Next Article in Journal
The Effect of Co-Additives (Biochar and FGD Gypsum) on Ammonia Volatilization during the Composting of Livestock Waste
Next Article in Special Issue
Sustainable Land Use, Soil Protection and Phosphorus Management from a Cross-National Perspective
Previous Article in Journal
An Improved Cuckoo Search for a Patient Transportation Problem with Consideration of Reducing Transport Emissions
Previous Article in Special Issue
Model Prediction of Secondary Soil Salinization in the Keriya Oasis, Northwest China

Sustainability 2018, 10(3), 794; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10030794

Article
Assessment of Benefits of Conservation Agriculture on Soil Functions in Arable Production Systems in Europe
1
Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Højbakkegård Alle 30, 2630 Taastrup, Denmark
2
Department of Technical and Soil Sciences, University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine Cluj-Napoca, 400372 Cluj-Napoca, Romania
3
Department of Soil Health and Plant Nutrition, Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES), Spargelfeldstrasse 191, A-1220 Vienna, Austria
4
Department of Chemistry, Life Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, University of Parma, Parco Area delle Scienze 11/A, 43124 Parma, Italy
5
Teagasc Agriculture and Food Development Authority, Environment Research Centre, Johnstown Castle, Co., Wexford Y35 Y521, Ireland
6
UniLaSalle Campus Rouen, AGHYLE UP 2018-C1013 Rue du Tronquet, 76130 Mont-Saint-Aignan, France
7
Department of Agroforestry Sciences, University of Sevilla, Ctra Utrera km 1, 41013 Sevilla, Spain
8
USDA-ARS, Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory, P.O. Box 459, Mandan, ND 58554-0459, USA
9
Ecosystem management research group, Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Universiteitsplein 1c, B2610 Antwerpen, Belgium
10
Department of Soil Science and Agricultural Chemistry, Szent Istvan University, 2100 Gödöllő, Hungary
11
Office for Pedologic and Agrochemical Studies, Cluj, 1 Fagului Street, 400483 Cluj-Napoca, Romania
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 4 December 2017 / Accepted: 10 March 2018 / Published: 13 March 2018

Abstract

:
Conventional farming (CONV) is the norm in European farming, causing 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) is an alternative to enhance soil functions. However, there is no analysis of CA benefits on the five soil functions as most studies addressed individual soil functions. The objective was to compare effects of CA and CONV practices on the five soil functions in four major environmental zones (Atlantic North, Pannonian, Continental and Mediterranean North) in Europe by applying expert scoring based on synthesis of existing literature. In each environmental zone, a team of experts scored the five soil functions due to CA and CONV treatments and median scores indicated the overall effects on five soil functions. Across the environmental zones, CONV had overall negative effects on soil functions with a median score of 0.50 whereas CA had overall positive effects with median score ranging from 0.80 to 0.83. The study proposes the need for field-based investigations, policies and subsidy support to benefit from CA adoption to enhance the five soil functions.
Keywords:
soil functions; conservation agriculture; conventional farming; zero tillage; environmental zones

1. Introduction

Soil is vital for the provision of soil-based ecosystem services that are essential for human wellbeing. These soil-based ecosystem services are the outcomes of the complex interplay of soil properties, environment, land use management and their interactions [1,2,3] of which five key soil functions are identified; (a) primary productivity; (b) water regulation and purification; (c) carbon sequestration and regulation; (d) habitat for functional and intrinsic biodiversity; and (e) nutrient cycling and provision [4]. These five soil functions contribute to agricultural productivity, as well as the provision of other regulating and supporting ecosystem services. Soil management is a key driver that will determine whether soils are capable of supplying these multiple functions, which underscores the significance of soil custodianship [5]. As soils provide a suite of soil functions, optimization of one function can have trade-offs with other soil functions. The objective of enhancing individual soil function viz. primary productivity function in the agriculture sector at the cost of other soil functions will depend on the local demands for the other soil function (e.g., clean drinking water) or national or regional demands (e.g., national carbon sequestration targets) [6]. Due to the competing demands for different soil functions, there is a need for an integrated, or holistic assessment, of the suite of five soil functions in order to mitigate trade-offs and to optimize supply which contrasts with efforts that focus only on individual soil functions. This study builds upon earlier reviews [7,8] and assesses the five soil functions concurrently and the optimization of same, so that one soil function is not maximized at the cost of other soil functions.
Conventional farming (CONV) refers to mono-cropping, inversion tillage and residue removal, which is often, although not always, associated with contributing to adverse effects on soil functions. Conservation Agriculture (CA) practice constitutes no-till combined with residue retention and crop rotation [9,10,11], as an alternative to optimize the provision of soil functions. In a framework of soil custodianship, CA is practiced to optimize available resources (soil, water and biological) whilst minimizing external inputs [12] and soil degradation [13]. Despite reported benefits, such as improved soil fertility, crop growth, better water infiltration, increased biological activity, decreased soil erosion and reduced labour, machinery use and fuel costs, CA is practiced only in 25.8% of European agricultural lands, well below the land areas of similar continental farming landscapes [12,14,15]. Hence, there is a need to assess the effects of CA and CONV practices on soil functions in order to better understand their potentials to optimize soil functions and to provide evidence to support more sustainable outcomes.
Due to the knowledge gaps on outcomes of CA adoption [15], there is a need to assess the impacts of CA and CONV practices on the five soil functions to guide recommendations for sustainable land uses and policy making [16,17]. As the effects of CA and CONV practices are dependent upon environmental zones [18], out of the 13 environmental zones in Europe [19], four environmental zones viz. Atlantic North, Continental, Pannonian and Mediterranean North were identified to represent the major environmental zones in Europe. Hence, the objective was to assess the effects of CA and CONV practices on the five soil functions in four major environmental zones in Europe.

