Last month we launched our newest website feature: a monthly review of selected research articles. These articles are compiled using the Scoop.it publishing platform, which allows us to directly link our viewers to the recommended journal article.

Readers can view a short summary of the article and insight on its significance.

Readers can view a short summary of the article and insight on its significance.

The articles featured are chosen from a review of all recent journal publications relevant to conservation agriculture. Each month, as we systematically curate CA literature for our RefWorks research database, we select a handful of articles that stand out from the most recent publications. These articles are recommended based on several qualities, including implication of findings, originality of research theme, and rigor of research design and methods. Topics often include the potential of CA for smallholders in Africa, the role of inputs in CA, the impact of CA on climate change resilience and soil carbon sequestration, soil and water resources as impacted by zero-tillage and cover cropping practices, and more.

Our RefWorks research database contains over 2,000 publications on CA.

Our RefWorks research database contains over 2,000 publications on CA.

This review aims to keep everyone interested in CA, be it farmers, researchers, policy-makers, students, extension-workers, updated on recent developments in conservation agriculture research. With this review, we also hope to draw viewers to our extensive research database of over 2,000 articles on CA. This incredible resource, which is the result of years of curation, includes Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Chinese language databases. If you’d like to look further into CA topics of the articles you read in our research review, a word-search in our database will lead you to other relevant publications.

The wealth of conservation agriculture knowledge published each month by the scientific community can be overwhelming in its entirety. Cornell Conservation Agriculture’s Recommended Research Review seeks to make valuable resources easily available and accessible to the public. As a result, we hope to increase awareness of CA’s potential as a sustainable agriculture methodology to address the social, environmental, and economic inadequacies of modern agriculture.

New Guidelines Reflect Benefits of No-till Farming

North Dakota university made history as the first in the U.S. to make no-till soil fertility recommendations for corn. As North Dakota’s land grant university, NDSU’s corn guideline has reaching implications for 3.85 million acres of corn planted in the state.

NDSU Extension Service recommendations could impact corn cultivation practices on more than 3 million acres in the state. Photo credited to NDSU extension.

NDSU Extension Service recommendations could impact corn cultivation practices on more than 3 million acres in the state. Photo credited to NDSU extension.

The recommendations are based on no-till data dating back to the 1970s and over 50 test sites comparing fertility requirements for no-till and conventional tillage fields. NDSU faculty and extension agents explained this difference as the result of the associated increase in biological activity in no-till soil boosting stored nitrogen in soil.

“With this much microbial activity in your soil and this much organic carbon… this is the potential of your soil to supply X amount of nitrogen.”

The recommendations are an endorsement of a growing conservation agriculture movement in North Dakota. However while the release of these guidelines have generated excitement, it is unsure whether other land grant universities will follow NDSU’s example. Funding that prioritizes research on the benefits of no-till and conservation agriculture practices is limited, and NDSU faculty cited it as the biggest impediment to changing the fertility standards in North Dakota.

Read full article here.

Arnason, Robert. August 28 2014. New guidelines reflect benefits of no-till farming. The Western Producer. http://www.producer.com/2014/08/new-guidelines-reflect-benefits-of-no-till-farming/.

More Crops Per Drop: No-Till Farming Combats Drought

“I wanted greater productivity and healthier soils with less reliance on machinery.” 

This article uses Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Northern California as prime examples of the factors that push farmers toward no-till farming, and the financial and environmental benefit this change can bring. No-till soil management also increased the farm’s soil organic matter from 2.3 percent to over 6 percent ( ata 12-inch depth). This improvement was qualified with the staggering fact that,

Soil that is left un-tilled stays cooler and retains more moisture. Photo courtesy of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service - See more at: http://civileats.com/2014/08/26/more-crops-per-drop-no-till-farming-combats-drought/#sthash.oWy7du38.dpuf

Soil that is left un-tilled stays cooler and retains more moisture. Photo courtesy of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service – See more at: http://civileats.com/2014/08/26/more-crops-per-drop-no-till-farming-combats-drought/#sthash.oWy7du38.dpuf

“With every 1 percent increase in SOM, an acre of topsoil can hold an additional 16,000 gallons of plant-available water.”

Especially in view of the current drought in California, which is estimated to cost the agriculture industry as much as $2.2 billion in losses, the increased SOM and lower soil moisture evaporation attributes of no-till could be enough to convert more farmers to no-till.

While the water-saving benefits of no-till could popularize the practice, the lag-time before farmers see these benefits could inhibit adoption of no-till. The increased herbicide usage associated with no-till could reduce its environmental and economic advantages. However some experts argue that, if no-till is practiced correctly, weed control is not an issue.

