Bernese Office for Agriculture and Environment, Rütti, Zollikofen

No-tillage versus conventional tillage: ten years of comparison

Over the last ten years, conventional plow tillage has been compared to no-tillage on six crop rotation plots in the long-term field trial Oberacker at the Inforama Ruetti in Zollikofen. The deep cambisol of the trial plots contains 15% clay and 3% organic matter.The absence of tillage operations in no-tillage makes a more complex strategy for weed control necessary. Options such as a balanced crop rotation, permanent soil cover, adapted crop residue management and immediate seeding of subsequent crops are used alongside chemical, mechanical, and thermal strategies of weed control. Land use is sustainable in the no-tillage system: No-tilled soil has a higher structural stability and load capacity while being markedly less prone to erosion; less machine usage and traffic reduce (fuel) costs. After seven years of no-tillage, continuous release of soil-borne nitrogen leads to crop yields and qualities at least equal to those obtained with conventional tillage.Two challenges remain only partly solved: a) the greater dependence on herbicides such as glyphosate and b) the greater risk of mycotoxin formation in no-tilled winter cereal crops that follow corn. Remedies include adaptations of the crop rotation, chopping of residual corn straw/stalks and cropping of cereal varieties less susceptible to fusarium.In conclusion, no-tillage contributes substantially to maintaining soil fertility on a long-term basis.

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