2. Materials and Methods

2.1. Identification of Environmental Zones and Treatments

Based on climate, soil and vegetation and land cover, Europe is classified into 13 environmental zones [19] and a representative population of studies from identified environmental zones, representing major production systems in LANDMARK project [20], were used to extrapolate results for the zones investigated. Of the 13 environmental zones, four environmental zones were identified viz. Atlantic North, Continental, Pannonian and Mediterranean North (Figure 1). Atlantic North includes mountains and uplands in Western Scandinavia and narrow coastal plains [21]. It is characterised by glacial deposits and oceanic climate with tundra vegetation in the north and grasslands in the high mountains and arable agriculture in the areas near the coastlines. Continental zone covers a large area including lowlands from Central and Eastern Europe and Balkan countries. The zone has variable land cover due to inherent geology and soil types with a huge annual temperature range and high precipitation during the summer. The Pannonian Zone covers the lowlands, valleys and mountain in the middle and the lower Danube basin and the Black Sea lowlands. The zone experiences a warm continental climate with early summer precipitation and it is a dominant arable agriculture zone converted from grasslands. The Mediterranean North Zone covers lowlands of the northern and central Mediterranean, but also hills and low mountains in the south. The zone is characterised with warm dry summers and precipitation in the winter months and water availability is the main constraint for agriculture in this zone [21]. Hence, these four environmental zones were selected with the aim of assessing the dominant environmental zones in Europe.
In each environmental zone, the effects of CA and CONV practices on five soil functions were assessed in annual cereal crop production systems. Six treatments were identified as common treatments across the environmental zones to compare the effects of CA and CONV over five soil functions. The six treatments compared were (i) conventional farming (CONV) (ii) No-tillage (iii) reduced tillage (iv) crop rotation (v) residue retention and (vi) conservation agriculture (CA). The six treatments were defined as:
  • Conventional farming (CONV) practice constitutes mono-cropping, ploughing to 20–30 cm depth to prepare the land for sowing and crop residue removal
  • No-tillage is a practice of directly sowing in the stubble, by cutting narrow slots for seeding
  • Reduced tillage, whereby near-surface soil (5–10 cm) is physically disturbed with discs, chisels or field cultivar, resulting in loose topsoil. A significant proportion of crop residues are retained on the soil surface equivalent to 30–60% soil coverage by residue.
  • Crop rotation which involves growing different crops in sequence in a field in 4–5 year crop rotation including cover/catch crops depending upon the environmental zone
  • Residue retention is a practice, where crop stubble, straw or other crop debris is left on the field, and is then incorporated when the field is tilled or left on the soil surface
  • CA is a combination of (i) no-tillage, (ii) crop rotation and (iii) residue retention
CONV is the control practice of intensively managed winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) monoculture with mineral fertilizer and pest and disease control with chemicals and residue removal. The treatment effects were evaluated on five soil functions and soil functions were defined as below [1,4,22]:
  • Primary Productivity: The productive capacity of a soil to produce plant biomass for human use, providing food, feed, fibre and fuel within natural or managed ecosystem boundaries
  • Carbon sequestration and regulation: The capacity of a soil to store carbon in a non-labile form with the aim to mitigate increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations
  • Water regulation and purification: The capacity of a soil to receive, store and conduct water for subsequent use and the prevention of both prolonged droughts, flooding and erosion. Water purification is the capacity of a soil to remove harmful compounds (e.g., volatile organic compounds and heavy metals) from the water that it holds
  • Nutrient cycling and provision: The capacity of the soil to receive and retain nutrients, to make and to keep nutrients available for crop uptake and to facilitate recovery of plant-available nutrients over these nutrients into harvested crops
  • Habitat for functional and intrinsic biodiversity: The multitude of soil organisms and processes, interacting in an ecosystem, making up a significant part of the soil’s natural capital, providing society with a wide range of cultural services and unknown services.
For the literature search, key search strings were tillage, minimum tillage, soil functions, conventional tillage, conservation agriculture, soil properties, crop rotations, residue retention, Atlantic, Continent, Pannonian and Mediterranean. The resulting papers were subjected to the following criteria for inclusion in the study:
  • Experiment period was a minimum of 2 years prior to the date of response variable (e.g., grain yield) measurement
  • At least two treatment levels were included in the trial design (e.g., minimum tillage vs. conventional tillage or residue retention vs removal)
  • Experiments were conducted in any of the selected environmental zones in Europe [19]
  • Only annual cereal crops (wheat, barley, oat etc.) production systems were taken into account.
  • Other field crops were only considered within the crop rotation such as associated companion undersown grass, maize, rapeseed, legumes, root crops (potato and beets) and catch/cover crops
  • A minimum of three replicates per treatments were required.

2.2. Soil Function Scoring by the Subject Matter Experts

The five soil functions were scored at a coarse scale of environmental zones and the four environmental zones identified, representing the major environmental zones in Europe. The identified environmental zones are justified to represent wide differences in climate, land uses, management practices and soils [19]. For each of the four environmental zones, a team of 2–4 subject matter experts were assigned to the respective environmental zones, to provide one consolidated scoring of the effects of six treatments of CA and CONV practices on five soil functions in annual cereal production systems. The team of subject matter experts from each environmental zone used a common list of 10–22 references (Table 3) to agree on a common scoring by each team. The consolidated scoring of each soil function was based on the mix of three methods consisting of a minimum of 2–3 papers per treatment, expert knowledge and on-site long-term experiments. The on-site long term experiments, were the combined food and energy production system in Denmark, Fuchsenbigl tillage trial and the Rutzendorf crop residue incorporation trial in Austria, a soil tillage field experiment in Romania, a cultivation experiment in Hungary, and the tillage management effects on soil water conservation, organic matter and crop productivity sites in Agramunt, Selvanera and El Canós in Spain. The on-site long-term experiments were very useful data sources for scoring soil functions, especially in cases, where data was scarce. Although the treatment effects may vary within a single farm due to interactions between management, climate and soil variables, the consolidated scoring provided general direction of treatment effects for comparison across the four major environmental zones in Europe. The information available on the five soil functions varied significantly across the zones and hence the scoring of some commonly quantified soil functions (e.g., primary productivity, soil carbon sequestration etc.) may be based on more extensive number of studies compared to the other soil functions, the information of which can be scarce to non-existent.
In this study, the soil function scoring may be biased, to a certain extent, based on the particular studies the experts were aware of, depending on the field experiments available at the local experimental farm or research environments. We have mitigated this bias by taking account of the soil function scoring from at least 2–4 subject matter specialists from each environmental zones. As our aim was to assess the general effects of the CA and CONV practices on soil functions, our analysis provided a broad acceptance of views on effects rather than context-specific treatment effects. The study is an attempt to provide a framework on the direction of change in soil functions due to management practices for the land managers to adjust land use and management practices in order to meet the demand for soil functions.
The scoring of the soil functions were carried out in the following three steps. Firstly, a set of three indicators were identified for each of the five soil functions (see Table 1) and the team of subject matter experts provided the scorings on indicators. Secondly, indicator scorings were aggregated over soil functions and hence the performance of a single soil function was considered as the median score of three indicators and this methodology was followed for all the five soil functions (Table 3). Thirdly, soil function median scores were aggregated over each of the six treatments, which provided the performance of each treatment over five soil functions (Table 3). Median, a measure of central tendency, is used to describe the data spread in ordinal dataset (scoring dataset).
The scorings were carried out using a Likert-type scale ranking [23] and arranged in an incremental order; viz. high negative effect (−2), low negative effect (−1), no effect (0), low positive effect (+1) and high positive effects (+2). These scorings were carried out at indicator level for each of the soil functions, which were subjected to positive reassignment between 1–5 scale as shown in Table 2. The positive reassignment is required to rank the scoring as a precondition for data normalization. Following positive reassignment, scores were normalized to between 0–1 (Table 2) by dividing each score with five, assigning equal weights to each score [24]. For example, for the primary productivity function, the three parameters under primary productivity were scored between −2 to +2 followed by conversion of the scoring to 1–5 scale, which was subsequently normalized by dividing by 5 to arrive at scores between 0–1 [24]. The median scores aggregated over soil functions and treatments were interpreted as negative effect (0 < 0.60), no effect (0.60) and positive effect (>0.60) corresponding to −2 to −1, 0 and +1 to +2 scoring values respectively.

2.3. Statistical Analysis

The aggregated median values of the five soil functions for each of the six treatments were subjected to Kruskal-Wallis non-parametric test [25] to determine the differences between the six treatments on the five soil functions. Kruskal-Wallis non-parametric test is used to test if the samples originate from the same distribution to compare two or more independent samples of equal or unequal size [25]. Test Statistic H [26] was calculated on the median score and H critical value at 95% significance was the basis for significant differences across the treatments. Statistic H was found to be higher than H critical indicating that the treatment median scores were significantly different (p ≤ 0.05) between the treatments. Median scores were assigned with alphabet letters (a, b, c, d and e) and scores with no common letters are significantly different.