It comes down to whether or not the farmer is willing to try a new method of farming. And currently it looks like enough farmers are ready to put down the plow. No-till farming is increasing at a rate of 1.5 percent per year, and makes up around 10 percent of overall farm land in the U.S.

Read full article here: Maki, Olivia. August 26 2014. More crops per drop: No-till farming combats drought. Civil Eats. http://civileats.com/2014/08/26/more-crops-per-drop-no-till-farming-combats-drought/.

UPCOMING EVENT

Farmers, researchers, policy makers, and proponents of CA from around the world will converge for the Conference on Conservation Agriculture for Smallholders (CASH) in Asia and Africa occurring in Mymensingh, Bangladesh from 7-11 December 2014. The focus on smallholder farmers is necessary, especially given the possibility for marginalization of this demographic’s interests in conferences with large agribusiness participation.

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We are excited to announce that the Program Director of our CA website, Peter Hobbs, will be giving a keynote address for the Conference. The conference will play an important role in bringing together practitioners advancing the uptake and development of CA for small farmers. The current status of CA for smallholders will be discussed, and participants will establish connections for al stakeholders involved in spreading CA to smallholder farmers. Four themes will be discussed during the conference: 1) machinery, 2) weed management, 3) soil, water and agronomy, and 4) commercialization adoption and continuous improvement of CA-based technologies. The presentations will be accompanied with field visits, including one to the demonstration exhibit at the Bangladesh Agricultural University. Attendees will be given the opportunity to talk to CA leaders (producers, advisors, researchers, policy makers and industry), network with peers around the world, engage in policy discussion, and learn about the latest research. Registration ends on August 31st. Click here to register or read more about the program.

RECENT EVENTS

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”

-Wendel Berry

While Dr. Montgomery, opener at the 6th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture, did not quite reach the elegance of Wendel Berry’s famous statement, his message was same: human existence relies on healthy soil, and based on the high rates of erosion presently occurring worldwide, civilization is on the edge of disaster. This bleak outlook was countered throughout the four-day event with evidence of the potential of conservation agriculture to reverse soil degradation. VIDEO: World Congress on Conservation Agriculture  BrELxKbCMAIwOYj

The WCCA took place in Winnipeg, Canada from June 22-25, and was attended by farmers, researchers, agriculture company representatives, government representatives, and other participants interested in CA. Full conference proceedings can be found here. The gathering provided these stakeholders an opportunity to exchange new innovative technologies and practices, research findings, obstacles and opportunities of conservation agriculture. Over 300 people participated, representing 47 countries, including England, France, Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Tunisia, Tanzania, India, and China. Two representatives of the Cornell University Conservation Agriculture group attended.

Highlights included our website sponsor, Howard Buffet, giving a keynote speech. He expressed concern that U.S. agriculture is not conforming to sustainable environmental practices, citing subsidies and farmers’ resistance to changing their practices as a cause. This could lead to producers falling behind other major agriculture exporters, such as Argentina and Brazil. He also recognized that the application of CA must be adapted to local conditions, with a balance between public and private involvement. Read more about Howard Buffet’s speech here.

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Another feature of the conference was the release of the Soil Renaissance Strategic Plan released. The SRSP prioritizes educating the public on the tremendous importance healthy soils have to the future of civilization, and the precarious position the world’s soils are in at the moment. This “reawakening” will include focus on four different areas: measurement, economics, education, and research. Read more about SRSP here.

The 1st Africa Congress on Conservation Agriculture (ACCA) took place in Lusaka, Zambia from March 18-21, 2014. Its objective: to provide an opportunity to share experiences and exchanges between stakeholders in CA and raise awareness and promote adoption of CA as a way to farm sustainably and productively. It drew over 400 participants from 42 different countries.

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A highlight of the Congress was a declaration that called for national and international support the spread of conservation agriculture to at least 25 million farmers across Africa by 2025. The rationale behind this declaration was CA’s role as a climate-friendly technology that can raise crop yields and lower environmental degradation. The declaration describes CA as one of the best options available to farmers that improves food security, farm profitability, and farmer livelihoods. Farmers participating in the conference reinforced this claim with personal stories about their successes after implementing CA. The goal of converting 25 million farmers to CA seems lofty, given that less than one million of Africa’s one hundred million farmers are currently practicing CA. However interest in CA has increased notably within the last decade and CA is expected to be a major contributor to the goal of 6% annual growth in the agriculture sector (which employs 80% of the population) set by the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme. The declaration identified the steps needed to improve CA’s adoption rate, including investment in education, training, science, and extension. Click for more information on the 1st ACCA.

There are a number of great conservation agriculture conferences that are coming up within the next few months! They are a great way for professionals and academics involved in conservation agriculture and soil health issues to meet up, network with other professionals, gain a new perspective, and learn some new information about the world of conservation agriculture today. We highly encourage you to try to attend a few (or all) if your time permits! They are truly great opportunities.

