Using an Agroecosystem Services Approach to Assess Tillage Methods: A Case Study in the Shikma Region
1.2. Development of Conservation Tillage
1.3. Using the Ecosystem Services Approach
2. The Study Region
3. Materials and Methods
- Defining agroecosystem management issues currently on the agenda at the research site and identifying management alternatives. We began, as do most ecosystem assessments, with extensive consultations with stakeholders and specific user groups in Shikma Park to identify priorities for the assessment questions. These consultations are fundamental to both the relevance and the legitimacy of the process and play a key role in providing its structure and focus . Following the consultations above, the management question and alternatives were identified.
- Mapping stakeholders, policy makers and decision making processes related to the alternatives identified, based on interviews with stakeholders, reports and literature.
- The perspective of farmers and experts regarding the constraints to no-till adoption. As part of the study, we conducted open-ended interviews with farmers and experts in order to get their views on what prevents wider adoption of no-tillage in light of findings that demonstrate the success of the method. Insights into farmers’ decision-making together with barriers/drivers for implementation of sustainable soil management practices, can contribute to a better understanding of what is needed to foster better compatibility between the method and specific farms, and thus encourage adoption of these practices. All farmers that cultivate land in Shikma Park (six farmers), four agricultural extension service instructors that work or worked in the past in the area, the head of the agricultural organization of the area, as well as several experts from the R&D, the Faculty of Agriculture and the Ministry of Agriculture were interviewed. All interviewees were asked about the constraints as well as about specific issues that relate to each expert that were necessary for the different stages of the project.
- Preparing for ecosystem services assessment of each management alternative identified. This stage included screening and prioritizing relevant ES and recruiting experts/professional working groups for the assessment. The first part was done by identifying ES relevant to the alternatives being assessed, from the broad list of ES that was formulated by the Israel National Ecosystem Assessment according to international ES work [27,30,31]. Then these ES were prioritized according to various parameters and indices including: relevance and importance to the site, existing tools or data for evaluation, level of complexity and resources needed, and the feasibility of assessment. The second part, of recruiting experts for the assessment, was done by using the “snowball effect” often used in qualitative social research: we began by identifying a preliminary list of experts to consult with on each of the services, these experts provided us with names of additional experts recommended by them, and those provided us with additional experts and so on. In this manner, we were able to reach a wide network of experts in each subject. In some cases, such as the assessment of soil erosion, a larger group of experts was formed to help and guide the assessment process. ES that were ranked high later underwent an in-depth professional assessment by the experts.
- Conducting the ecosystem services assessment. The assessment process was based on collection of existing data (from the literature and reports), interviews with stakeholders and experts, extrapolation from data collected in other locations, and when needed, a new interpretation of the data gathered on-site, or a small-scale scientific study. For example, a survey was held in order to identify the public’s perspectives regarding their environment and their perceptions regarding the transition to no-tillage (the survey will be elaborated in the following stage). The services were assessed quantitatively, qualitatively, socially, and economically where possible. The economic assessment was based on data gathered from the expert-based ES assessment reports, the farmers, agricultural reports and previous economic evaluations done for the Shikma-Besor Drainage Authority. It was done by using the accepted environmental economic methods including: evaluation of externalities, avoided damage cost, damage prevention cost and cost-benefit analysis. Each expert provided a detailed report of the service being assessed, describing the service and how it is affected by the different alternatives identified, and indicating the trend (increase or decrease of the service) and the level of confidence according to his/her professional opinion. The report was written according to an outline provided to them. Subsequently, the assessments were summarized and presented in a table (Table 2). In the scope of this paper, only the summarized assessments are presented. The final part of the assessment process was presenting the assessments to the relevant group of stakeholders and experts, receiving feedback and suggestions, and revising and implementing them where possible.
- Conducting a public survey of the perceptions of the Shikma Park residents regarding their environment, agriculture and conservation tillage. The goals of the survey were: to assess the public’s attitudes towards agriculture and the environment, to raise local public awareness to ES and environmental issues, to expand and intensify the existing educational program, create community participation, and to assess cultural ES that would be difficult to assess otherwise. The survey was held as part of an educational program led by the regional Nature and Parks Authority and in cooperation with it. The survey included 246 respondents from the Shikma Park local communities and nearby towns. One of the questions asked in the survey was formulated to understand where the stakeholders stand regarding the transition to conservation tillage and who should pay for it.