3. Results

3.1. Effects of CA and CONV Practices on Five Soil Functions in Atlantic North Environmental Zone

In the Atlantic North environmental zone, soil functions were affected in both directions viz. positively and negatively by application of CONV practices whereas only positive effects were recorded due to CA (Table 3). The differential treatment effects of CONV on the five soil functions indicated that there were trade-offs where one soil function was enhanced at the risk of decreasing another soil function. The CONV scored significantly lower median values (0.33; Table 3) indicating that the practice had overall negative effects (<0.60) on soil functions. In contrast, the CA and its component practices scored significantly higher median values (0.87–1.0) indicating positive effects on soil functions.
Across the treatments, CONV had negative effects on four out of the five soil functions except for a positive effect on primary productivity function (0.87) (Table 3). CA and its component practices had varying positive effects (>0.60) on all five soil functions except primary productivity in no-tillage and residue retention treatments (0.47). Crop rotation had the highest positive effect on primary productivity (0.93), whereas CA and no-tillage had the highest positive effect on carbon sequestration (1.0). No-tillage and residue retention had the highest positive effect on water retention and regulation (1.0) whereas the no-tillage and crop rotation had the highest positive effect on nutrient retention and cycling. No-tillage had the highest positive effect on habitat for functional and intrinsic biodiversity (Table 3). Hence, no-tillage had the highest positive effects on four soil functions followed by crop rotation with highest positive effects on two soil functions (Table 3).

3.2. Effects of CA and CONV Practices on Five Soil Functions in Pannonian Environmental Zone

In the Pannonian zone, the median scores were significantly lower (0.53; Table 3) in CONV indicating overall negative effects on soil functions. In contrast, CA and its component practices had significantly higher median score (0.67–0.80) indicating positive effects on soil functions (>0.60) compared to the CONV practice.
Across the treatments, CONV had a positive effect on the water regulation and provision function, with no effect on primary productivity function and with negative effects on the other three soil functions (<0.60) (Table 3). CA and its component practices had varying positive (>0.60) and neutral effects on each of the five soil functions except negative effects on primary productivity (0.47). Crop rotation had the highest positive effects on primary productivity whereas CA had the highest positive effect on carbon sequestration (Table 3). Residue retention had highest positive effects on water regulation and provision whereas crop rotation, residue retention and CA had highest positive effects on nutrient regulation and cycling. No-tillage had the highest positive effect on habitat for functional and intrinsic biodiversity function. Some treatments had positive effects on a greater number of soil functions than other treatments. For example, crop rotation, residue retention and CA had highest positive effects on at least two soil functions (Table 3), whereas no-tillage had highest positive effect on only one soil function.

3.3. Effects of CA and CONV Practices on Five Soil Functions in Mediterranean North Environmental Zone

In Mediterranean North, the impacts of CA and CONV treatments differed widely from negative effects (<0.60) to highly positive effects (>0.60–1) (Table 3). Among the treatments, CONV had significantly lower median score (0.53) indicating overall negative effects on soil functions. In contrast, CA and its component tillage practices had significantly higher median scores (0.80–0.93) indicating overall positive effects on soil functions.
Of the treatments, CONV had negative effects on three soil functions viz. carbon sequestration, water regulation and cycling and habitat for functional and intrinsic biodiversity whereas, of the CA and its component tillage practices, only residue retention had a negative effect on primary productivity. No-tillage had the highest positive effect on primary productivity followed by crop rotation, whereas, CA had highest positive effects on carbon sequestration followed by residue retention (Table 3). Residue retention had the highest positive effects on water regulation and cycling function followed by no-tillage whereas, residue retention had the highest positive effects on nutrient cycling and regulation. No-tillage and CA had the highest positive effects on habitat for functional and intrinsic biodiversity compared to other CA and CONV practices. Hence, CONV contributed to negative effects on three of the five soil functions whereas, the CA and its component practices, had a negative effect only in primary productivity due to residue retention.

3.4. Effects of CA and CONV Practices on Five Soil Functions in Continental Zone

In the Continental zone, the median scores of CA was significantly higher (0.80–0.87; Table 3) indicating positive effects on soil functions compared to CONV with significantly lower median value of 0.47 indicating negative effects (Table 3). Across treatments, CONV had no positive effects (<0.60) on soil functions at all, with only negative (<0.60) to no effect (0.60) on five soil functions (Table 3). In contrast, CA and its component practices had only positive (>0.60) effects on the five soil functions. Crop rotation and CA had the highest positive effects on primary productivity whereas CA, no-tillage, crop rotation and residue retention had the highest positive effect on carbon sequestration (Table 3). Residue retention, reduced tillage and no-tillage had highest positive effects on water regulation and provision whereas crop rotation had highest positive effects on nutrient regulation and cycling. Crop rotation had the highest positive effect on habitat for functional and intrinsic biodiversity function. Hence, CA and its component tillage practices had particularly positive effects on the soil functions compared to CONV with neutral to negative effects on soil functions.

3.5. Comparison of CA and CONV Practices on Five Soil Functions in Atlantic North, Pannonian, Mediterranean North and Continental Environmental Zones

Comparing the CA and CONV across environmental zones, there were consistent differences between the CONV and CA and its component practices. CONV had overall negative effects on soil functions across the environmental zones with median score value of 0.50 (Table 3). In comparison, CA and its component tillage practices had overall positive effects on soil functions across the environmental zones with median score values ranging from 0.80 to 0.83 (Table 3).
Comparing the differences in effects due to application of the six treatments, the magnitude of positive effects over soil functions differed between environmental zones. In Atlantic North, Continental and Pannonian zone, crop rotation had the highest positive effects on soil functions compared to CA and its component practices whereas in Mediterranean North, no-tillage had the highest positive effects on soil functions (Table 3). The data clearly indicated that the same practice can have varying consequences in terms of positive and negative effects on the suite of soil functions and hence the suitability of enhancing one particular soil functions or bundle of soil functions is context-specific.

4. Discussion

4.1. Integration of Soil Function Scoring Data

The study is an attempt to deliver a framework to indicate the direction of changes in soil functions due to different land management so that land managers can adjust land use and management practices in order to meet the demand for soil functions. The impacts of CA and CONV on soil functions are important to resolve, as there is conflicting evidence of management effects on soil functions. The difference in effects are attributed to multiple factors as soil functions are the outcomes of interactions of climate, land use, management practice and soils [1,4,87]. Due to multiplicity of factors above, it is a challenging task to quantify soil functions and be precise for a given land use, management practice, climate and soils.
CA and CONV are contrasting practices in terms of crop rotation, crop residue management and soil disturbance from no-till and/or reduced tillage to conventional moldboard ploughing to 20–30 cm. The management practices had differential effects on soil physical, biological and chemical attributes affecting the soil functions. Overall, in our study, CONV had consistent negative effects on soil functions with a median score of 0.50 across environmental zones, in concurrence with Stavi et al. [24], where conventional production system scored 0.52 compared to 0.69 and 0.72 in integrated production system and CA respectively. The negative effects of CONV are attributed to undue emphasis on primary productivity neglecting the provision of other soil functions, explicit from the scorings [28,60]. The positive effects of CA and its component practices were attributed to, in general, synergistic provision of the five soil functions [7,48] although primary productivity declined in some environmental zones [39,70]. For example, in Mediterranean zone, positive effects of CA on primary productivity varied depending on rainfall when compared with CONV and CA performed better than CONV in dry years [59].