This month, in just a couple of weeks, there will be a conference located in Kathmandu, Nepal from March 26-27 called “Frontiers in Conservation Agriculture in South Asia and Beyond” at Hotel Himalaya. This conference focuses on recent findings concerning conservation agriculture in South Asia, as well as other regions. They will have four themes that they will focus on throughout the conference; agriculture production technologies, economics, soil, and gender/food security/other issues. It cost $40 dollars to attend, as well as an additional fee for a field trip taking place on the 27th. Last day for paper submission is March 15th. For more information on the conference, see the link below.

“Frontiers in Conservation Agriculture in South Asia and Beyond” conference information

http://libird.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=440&Itemid=2

There will also be a conference in Nakuru, Kenya, October 20-25 called “Transforming Rural Livelihoods in Africa: How can land and water management contribute to enhanced food security and address climate change adaptation and mitigation?” presented by the Soil Science Society of East Asia (EASSS) and the African Soil Science Society. It will focus on a number of different issues surrounding land and soil management issues within Africa. For information on paper deadlines, email soilseakenya@gmail.com. For more information, see the link below.

“Transforming Rural Livelihoods in Africa: How can land and water management contribute to enhanced food security and address climate change adaptation and mitigation?” conference information

http://www.haw-hamburg.de/fileadmin/user_upload/FakLS/07Forschung/FTZ-ALS/Veranstaltungen/_PDF/SSSEA_and_SSSA_First_Announcement_-_November_2012.pdf

December 8 -13 there will be a conference located in Bangladesh called “Conference on Conservation Agriculture for Smallholders in Asia and Africa.” Topics for the conference include machinery, weed management, soil/water/agronomy, commercialization/adoption/continuous improvement of CA-based technologies, and policy/institutional framework. For more information you can e-mail Professor Dr. Richard Bell <r.bell@murdoch.edu.au> or Dr. Md. Enamul Haque <enamul.haque@ide-bangladesh.org>. More information will be posted about the conference as it gets closer to the conference date! For more information, see the link below.

“Conference on Conservation Agriculture for Smallholders in Asia and Africa” conference information

ftp://ftp.fao.org/ag/agp/ca/CA_CoP_May12/Garrity-keynote_4_18034.pdf

We will continue to post about new conferences as they begin to show up. For an up to date list of conservation agriculture conferences, feel free to check out our website http://conservationagriculture.mannlib.cornell.edu/

The following comments have been made regarding the recent paper published by Ken Giller. Ken E. Giller, Ernst Witter, Marc Corbeels, Pablo Tittonell. 2009. Conservation agriculture and small holder farming in Africa: the heretics view. Field Crops Research 114 (1) 23-34. The debate resulted in a number of excellent comments that we would like to share through this blog. I am managing this debate by listing word for word the comments made so far. Hopefully this will be an educational and constructive debate. I have not changed or edited any comment. I encourage any one with thoughts on this subject to submit a comment by inserting it at the bottom of this list of thoughts.

This is a Delhi based group interested in promoting conservation agriculture. A paca-newsletter-issue-6 has many useful items including a summary of the 4th Congress on Conservation Agriculture held in New Delhi. Plus 10 tips for sustainable soil management. PACA also has a web site at http://www.conserveagri.org/ You can also subscribe to this newsletter.

paca-newsletter-issue-62

Following the successful 4th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture in New Delhi 4-7th February 2009, the following statement was released in regards to recommendations from this conference:

The New Delhi Declaration on Conservation Agriculture

 

The 1,000 delegates, gathered in the 4th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture, held from 4 to 7 February 2009 in New Delhi, India, among them farmers, private sector enterprises, scientists, development organizations, donor organizations and policymakers from all world continents, recognizing the urgent need

 

  • to double agricultural production over the next few decades,
  • to reverse the trend of degradation of natural resources, in particular soil, water and biodiversity,
  • to improve the efficiency of the use of ever scarcer production resources,
  • to address the fact that agriculture and agriculturally induced deforestation cause 30% of the actual green house gas emissions,
  • to answer the increasing threats of a changing climate to agricultural production,

 

agreed that Conservation Agriculture based on the three principles of

 

  • minimum mechanical disturbance of the soil
  • permanent organic cover of the soil surface, and
  • a diversified sequence or association of crops

 

is the foundation of a sustainable intensification of crop production, being as such the necessary condition to achieve, along with other complementary technologies, a sustained increase of world agricultural production and at the same time a recovery of the natural resource base and environmental services.

 

The delegates therefore urge all stakeholders involved at international, regional andrational level in agricultural production, research and policy making to mainstream Conservation Agriculture as the base concept for agricultural production.

