …) to avoid the loss of nitrogen from the previous crop. Example: Corn → Catch crop → Corn

Green manure: Planting legumes (beans, soybeans, alfalfa …) to capture atmospheric nitrogen (from the air). It is crushed and sown on top of the remains.

Permanent flowering: Permanent plant cover that seeks to always have species in bloom in the different months of the year. Plantings of different species widely used in conservation agriculture: marigolds, lobularias, etc. They are an attraction for the auxiliary fauna.

Permanent flowering on vine.

How can I manage different crops (extensive, fruit trees, etc), tasks, field notebook …?

Conservation agriculture seeks farm diversity, efficiency and therefore economic savings. For this, it is very important to keep track of your farm in an easy but precise way. Agroptima is an ideal agricultural management program for this type of farms, since it allows you to have an exhaustive control of your farm at an agronomic and economic level. Now you can try it for free for 15 days here .

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