4.2. CA and CONV Treatment Effects on Soil Functions

CA practice consists of three core measures viz. no-till, crop rotation and residue retention [8]. However, all the three core measures are applied with different modifications in different socio-economic contexts based on the relevance of different soil functions in a particular environmental zone, which makes the comparison of performance of CA across the environments difficult [33]. Furthermore, the main effects of the three core measures, applied in isolation or in different combinations are difficult to separate and there is a wide variation in effects of management and the associated impacts on the suite of soil functions depending on the environmental context [41]. For example, in Mediterranean environments, the overall effects of CA is positive in combination with crop residue. However, when only crop residue effect is accounted for, it may lead to transitory nitrogen immobilization, decreasing nitrogen supply at the initial grow stages, particularly in nitrogen vulnerable zones with restriction in nitrogen fertilization [60]. Similarly, CONV is also practiced in different forms in terms of timing, depth and intensity of tillage, the combinations of which can have differential effects on soil functions in diverse environments [6].
A recent global meta-analysis of no-till compared to CONV assessed 5463 paired observations in 610 studies in 48 crops and 63 countries and reported that no/minimum tillage, in general, reduced crop yields while in some areas, produced yields equivalent to CONV [88]. This compares well with our study where, no-tillage reduced yields in Atlantic North [29], increased yields in Mediterranean North [60] and Continental whereas equivalent yields were produced with reduced tillage compared to CONV in Pannonian [51]. More importantly, positive crop yield responses were recorded only when combined with crop rotation and residue cover [88] and this was true in the Pannonian and Continental zone [83]. Except Pannonian zone, CA provided positive yield responses in other zones, particularly in Mediterranean climate due to higher moisture retention and minimized soil erosion [89,90]. In general, the CA yield penalty is found for the first 1–2 years after conversion to CA methods, but is subsequently similar to conventional practice yields over the next 3–9 years, while declining after 10+ years, probably due to weed pressure, pests and disease build-up [91]. A recent meta-analysis of 100 study comparisons reported increase in carbon sequestration in 54 cases due to no-tillage/zero tillage compared to CONV [41]. In another recent meta-analysis, comparison of 184 comparisons, shallow non-inversion tillage increased the carbon stock by 143 g C m−2 compared to deep inversion tillage [28]. This is in line with our findings that no-tillage increased the carbon sequestration in the four environmental zones. However, some recent studies have argued that the effects of no-tillage are highly complex, involving many factors and should not be generalized [18,92]. Apart from the aforementioned benefits, the main drivers of CA adoption are economic benefits due to cost reduction of tillage, machinery and labour inputs [7].
The impact of agricultural practices on habitat for functional and intrinsic biodiversity is explicit but, poorly addressed in CA that combine tillage, soil cover and crop rotation. There is no consensus on how to assess this soil function and most of the studies are still segmented with a specific approach on microorganisms, mesofauna or macrofauna. The increase in habitat and biodiversity with no-till or reduced tillage, crop rotation, residue retention and CA is mainly linked to changes in soil carbon and soil physicochemical properties. Similarly, water regulation and purification, and nutrient cycling and provision functions are not addressed well and hence, there is a need to include the effects on the five soil functions to realistically assess the impacts of a measure.

4.3. Research Gaps on CONV and CA Practices

The studies on soil functions due to CA are incomplete within the European soil research landscape with some environmental zones having more exhaustive data compared to other zones with sparse data [30]. For example, in Atlantic North, the scoring of the five soil functions due to CA was based on four studies whereas in Pannonian zone, the same was scored only with expert opinion (Table 3). The literature search revealed that majority of the studies collect data on crop yields (22 studies) and carbon sequestration (31 studies) whereas other soil functions are less prioritized lacking information on those soil functions (Table 3). The main gaps are emphasis on one or two soil functions, trade-offs with other soil functions, modified practices or measures in field, lack of stakeholder information and a need for a soil function assessment at farm scale. For example, primary productivity has been the main goal of land use by farmers and emphasis on this individual soil function has compromised the balance of provision of other soil functions that the soils provide. The reason is that the farmers’ main goals are grain and biomass yields for income but do not get rewarded for the non-marketable soil functions viz. nutrient cycling and provision, water regulation and purification and habitat for functional and intrinsic biodiversity, which are the core supporting and regulating functions backstopping primary productivity. Hence, there is no incentive to enhance non-marketable soil functions. Another important factor is the temporal factor (e.g., years of CA practice) on soil functions that needs to be taken into account as it has significant implications on the five soil functions [93]. Hence, there is a need to take account of the five soil functions rather than individual soil functions, by policy support at national to European scale to enhance provision of the five soil functions. For example, in Norway and Germany, CA practice is eligible for subsidy support [39], which has encouraged adoption of CA and such policy support will contribute, indirectly, to enhanced provision of the five soil functions. CA adoption does pose challenges due to increased weeds and competition for the use of crop residues for other purposes, such as fodder and energy production and hence loss of income to the farmers. Indeed, one of the main criticisms of conservation agriculture is the increase in herbicide use. Developing research on alternatives for weed management would facilitate the development of conservation agriculture (especially in increasingly constrained pesticide regulation environment) and limit its potential effects on the quality of water resources. However, there are other compelling reasons for CA adoption viz. reduced machinery and labor use, reduced erosion, which needs to be taken into account for realistic cost-benefit assessment. The information on the economics of CA adoption on and the underlying benefits on the five soil functions, need to be made available to the farmers, land managers, advisory services and policy makers to influence their decision based on evidence-based examples from the locally relevant applied CA field practices.

5. Conclusions

The current study has revealed that the existing field studies on CA and CONV practices assessed only individual soil functions and there is a growing need to determine the management effects on the suite of five soil functions. The study shed light on the current weakness of skewed research with emphasis on individual soil functions and there is need to incorporate the five vital soil functions, when assessing the effects of a management practice. Given that the research environment is highly compartmentalized in the research centers and universities, the study provided insight into need for transdisciplinary approaches to determine the five soil functions in field investigations so that objective assessment of a particular measure can be provided to the farmers, land managers and policy makers for informed decision-making.
Our study found significant differences of CA and CONV management effects on five soil functions across the four major environmental zones in Europe. Across environmental zones, overall CONV had consistent negative effects on soil functions whereas CA and its component practices had overall positive effects on soil functions. The study identified a need for more field-based investigations in Europe to provide further evidence of benefits of CA adoption. There is need for concerted efforts from researchers to provide the evidence of CA benefits on five soil functions and the policy-making bodies to encourage CA adoption through policies and subsidy support.

Acknowledgments

This study was conducted as part of the LANDMARK (LAND Management: Assessment, Research, Knowledge Base) project. LANDMARK has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No. 635201. The support from SustainFARM (Grant Agreement No. 652615) and WaterFARMING (Grant Agreement No. 689271) projects are acknowledged for revision and resubmission of the manuscript. We acknowledge Michael Schwarz (AGES) for preparation of Figure 1.

Author Contributions

Teodor Rusu, Tamas Szegi, Erika Michéli and Horia Cacovean were the team of experts from Continental zone and Taru Sandén; Heide Spiegel and Lilian O’Sullivan, were the team of experts from Pannonian zones. Cristina Menta, Giovanna Visioli, Isabelle Trinsoutrot Gattin and Antonio Delgado, were team of experts from Mediterranean North whereas Christian Bugge Henriksen and Bhim Bahadur Ghaley, were the team of experts from Atlantic North. Each team of experts provided the scoring data from the assigned environmental zones based on literature review and expert opinions. Mark A. Liebig and Dirk Vrebos reviewed the manuscript and improved the scientific content. Bhim Bahadur Ghaley gathered and analyzed the data and did a significant part of the work in drafting the manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest. The founding sponsors had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, and in the decision to publish the results.

