Next Steps for Conservation Agriculture
- Minimum mechanical soil disturbance (i.e., no-tillage and direct seeding) through direct seed and/or fertilizer placement;
- permanent soil organic cover (at least 30 percent) with crop residues and/or cover crops; and
- species diversification through varied crop sequences and associations involving at least three different crops.
- Develop compensatory support mechanisms for the environmental services, which CA provides.
- The promotion of alternatives to overgrazing and the inclusion of rotations with high quality pastures in CA project plans.
- This technique being covered by the terms direct drilling, zero tillage, no-tillage, and no-till.
- This Congress calls upon politicians, international institutions, environmentalists, farmers, private industry, and society as a whole, to recognize that the conservation of natural resources is the co-responsibility—past, present and future—of all sectors of society in the proportion that they consume products resulting from the exploitation of these resources. Furthermore, it calls upon society, through these stakeholders, to conceive and enact appropriate long-term strategies for CA and to support, further develop and embrace its concepts. They are the most appropriate means of ensuring the continuity of the land’s ongoing capacities to yield food, other agricultural products, water, and environmental benefits in perpetuity. It follows that those environmental benefits provided by farmers practicing CA should be recognized and recompensed by society.
- To broaden the base of CA by embracing all other sustainable and profitable practices or technologies, even if this means coming to terms with RA and OA and adopting a new, wider, denomination.
- To demonstrate the need to, and delineate, a set of farming practices that are sustainable and profitable under their current denominations (CA, RA, and OA), separately, if necessary.
- To give the farmer a single concept within which he/she can develop his/her own sustainable and profitable system, specific for his/her farm.
- To replace the current myriad definitions of agricultural sustainability by one global definition, with regional versions, valid for all farming systems and product certifications.
- To create industry and consumer confidence in sustainable-certified farm products and simplify their certification.
- To generate a World Congress on Sustainable Agricultural Practices to consecrate the above.
1.1. Nomenclature and Definitions
1.2. The Origins of CA
1.3. Recent Evolution
1.4. Expansion of CA
2. Off-Farm Benefits of CA and Payments for Environmental Services
- Forty to fifty percent reduced fuel consumption .
- Land use intensification (higher yields mitigating the demand for de-forestation) .
- Reduced methane emissions from cattle on quality pastures in Ley Farming (LF) .
- Increased albedo of surface residue, reflecting more of the Sun’s rays back to space, thus reducing the amount of the Sun’s energy absorbed by the Earth’s surface .
- Increased aquifer recharge.
- Reduced maintenance of rural roads .
- Reduced cost of municipal water treatment .
- Reduced use of inputs eliminates the GHG emissions in their manufacture and transport.
- Erosion minimized, soil life extended to sustainable levels, ensuring food safety for future generations.
- Sustainable intensification of land use mitigates land clearing.
- Guarantee of quality and quantity of municipal water supply.
- Mitigation of flood risks by extending the time of concentration.
- Reduction in reservoir and waterway silting.
- Improved overwintering feed and shelter for wild fauna (lost grain and weed seeds).
3. Technical Aspects
3.1. The Game-Changer
3.2. Important Parts of the Solution
- LF and iCLF (already incorporated in CA) .
- Precision agriculture, combining Information Technologies (ITs) for assessing soil attributes, yield mapping, variable rate input application, and drones for detection of pests and weeds, diagnosis of plant diseases, and spot spraying.
- Biological controls of all types.
- Controlled traffic farming avoids shallow and deep compaction .
- Benchmarking with technical indicators .
3.3. CA Is Approaching OA and Vice Versa
3.4. Challenges for Merging CA, RA, and OA
3.5. The Unfinished Symphony of Soil Biology
- Root exudates solubilize unavailable nutrients.
- Sugars in root exudates feed beneficial microbes.
- Root exudates form crumb structures in the vicinity of roots.
- Improved soil structure supplies more oxygen and increases water-holding capacity, with better root penetration.
- Earthworms, beetle larvae, soil fungi, and bacteria digest crop residues, and the formers’ burrows increase rainfall infiltration and enrich soil with excretions.
- Zero tillage preserves fungal hyphae, old root holes, all soil life, and ground-feeding birds and small mammals.
- Crop residues that are food substrates for soil life eventually form humus.
- Biological controls are advancing fast, with:
- Antagonic fungi, e.g., Trichoderma spp., to control root diseases.
- Parasitic wasps lay eggs on caterpillars, which are killed by wasp larvae.
- Cover crops, like Crotalaria spp., to control nematodes.
- Entomopathogenic fungi, like Beauveria spp., to control various pests.
- Entomopathogenic bacteria, like Bacillus thuringiensis, to control insects and mites.
- Pluri-annual rotations reduce multiplication of pests and diseases.
3.6. Longevity of the ZT/CA Movement
- Payment, or at least recognition, of environmental services on- and off-farm is a must.
- Accommodation with RA, OA, and their variants.
- Promoting new compatible, sustainable, and profitable technologies under ZT/CA, CRA, or CA/SLUI.
- More case studies worldwide showing cover crops are profitable over the long term.
- Recognition of the sustainable farmer as a “Guardian of Natural Resources” under his/her stewardship on-farm, with positive off-farm impacts.
4. Future Perspectives
4.1. Modifications to Update the CA Definition
4.2. The Expansion of Eco-Friendly Farming Systems
- Carbon credits for incremental carbon in SOM from private industry are already being implemented with RA  and other farming systems, and are the most obvious, but not the only, form to initiate such social transfers (not subsidies); carbon offsets have the downside that they could permit polluters to continue polluting.
- In Brazil, and some other countries, schemes by local authorities to guarantee urban water quality and quantity by paying for adoption of ZT/CA on their supply watersheds will grow rapidly with the intensification of extreme events as a result of climate change.
- As cover crop results often take years to be perceived and short-term economic pressures prevail, cover crops are not widely included in ZT/CA rotation, but this has been improving in recent years, from estimates of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program . Long-term financial and physical impact studies are required to accelerate adoption.
- The dicta of the Declaration of Madrid and succeeding WCCA congresses should be fully implemented. There has already been a considerable lag on implementing many of those from the 1st WCCA and climate change requires immediate action.
- Forgetting vanities and accepting RA’s embracing of CA principles and working with its several groups towards a scientific definition, which is lacking, thus working towards a unifying framework with formal recognition of CA principles as essential to sustainability.
- Whole-farm certification, and not for individual products, would greatly assist PES, and reduce its operational costs.
- All PES should be direct to farmers.
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Landers, J.N.; de Freitas, P.L.; de Oliveira, M.C.; da Silva Neto, S.P.; Ralisch, R.; Kueneman, E.A. Next Steps for Conservation Agriculture. Agronomy 2021, 11, 2496. https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11122496
Landers JN, de Freitas PL, de Oliveira MC, da Silva Neto SP, Ralisch R, Kueneman EA. Next Steps for Conservation Agriculture. Agronomy. 2021; 11(12):2496. https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11122496Chicago/Turabian Style
Landers, John N., Pedro Luiz de Freitas, Mauricio Carvalho de Oliveira, Sebastião Pedro da Silva Neto, Ricardo Ralisch, and Eric Alan Kueneman. 2021. "Next Steps for Conservation Agriculture" Agronomy 11, no. 12: 2496. https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11122496