- Integrating & communicating the results. In this stage the main findings (from all the stages above) were integrated in order to communicate the results to decision makers in a simple and coherent manner and provide them with an effective tool, while being transparent about the limitations and gaps of the findings. This was done by using tables and charts to simplify and focus the findings, while emphasizing the multi-stakeholder influence. The tools chosen for presenting the findings were rose plots and the table of distribution of benefits among stakeholders that were obtained from previous ES work done by [19,25]. Another important part was advising decision makers on mechanisms and research topics that need further investigation that can be used to facilitate the implementation of conservation tillage. This part will be described in the discussion Section.
4.1. Defining the Agroecosystem Management Question and Identifying Alternatives
- Minimum-tillage—In this area, it refers to shallow plowing once a year; deep plowing is seldom used.
- Conservation-tillage—No-tillage including long-term no-tillage (12 years) and occasional tillage (shallow plowing or deep plowing every 4–5 years).
- Baling and selling of wheat straw (leaving 5–15 cm stubble)—Currently all fields fall under this category.
- Permit sheep stubble grazing in post-harvest fields
- Prevent sheep stubble grazing in post-harvest fields
4.2. Mapping Stakeholders and Decision-Making Processes
|Decision Maker||Decision Issue||Interest/Perspective|
|Ministry of Finance||Budget allocated for conservation tillage||Internalization of externalities|
|Israel Land Authority||Land leasing regime and terms||Securing the value of the land|
|Ministry of Agriculture||Extent and type of incentive/subsidy programs for soil conservation||Agricultural sustainability and profitability|
|Drainage and River Authority||Drainage basin master-plan Organizational support for soil conservation||Regulation of soil erosion, water runoff, river sediments|
|Shikma Park Executive Committee||Representation of farmers vis-à-vis the institutions||Sustainability, economic profit, conservation|
|JNF Forest Managers||Part of the committee that regulates grazing in the park||Grazing in the forests and their vicinity as a tool to prevent wildfires and conserve soil|
|Farmers||Selecting the tillage method to implement, request for government support, permit grazing||Economic profit, long term sustainability|
|Shepherd||Remain in permanent dwellings or move with the herd to graze in agricultural and forest areas||Feed for their sheep, economic profit, preserving their pastoral lifestyle|
4.3. Farmers’ and Experts’ Perspectives on the Constraints to No-Till Adoption
- High cost of equipment—government subsidies are insufficient and the machinery is difficult to maintain; once broken it is hard to fix.
- There is a lack of scientific experiments and research on the method and what does exist is often dubious due to small sample size and the different soils and topographic conditions of the plots.
- A research and development network and agricultural advice are lacking; a private network is partially replacing the previous government network.
- Some of the farmers are conservative and skeptical regarding the no-till approach.
- There is insufficient knowledge regarding weed and pest control resulting from no-tillage.
- Leaving straw mulch is problematic in Israel due to the high price received for selling it.
- Lack of strong evidence for economic profit from the transition.
- Lastly, an important driver of change was identified: as the water supply for agriculture from treated wastewater increases, potential land for no-till farming is decreasing, as more fields will be irrigated.
|Ecosystem Services||Benefit of the Service||Trend: Direction and Strength (Increase or Decrease)||Level of Confidence||Description/Details||Main Sources, Experts and Professionals||On-Site Economic Assessment (Economic Team: Gadi Rozenthal and Hadar Fuchs-Rubel)|
|Agricultural crops||Food and animal feed||ꜛ||Medium||According to experts and farmers in the area: better crop yields in no-till farming combined with straw mulch. According to others: there is no certain increase in crop yields but economic profit is not negatively affected.||[16,17,18,34];|
Farmers and economic team.