References

  1. Schulte, R.P.O.; Bampa, F.; Bardy, M.; Coyle, C.; Creamer, R.E.; Fealy, R.; Gardi, C.; Ghaley, B.B.; Jordan, P.; Laudon, H.; et al. Making the Most of Our Land: Managing Soil Functions from Local to Continental Scale. Front. Environ. Sci. 2015, 3, 81. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  2. Ghaley, B.; Vesterdal, L.; Porter, J.R. Quantification and valuation of ecosystem services in diverse production systems for informed decision-making. Environ. Sci. Policy 2014, 39, 139–149. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  3. Ghaley, B.; Porter, J.; Sandhu, H.S. Soil-based ecosystem services: A synthesis of nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration assessment methods. Int. J. Biodivers. Sci. Ecosyst. Serv. Manag. 2014, 10, 177–186. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  4. Coyle, C.; Creamer, R.E.; Schulte, R.P.O.; O’Sullivan, L.; Jordan, P. A Functional Land Management conceptual framework under soil drainage and land use scenarios. Environ. Sci. Policy 2016, 56, 39–48. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  5. Lemanceau, P.; Creamer, R.; Griffiths, B.S. Soil biodiversity and ecosystem functions across Europe: A transect covering variations in bio-geographical zones, land use and soil properties. Appl. Soil Ecol. 2016, 97, 1–2. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  6. Holland, J.M. The environmental consequences of adopting conservation tillage in Europe: Reviewing the evidence. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 2004, 103, 1–25. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  7. Van den Putte, A.; Govers, G.; Diels, J.; Gillijns, K.; Demuzere, M. Assessing the effect of soil tillage on crop growth: A meta-regression analysis on European crop yields under conservation agriculture. Eur. J. Agron. 2010, 33, 231–241. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  8. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Conservation Agriculture. Available online: http://www.fao.org/publications/card/en/c/981ab2a0-f3c6-4de3-a058-f0df6658e69f/ (accessed on 20 December 2017).
  9. Hobbs, P.R. Conservation agriculture: What is it and why is it important for future sustainable food production? J. Agric. Sci. 2007, 145, 127–137. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  10. Hobbs, P.R.; Sayre, K.; Gupta, R. The role of conservation agriculture in sustainable agriculture. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. 2008, 363, 543–555. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  11. Knowler, D.; Bradshaw, B. Farmers’ adoption of conservation agriculture: A review and synthesis of recent research. Food Policy 2007, 32, 25–48. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  12. Kertész, A.; Madarász, B. Conservation Agriculture in Europe. Int. Soil Water Conserv. Res. 2014, 2, 91–96. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  13. Fereres, E.; Orgaz, F.; Gonzalez-Dugo, V.; Testi, L.; Villalobos, F.J. Balancing crop yield and water productivity tradeoffs in herbaceous and woody crops. Funct. Plant Biol. 2014, 41, 1009–1018. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  14. Powlson, D.S.; Stirling, C.M.; Jat, M.L.; Gerard, B.G.; Palm, C.A.; Sanchez, P.A.; Cassman, K.G. Limited potential of no-till agriculture for climate change mitigation. Nat. Clim. Chang. 2014, 4, 678–683. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  15. Indoria, A.K.; Rao, C.S.; Sharma, K.L.; Reddy, K.S. Conservation agriculture – a panacea to improve soil physical health. Curr. Sci. 2017, 112. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  16. Derpsch, R.; Lange, D.; Birbaumer, G.; Moriya, K. Why do medium- and large-scale farmers succeed practicing CA and small-scale farmers often do not?—Experiences from Paraguay. Int. J. Agric. Sustain. 2016, 14, 269–281. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  17. Derpsch, R.; Franzluebbers, A.J.; Duiker, S.W.; Reicosky, D.C.; Koeller, K.; Friedrich, T.; Sturny, W.G.; Sa, J.C.M.; Weiss, K. Why do we need to standardize no-tillage research? Soil Tillage Res. 2014, 137, 16–22. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  18. Soane, B.D.; Ball, B.C.; Arvidsson, J.; Basch, G.; Moreno, F.; Roger-Estrade, J. No-till in northern, western and south-western Europe: A review of problems and opportunities for crop production and the environment. Soil Tillage Res. 2012, 118, 66–87. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  19. Metzger, M.J.; Bunce, R.G.H.; Jongman, R.H.G.; Mücher, C.A.; Watkins, J.W. A climatic stratification of the environment of Europe. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 2005, 14, 549–563. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  20. LANDMARK Land Management Assessment Research Knowledge Base (EU H2020 Project). Available online: http://landmark2020.eu/ (accessed on 12 March 2017).
  21. Jongman, R.H.G.; Sciences, L. Descriptions of the European Environmental Zones and Strata; Wageningen University & Research: Wageningen, The Netherlands, 2016. [Google Scholar]
  22. Schröder, J.J.; Schulte, R.P.O.; Lehtinen, T.; Creamer, R.E.; van Leeuwen, J.; Rutgers, M.; Delgado, A.; Bampa, F.; Madena, K.; Jones, A. Glossary of Terms for Use in LANDMARK. Available online: http://landmark2020.eu/landmark-glossary/ (accessed on 12 March 2018).
  23. Hartley, J. Some thoughts on Likert-type scales. Int. J. Clin. Health Psychol. 2014, 14, 83–86. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  24. Stavi, I.; Bel, G.; Zaady, E. Soil functions and ecosystem services in conventional, conservation, and integrated agricultural systems. A review. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 2016, 36, 32. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  25. Turner, J.L. The non-parametric kruskal-wallis and friedman’s test statistics. In Using Statistics in Small-Scale Language Education Research: Focus on Non-Parametric Data; ESL & Applied Linguistics Professional Series; Routledge: Abingdon, UK, 2014; pp. 243–272. ISBN 978-0-415-81994-7. [Google Scholar]
  26. Vargha, A.; Delaney, H.D. The Kruskal-Wallis Test and Stochastic Homogeneity. J. Educ. Behav. Stat. 1998, 23, 170–192. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  27. Abdollahi, L.; Schjonning, P.; Elmholt, S.; Munkholm, L.J. The effects of organic matter application and intensive tillage and traffic on soil structure formation and stability. Soil Tillage Res. 2014, 136, 28–37. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  28. Cooper, J.; Baranski, M.; Stewart, G.; Nobel-de Lange, M.; Barberi, P.; Fliessbach, A.; Peigne, J.; Berner, A.; Brock, C.; Casagrande, M.; et al. Shallow non-inversion tillage in organic farming maintains crop yields and increases soil C stocks: A meta-analysis. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 2016, 36, 22. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  29. Hansen, E.M.; Munkholm, L.J.; Olesen, J.E.; Melander, B. Nitrate Leaching, Yields and Carbon Sequestration after Noninversion Tillage, Catch Crops, and Straw Retention. J. Environ. Qual. 2015, 44, 868–881. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  30. Warkentin, B.P. The tillage effect in sustaining soil functions. J. Plant Nutr. Soil Sci. 2001, 164, 345–350. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  31. Chatskikh, D.; Olesen, J.E. Soil tillage enhanced CO2 and N2O emissions from loamy sand soil under spring barley. Soil Tillage Res. 2007, 97, 5–18. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  32. Munkholm, L.J.; Schjonning, P.; Rasmussen, K.J. Non-inversion tillage effects on soil 770 mechanical properties of a humid sandy loam. Soil Tillage Res. 2001, 62, 1–14. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  33. Lahmar, R. Adoption of conservation agriculture in Europe Lessons of the KASSA project. Land Use Policy 2010, 27, 4–10. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  34. Newton, A.C.; Guy, D.C.; Bengough, A.G.; Gordon, D.C.; McKenzie, B.M.; Sun, B.; Valentine, T.A.; Hallett, P.D. Soil tillage effects on the efficacy of cultivars and their mixtures in winter barley. Field Crops Res. 2012, 128, 91–100. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  35. Rasmussen, K.J. Impact of ploughless soil tillage on yield and soil quality: A Scandinavian review. Soil Tillage Res. 1999, 53, 3–14. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  36. Abdollahi, L.; Hansen, E.M.; Rickson, R.J.; Munkhohn, L.J. Overall assessment of soil quality on humid sandy loams: Effects of location, rotation and tillage. Soil Tillage Res. 2015, 145, 29–36. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  37. Deike, S.; Pallutt, B.; Melander, B.; Strassemeyer, J.; Christen, O. Long-term productivity and environmental effects of arable farming as affected by crop rotation, soil tillage intensity and strategy of pesticide use: A case-study of two long-term field experiments in Germany and Denmark. Eur. J. Agron. 2008, 29, 191–199. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  38. Petersen, S.O.; Ambus, P.; Elsgaard, L.; Schjonning, P.; Olesen, J.E. Long-term effects of cropping system on N2O emission potential. Soil Biol. Biochem. 2013, 57, 706–712. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef][Green Version]
  39. Getahun, G.T.; Munkholm, L.J.; Schjonning, P. The influence of clay-to-carbon ratio on soil physical properties in a humid sandy loam soil with contrasting tillage and residue management. Geoderma 2016, 264, 94–102. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  40. Hansen, E.M.; Munkholm, L.J.; Melander, B.; Olesen, J.E. Can non-inversion tillage and straw retainment reduce N leaching in cereal-based crop rotations? Soil Tillage Res. 2010, 109, 1–8. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  41. Palm, C.; Blanco-Canqui, H.; DeClerck, F.; Gatere, L.; Grace, P. Conservation agriculture and ecosystem services: An overview. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 2014, 187, 87–105. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  42. Bauer, T.; Strauss, P.; Grims, M.; Kamptner, E.; Mansberger, R.; Spiegel, H. Long-term agricultural management effects on surface roughness and consolidation of soils. Soil Tillage Res. 2015, 151, 28–38. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  43. Cociu, A.I. Soil Properties, Winter Wheat Yield, Its Components and Economic Efficiency When Different Tillage Systems Are Applied. Romanian Agric. Res. 2011, 28, 121–130. [Google Scholar]
  44. Kandeler, E.; Tscherko, D.; Spiegel, H. Long-term monitoring of microbial biomass, N mineralisation and enzyme activities of a chernozem under different tillage management. Biol. Fertil. Soils 1999, 28, 343–351. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  45. Šimanský, V.; Tobiašová, E.; Chlpík, J. Soil tillage and fertilization of Orthic Luvisol and their influence on chemical properties, soil structure stability and carbon distribution in water-stable macro-aggregates. Soil Tillage Res. 2008, 100, 125–132. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  46. Spiegel, H.; Dersch, G.; Baumgarten, A. Long term field experiments—A basis to evaluate parameters of soil fertility. In Proceedings of the Symposium New challenges in Field Crop Production, Rogaška Slatina, Slovenia, 2–3 December 2010. [Google Scholar]
  47. Spiegel, H.; Dersch, G.; Hösch, J.; Baumgarten, A. Tillage effects on soil organic carbon and nutrient availability in a long-term field experiment in Austria. Die Bodenkultur 2007, 58, 47–58. [Google Scholar]
  48. Tatzber, M.; Schlatter, N.; Baumgarten, A.; Dersch, G.; Körner, R.; Lehtinen, T.; Unger, G.; Mifek, E.; Spiegel, H. KMnO4 determination of active carbon for laboratory routines: Three long-term field experiments in Austria. Soil Res. 2015, 53, 190–204. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  49. Tatzber, M.; Stemmer, M.; Spiegel, H.; Katzlberger, C.; Haberhauer, G.; Gerzabek, M.H. Impact of different tillage practices on molecular characteristics of humic acids in a long-term field experiment—An application of three different spectroscopic methods. Sci. Total Environ. 2008, 406, 256–268. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  50. Birkás, M.; Jolánkai, M.; Gyuricza, C.; Percze, A. Tillage effects on compaction, earthworms and other soil quality indicators in Hungary. Soil Tillage Res. 2004, 78, 185–196. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  51. Franko, U.; Spiegel, H. Modeling soil organic carbon dynamics in an Austrian long-term tillage field experiment. Soil Tillage Res. 2016, 156, 83–90. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  52. Field, R.H.; Benke, S.; Bádonyi, K.; Bradbury, R.B. Influence of conservation tillage on winter bird use of arable fields in Hungary. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 2007, 120, 399–404. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  53. Rinnofner, T.; Friedel, J.K.; de Kruijff, R.; Pietsch, G.; Freyer, B. Effect of catch crops on N dynamics and following crops in organic farming. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 2008, 28, 551–558. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  54. Tatzber, M.; Stemmer, M.; Spiegel, H.; Katzlberger, C.; Zehetner, F.; Haberhauer, G.; Garcia-Garcia, E.; Gerzabek, M.H. Spectroscopic behaviour of 14C-labeled humic acids in a long-term field experiment with three cropping systems. Aust. J. Soil Res. 2009, 47, 459–469. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  55. Tatzber, M.; Stemmer, M.; Spiegel, H.; Katzlberger, C.; Zehetner, F.; Haberhauer, G.; Roth, K.; Garcia-Garcia, E.; Gerzabek, M.H. Decomposition of Carbon-14-Labeled Organic Amendments and Humic Acids in a Long-Term Field Experiment. Soil Biol. Biochem. 2009, 73, 744–750. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  56. Kismányoky, T.; Tóth, Z. Effect of mineral and organic fertilization on soil fertility as well as on the biomass production and N utilization of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) in a long-term cereal crop rotation experiment (IOSDV). Arch. Agron. Soil Sci. 2010, 56, 473–479. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  57. Tamás, K.; Zoltán, T. Effect of mineral and organic fertilization on soil organic carbon content as well as on grain production of cereals in the IOSDV (ILTE) long-term field experiment, Keszthely, Hungary. Arch. Agron. Soil Sci. 2013, 59, 1121–1131. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  58. Spiegel, H.; Dersch, G.; Baumgarten, A.; Hösch, J. The International Organic Nitrogen Long-term Fertilisation Experiment (IOSDV) at Vienna after 21 years. Arch. Agron. Soil Sci. 2010, 56, 405–420. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  59. Bravo, C.A.; Giráldez, J.V.; Ordóñez, R.; González, P.; Torres, F.P. Long-Term Influence of Conservation Tillage on Chemical Properties of Surface Horizon and Legume Crops Yield in a Vertisol of Southern Spain. Soil Sci. 2007, 172, 141–148. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  60. Lampurlanés, J.; Plaza-Bonilla, D.; Álvaro-Fuentes, J.; Cantero-Martínez, C. Long-term analysis of soil water conservation and crop yield under different tillage systems in Mediterranean rainfed conditions. Field Crops Res. 2016, 189, 59–67. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  61. López-Garrido, R.; Deurer, M.; Madejón, E.; Murillo, J.M.; Moreno, F. Tillage influence on biophysical soil properties: The example of a long-term tillage experiment under Mediterranean rainfed conditions in South Spain. Soil Tillage Res. 2012, 118, 52–60. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  62. Madejón, E.; Moreno, F.; Murillo, J.M.; Pelegrín, F. Soil biochemical response to long-term conservation tillage under semi-arid Mediterranean conditions. Soil Tillage Res. 2007, 94, 346–352. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  63. Madejón, E.; Murillo, J.M.; Moreno, F.; López, M.V.; Arrue, J.L.; Alvaro-Fuentes, J.; Cantero, C. Effect of long-term conservation tillage on soil biochemical properties in Mediterranean Spanish areas. Soil Tillage Res. 2009, 105, 55–62. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  64. Melero, S.; Vanderlinden, K.; Ruiz, J.C.; Madejon, E. Long-term effect on soil biochemical status of a Vertisol under conservation tillage system in semi-arid Mediterranean conditions. Eur. J. Soil Biol. 2008, 44, 437–442. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  65. Melero, S.; López-Garrido, R.; Madejón, E.; Murillo, J.M.; Vanderlinden, K.; Ordóñez, R.; Moreno, F. Long-term effects of conservation tillage on organic fractions in two soils in southwest of Spain. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 2009, 133, 68–74. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  66. Moreno, F.; Murillo, J.M.; Pelegrín, F.; Girón, I.F. Long-term impact of conservation tillage on stratification ratio of soil organic carbon and loss of total and active CaCO3. Soil Tillage Res. 2006, 85, 86–93. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  67. Ordóñez Fernández, R.; González Fernández, P.; Giráldez Cervera, J.V.; Perea Torres, F. Soil properties and crop yields after 21 years of direct drilling trials in southern Spain. Soil Tillage Res. 2007, 94, 47–54. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  68. Plaza-Bonilla, D.; Cantero-Martínez, C.; Viñas, P.; Álvaro-Fuentes, J. Soil aggregation and organic carbon protection in a no-tillage chronosequence under Mediterranean conditions. Geoderma 2013, 193–194, 76–82. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef][Green Version]
  69. Saavedra, C.; Velasco, J.; Pajuelo, P.; Perea, F.; Delgado, A. Effects of tillage on phosphorus release potential in a Spanish vertisol. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 2007, 71, 56–63. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  70. Melero, S.; Vanderlinden, K.; Ruiz, J.C.; Madejón, E. Soil biochemical response after 23 years of direct drilling under a dryland agriculture system in southwest Spain. J. Agric. Sci. 2009, 147, 9. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  71. Melero, S.; López-Bellido, R.J.; López-Bellido, L.; Muñoz-Romero, V.; Moreno, F.; Murillo, J.M. Long-term effect of tillage, rotation and nitrogen fertiliser on soil quality in a Mediterranean Vertisol. Soil Tillage Res. 2011, 114, 97–107. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  72. Birkás, M. Report on Yield of Winter Wheat, 2015 at the Soil Quality-Climate Experiment (Hatvan-Józsefmajor); Scientific Report, Project Number: AGRÁRKLÍMA.2 VKSZ_12-1-2013-0034; Szent István University: Gödöllő, Hungary, 2015. (In Hungarian) [Google Scholar]
  73. Birkas, M.; Kisic, I.; Bottlik, L.; Jolankai, M.; Mesic, M.; Kalmar, T. Subsoil Compaction as a Climate Damage Indicator. Agric. Conspec. Sci. 2009, 74, 91–97. [Google Scholar]
  74. Rusu, T.; Bogdan, I.; Marin, D.I.; Moraru, P.I.; Pop, A.I.; Duda, B.M. Effect of Conservation Agriculture on Yield and Protecting Environmental Resources. Agrolife Sci. J. 2015, 4, 141–145. [Google Scholar]
  75. Rusu, T.; Gus, P.; Bogdan, I.; Oroian, I.; Paulette, L. Influence of minimum tillage systems on physical and chemical properties of soil. J. Food Agric. Environ. 2006, 4, 262–265. [Google Scholar]
  76. Gal, A.; Vyn, T.J.; Micheli, E.; Kladivko, E.J.; McFee, W.W. Soil carbon and nitrogen accumulation with long-term no-till versus moldboard plowing overestimated with tilled-zone sampling depths. Soil Tillage Res. 2007, 96, 42–51. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  77. Micheli, E.; Madari, B.; Tombacz, E.J.C. Tillage—Soil organic matter relationships in long-term experiments in Hungary and Indiana. In Agricultural Practices and Policies for Carbon Sequestration in Soil; Kimble, J.M., Lal, R.F.R., Eds.; Lewis Publishers: Boca Raton, FL, USA, 2002; pp. 99–106. [Google Scholar]
  78. Rusu, T. Energy efficiency and soil conservation in conventional, minimum tillage and no-tillage. Int. Soil Water Conserv. Res. 2014, 2, 42–49. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  79. Birkás, M.; Takács, T. Importance of Soil Quality in Environment Protection. Agric. Conspec. Sci. 2007, 72, 21–26. [Google Scholar]
  80. Chetan, C.; Rusu, T.; Bogdan, I.; Chetan, F.; Simon, A. Weed control in soybean cultivated in minimum tillage system and the production obtained at ards turda. Bull. Univ. Agric. Sci. Vet. Med. Cluj-Napoca Agric. 2014, 71. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  81. Kisić, I.; Bašić, F.; Birkas, M.; Jurišić, A.; Bićanić, V. Crop yield and plant density under different tillage systems. Agric. Conspec. Sci. 2010, 75, 1–7. [Google Scholar]
  82. Rusu, T.; Gus, P.; Bogdan, I.; Moraru, P.I.; Pop, A.I.; Clapa, D.; Marin, D.I.; Oroian, I.; Pop, L.I. Implications of minimum tillage systems on sustainability of agricultural production and soil conservation. J. Food Agric. Environ. 2009, 7, 335–338. [Google Scholar]
  83. Rusu, T.; Bogdan, I.; Moraru, P.; Pop, A.; Oroian, I.; Marin, D.; Ranta, O.; Stanila, S.; Gheres, M.; Duda, M.; et al. Influence of minimum tillage systems on the control of Convolvulus arvensis L. on wheat, maize and soybean. J. Food Agric. Environ. 2013, 11, 563–566. [Google Scholar]
  84. Birkas, M.; Bencsik, K.; Stingli, A.; Percze, A. Correlation between moisture and organic matter conservation in soil tillage. Cereal Res. Commun. 2005, 33, 25–28. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  85. Moraru, P.I.; Rusu, T.; Guș, P.; Bogdan, I.; Pop, A.I. The role of minimum tillage in protecting environmental resources of the Transylvanian plain, Romania. Romanian Agric. Res. 2015, 32, 127–135. [Google Scholar]
