Why do we need to standardize no-tillage research?

No-tillage is looked upon by many as a way to enable sustainable cropping intensification to meet future agricultural demands.

Although no-tillage suggests merely the absence of tillage, in reality several components need to be applied to a conservation agriculture system to guarantee equal or higher yields and better environmental performance than with conventional tillage systems. No-tillage/conservation agriculture systems research has now been performed for more than half a century in many countries around the world, primarily for economic reasons, but also to reduce labour and energy consumption and improve environmental outcomes.

  • No-tillage

However, an integrated approach to understanding this system requires standardized research methodology based on site-specific conditions. We contend that broadunderstanding is lacking of what conservation agriculture systems research means. This has led to a situation of conflicting research results because different technologies, methodologies, and definitions ofconservation agriculture systems have been applied. The term no-tillage has been used despite considerable soil movement in the previous crop, to inject fertilizer or to establish the current crop. Similarly, the term no-tillage has been used for systems with very little or no crop mulch cover, extendedfallow periods, alternating tillage and no-tillage, or crops grown in monoculture. By not performing notillage research in a systems approach, many problems can be encountered such as reduced yields, high erosion, low infiltration, elevated fertilizer and high pesticide use. Materials and methods in an experiment are often not descriptive enough to unveil peculiarities. By analysing the function ofcomponents of conservation agriculture systems in monofactorial experiments, synergetic interactions among components can be overlooked. In this editorial, we discuss the need to thoroughly describe materials and methods to avoid confusing interpretations of results. We contend that standardization ofresearch methodologies in no-tillage/conservation agriculture systems is needed based on a thorough description of the whole system so that results from different researchers and regions of the world can be logically compared.

Read more: Why do we need to standardize no-tillage research? (pdf)