 

Governments of the world are requested to

 

  • harmonize their policies in support for the adoption of Conservation Agriculture
  • introduce mechanisms which provide incentives for farmers to change their production system to Conservation Agriculture
  • pursue the case of Conservation Agriculture as the central mechanism for agricultural sector climate change mitigation in the international negotiations for a post Kyoto climate change agreement
  • include Conservation Agriculture as base concept for the adaptation of agriculture to the challenges of climate change in the National Action Plans for Adaptation
  • support the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in the endeavour to establish a special programme on Conservation Agriculture to facilitate this process in its member countries.

 

New Delhi on February 6th, 2009

 

The 4th Conservation Agriculture Congress opened in the splendid Vigyan Bhawan conference hall in Delhi with the Minister of Agriculture, Shri Sharad Pawar, the Chief guest. The guest speakers raised many issues:
1. That the timing of the conference was very timely since the number of hungry are increasing (The Millenium Development Goals is supposed to reduce this), the land available per person is decreasing and demand for food is increasing. There are also signs of soil fatigue in some places as factor productivity declines. The big question is how to produce the additional food to meet the demand? But at the same time maintain small farm profit. This conference’s them is “Innovations for improving efficiency, equity and environment”.
2. Conservation Agriculture (or farming) is an attitudinal change or mindset change in the way food is grown.
3. 80% of Indian farmers have 1 hectare nor less. They need to produce for their own subsistence needs but also the country needs surpluses to feed those without land. There is a need to incresae efficiency per unit of land and per unit of water. This can only be done by promoting much greater farmer participation in identifying constraints and experimenting with new technology.
4. There needs to be a policy for farmers, that seems to be missing in India. The new farm Bill in USA is an example of thinking at the top level of governance is needed in developing countries.
5. Introduction of sustainability, soil health and CA needs to be incorporated into University curricula in developing countries to create awareness of the issues among future agricultural stakeholders.
6. Much of the equipment used in India for CA could have been developed a 100 years ago. What is needed is to use modern engineering to develop more efficient and quality machines for all types of farmers from larger land holders to marginal ones.
7. Agriculture in India uses 57% of the wrok force, contributes 18% of GDP and 12% or exports.
8. Irrigation is used on 29% of agricultural land but with only 40% efficient. Rainfed areas also need to be brought under CA practices since they will play an important role in food productiuon in India in the future and these are the areas where poverty is highest.
9. The energy crisis brought home the serious situation in conventional farming that is dependent on fossil energy.

All this led to a statement that CA holds the hope of improving this situation in the future if it can be promoted from the top Government level down to the small land holder and all the stakeholders in between.

Another interesting issue that I would like comment relates to the fact that most of the conference talked about CA and production. We need to go one step further and talk about conserving the production through better storage and value addition enterprises. Equitable distribution of food is another issue. For example, the Indian Government raised the support price for wheat and rice last year. Farmers responded by increasing production. Now the Government has 45 million tons of grain, but only storage for 25 Mt!! Buffer stocks are needed to dampen any future crisis peaks in food production, but good storage is key.

Another interesting comment was “CA is only good for large corporate farmers and no good for poor farmers”. I believe this is not true since through use of local rental and service providers farmers without tractors and small land holdings can avail of this technology. Comments?

Last, but not least one comment that was made that soils are more hungry than thirsty. The soil biological component of the soil has been neglected leading to reduced soil biodiversity leading to many of the problems associated with declining productivity — more pathogens, poor nutrient cycling, erosion, poor water holding capacity and declining soil carbon.

Please comment on any of these issues.

The 4th Global Conservation Agriculture Conference is due to begin in Delhi, India on 4th February 2009. Past CA conferences have been held in Spain, Brazil and Kenya but this is the first in Asia. With continued growth in population and food demand but decreasing cropped area (due urbanization and industrial use), water (more competition by industry and domestic needs), soil health (especially physical and biological), and productivity in this region, holding this conference in Delhi is very appropriate. 700 delegates are expected to attend, with 80% of the presenters being foreign scientists who are leaders in their disciplines. There will be some key topic sessions for all participants followed by several break out sessions on specific topics. The web site of this conference can be found at the following link http://www.icar.org.in/wccagri/index.html

This blog will try to review the important issues, solutions and decisions from this conference. Delhi is a huge megacity with bussling traffic, poor air quality, but a vibrant emerging economy. India and South Asian countries are dependent on agriculture for livelihoods of 60% of their population and the emergence of CA and other resource conserving technologies may be the key to sustaining and increasing  production in the future. These new management systems will hopefully reverse the degradation of soils that has been occuring over the past 30 years and help to promote improved soil health, the key basis for sustainable production.

This blog will open on February 1, 2009.

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