  86. Stingli, A.; Bokor, A.; Kondor-Jakab, M. Influence of conservation tillage and nutrient rate on the internal fusarium infection of winter wheat. Cereal Res. Commun. 2007, 35, 1101–1104. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  87. Lothar, M.; Uwe, S.; Wilfried, M.; Graham, T.S.; Bruce, C.B.; Katharina, H.; Jutta, R.; Frank, E.; Hubert, W. Review article Assessing the productivity function of soils. A review. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 2010, 30, 601–614. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  88. Pittelkow, C.M.; Liang, X.; Linquist, B.A.; van Groenigen, K.J.; Lee, J.; Lundy, M.E.; van Gestel, N.; Six, J.; Venterea, R.T.; van Kessel, C. Productivity limits and potentials of the principles of conservation agriculture. Nature 2015, 517, 365–368. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  89. Galieni, A.; Stagnari, F.; Visioli, G.; Marmiroli, N.; Speca, S.; Angelozzi, G.; D’Egidio, S.; Pisante, M. Nitrogen fertilisation of durum wheat: A case of study in mediterranean area during transition to conservation agriculture. Ital. J. Agron. 2016, 11, 12–23. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  90. Visioli, G.; Galieni, A.; Stagnari, F.; Bonas, U.; Speca, S.; Faccini, A.; Pisante, M.; Marmiroli, N. Proteomics of durum wheat grain during transition to conservation agriculture. PLoS ONE 2016, 11, 1–23. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  91. Farooq, M.; Flower, K.C.; Jabran, K.; Wahid, A.; Siddique, K.H.M. Crop yield and weed management in rainfed conservation agriculture. Soil Tillage Res. 2011, 117, 172–183. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  92. Yang, X.; Drury, C.F.; Wander, M.M. A wide view of no-tillage practices and soil organic carbon sequestration. Acta Agric. Scand. Sect. B Soil Plant Sci. 2013, 63, 523–530. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
  93. Lehtinen, T.; Schlatter, N.; Baumgarten, A.; Bechini, L.; Krüger, J.; Grignani, C.; Zavattaro, L.; Costamagna, C.; Spiegel, H. Effect of crop residue incorporation on soil organic carbon and greenhouse gas emissions in European agricultural soils. Soil Use Manag. 2014, 30, 524–538. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
Figure 1. Map of the four major environmental zones with locations of the on-site long term experiments, in LANDMARK consortium countries viz. Ireland, Denmark, Netherlands, Hungary, United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, China, Brazil, Switzerland, Romania, Sweden, Slovenia, Italy and Spain.
Figure 1. Map of the four major environmental zones with locations of the on-site long term experiments, in LANDMARK consortium countries viz. Ireland, Denmark, Netherlands, Hungary, United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, China, Brazil, Switzerland, Romania, Sweden, Slovenia, Italy and Spain.
Sustainability 10 00794 g001
Table 1. Three indicators identified for each of the five soil functions.
Table 1. Three indicators identified for each of the five soil functions.
Soil Function IndicatorsPrimary ProductivityCarbon Sequestration and Climate RegulationWater Regulation and PurificationNutrient Cycling and ProvisionHabitat for Functional and Intrinsic Biodiversity
1.Increase in grain yieldIncrease in stable soil organic matter (humus)Increase in the water holding capacity of soilReduction of soil erosionIncrease of above ground biodiversity
2.Improvement in grain quality (e.g., protein content)Increase in reactive soil organic matterEnhance water infiltration into soil matrixReduction of NO3 leachingIncrease of soil biodiversity
3.Increase in biomass yield (grain + aboveground biomass)Incorporation of plant residuesReduce groundwater contaiminationReduction of phosphorus leachingIncrease earthworm count
Table 2. Soil function scoring rules [24].
Table 2. Soil function scoring rules [24].
Directional Change Value RangePositive Re-AssignmentNormalized Scores
High positive effect251
Low positive effect140.8
No effect030.6
Low negative effect−120.4
High negative effect−210.2
Table 3. Scorings of CA and CONV practices (1–6 as described above) on five soil functions in Atlantic North, Pannonian, Mediterranean North and Continental environmental zone. Studies (no) is the number of studies per soil function in each environmental zone.
Table 3. Scorings of CA and CONV practices (1–6 as described above) on five soil functions in Atlantic North, Pannonian, Mediterranean North and Continental environmental zone. Studies (no) is the number of studies per soil function in each environmental zone.
Soil Functions/TreatmentsPrimary ProductivityCarbon Sequestration and Climate RegulationWater Regulation and PurificationNutrient Cycling and ProvisionHabitat for Functional and Intrinsic BiodiversityMedianReferences
Atlantic North—Studies (no) (6)(4)(3)(5)(2)
Conventionl farming0.870.330.200.200.35a 0.33 (0.20,0.87)[27,28,29,30]
No-tillage0.471.001.001.000.95b 1.00 (0,47,1.0)[7,28,31,32,33] (expert opinion)
Reduced tillage0.730.800.800.800.80c 0.80 (0.73,0.80)[31,34,35]
Crop rotation0.930.730.871.000.90d 0.90 (0.73,1.0)[36,37,38] (expert opinion)
Residue retention0.470.731.000.870.80c 0.80 (0.47,1.0)[24,39,40] (expert opinion)
Conservation agriculture0.731.000.930.870.85d 0.87 (0.73,1.0)[6,7,33,41] (expert opinion)
Pannonian(8)(13)(4)(8)(3)
Conventional farming0.600.530.670.530.40a 0.53 (0.40,0.67)[42,43,44,45,46,47,48,49,50,51,52,53] (expert opinion)
No-tillage0.600.870.670.730.93b 0.73 (0.60,0.93)[43,44,46,47,48,49,50,51,52] (expert opinion)
Reduced tillage0.600.670.670.600.80c 0.67 (0.60,0.80)[42,47,48,49] (expert opinion)
Crop rotation0.800.800.730.800.80e 0.80 (0.73,0.80)[48,53,54,55] (expert opinion)
Residue retention0.670.800.800.800.80bde 0.80 (0.67,0.80)[46,56,57,58] (expert opinion)
Conservation agriculture0.471.000.730.800.80bd 0.80 (0.47,1.0)(expert opinion)
Mediterranean North(3)(9)(3)(8)(5)
Conventional farming0.730.530.330.670.20a 0.53 (0.20,0.73)[59,60,61,62,63,64,65,66,67,68,69] (expert opinion)
No-tillage0.870.870.930.871.00b 0.87 (0.87,1.0)[59,60,61,62,63,64,66,67,68,69,70] (expert opinion)
Reduced tillage0.730.800.800.800.80c 0.80 (0.73,0.80)[60,63,66]
Crop rotation0.800.800.730.800.80c 0.80 (0.73,0.80)[59,67,71]
Residue retention0.470.931.000.930.93bd 0.93 (0.47,1.0)[62,65] (expert opinion)
Conservation agriculture0.731.000.730.871.00d 0.87 (0.73,1.0)[60,63,66]
Continental(5)(5)(4)(5)(1)
Conventional farming0.400.600.400.600.47a 0.47 (0.40,0.60)[50,72,73,74]
No-tillage0.800.870.930.800.73bd 0.80 (0.73,0.93)[72,75,76,77,78]
Reduced tillage0.800.800.930.800.73b 0.80 (0.73,0.93)[78,79,80,81] (expert opinion)
Crop rotation0.930.870.800.870.87e 0.87 (0.80,0.93)[78,82] (expert opinion)
Residue retention0.800.870.930.800.73bd 0.80 (0.73,0.93)[83] (expert opinion)
Conservation agriculture0.930.870.800.800.80cd 0.80 (0.80,0.93)[83,84,85,86] (expert opinion)
Bold numbers indicate the negative effects (<0.6) on soil functions. Median scores are presented as Median (minimum, maximum) and median scores with no common superscript letters are significantly different at p = 0.05.

© 2018 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Back to TopTop