|The farmer is likely to enjoy an increment of 20 NIS*/dunam**/year for the amount and quality of the crops and 6 NIS/dunam/year for the straw.|
|Soil carbon sequestration greenhouse gas regulation||Climate regulation||ꜛ||Low||Preventing soil erosion increases gas exchange in the soil. In addition, no-till saves energy from machinery and consequently reduces emissions. However, on-site calculations show that since the no-till fields use additional chemical fertilizers and herbicides it is hard to specify an increase in climate regulation in the short term.||Team leaders: Yoni Weitz and Dr. Jose Gruenzweig. [33,35,36].||Fossil fuel consumption decrease of 2.5 liter/dunam/year equivalent to 5.9 kg/dunam/year. Value of decrease in CO2 emission equivalent to 0.65 NIS/dunam/year in case of no chemical fertilizer addition.|
|Water cycle Regulation||Soil moisture retention||ꜛ||High||Decrease of runoff, water percolation in soil, additional water available for plant uptake.||[16,17]||Higher yield from crops due to additional water available for the plant. The public benefit is 4 NIS/dunam/year.|
|Disease and pest regulation||Plant pest and disease outbreak regulation||↓||High||Increase in rodent activity and a minor and unstable effect on insects, pests and diseases. Increase in uncertainty regarding crops due to lack of knowledge and guidance on the subject.||Team leader: Ofer Mendelson. [37,38].||Increment of 6.7 NIS/dunam/year for pesticides.|
|Alien or invasive species regulation||Weed regulation||↓||High||Increase in weed range, subsequently regulated by additional herbicides, which lead to higher costs and the risk of developing herbicide resistance. Increase in uncertainty regarding crops due to lack of knowledge and guidance on the subject.||Team leader: Ofer Mendelson in consultation with Prof. Baruch Rubin, Local farmers and extension instructor Uzi Naftaliahu.||Increment of 4 NIS/dunam/year for herbicides (not including future risk of herbicide resistance, which will create additional costs).|
|Soil erosion regulation||Maintaining soil quality and quantity, and regulation of wind erosion||↑||High||Global research and experiments in the Negev Desert show an explicit trend of soil erosion prevention in no-tillage systems. On-site assessment of soil erosion risk under “business as usual” scenario shows: between 0.15-0.61 ml/year. However, according to experts’ feedback: it could reach between 1-2 ml/year or even 4.||Team leader: Alon Yaron. [9,10,16,17].||1,341 NIS/dunam/year can be saved by preventing erosion [39,40].|
|Symbolic interactions with the ecosystem||Cultural identity||↓||Low||A threat to the farmer’s identity as a ploughman and to the Bedouins’ identity as pastoralists grazing their sheep for many generations.||Interviews with local farmers, shepherds and experts. [41,42].||-|
|Symbolic interactions with the ecosystem||Heritage and sustainability values||↑||High||Strong cultural links between local residents and agriculture. Conservation tillage allows protection of soil and agriculture for future generations.||Survey: “Local residents’ perceptions of the environment in Shikma Park”.||-|
|Biodiversity and habitat||Improvement of biodiversity status||↑||High||Improvement in: species richness and diversity, amount of organic matter in soil, intensity of biological activity in soil and landscape complexity. May also have a negative effect because of additional use of pesticides and herbicides.||Dr. Amir Perelberg; [9,10].||-|
4.4. Preparing for the Ecosystem Services Assessment
4.5. Conducting ES Assessments
4.6. Educational Program and Public Survey: Residents’ Views on the Environment in Shikma Park
4.7. Integrating & Communicating the Results
|Increasing one service at the expense of other services|
|Straw mulch||Maintain humidity and promote soil microbial activity, while increasing the organic carbon influx on the ground and improving the structure and quality of the soil.|
Increasing crop quantity and quality.
|The public and the state: Soil conservation for future generations.|
The farmers: Extended soil moisture retention in the growing season, particularly useful in drought years. Soil conservation for future generations.
|Provision of animal feed||Farmers: Economic loss due to not selling the straw, which is very profitable in Israel.|
Consumers: May need to import straw or buy from another area in Israel.
Milk consumers: May be negatively affected by the price increase because of high straw import prices.
|Competition among different users for limited services|
The decision to prevent stubble grazing creates additional winners and losers.
|Preventing stubble grazing||To enable straw mulch cover that improves soil and water conservation. To prevent the potential damages caused by unregulated grazing such as: soil quality degradation, water runoff and introduction of noxious weeds via the sheep’s wool and droppings. To prevent potential disputes between shepherds and farmers.||Farmers: Improving weed control, preventing soil erosion. Preventing the possibility of negative relationships with shepherds (some farmers complained of this).|
The state and the public: soil conservation for future generations.
|The service of feed for grazing will no longer be available, cultural services such as shepherd identity, heritage and sense of place are harmed, pest and disease regulation, fire control, and sheep as an aesthetic function in the landscape.||Shepherds: Lack of grazing lands, additional cost of buying feed instead of grazing. The effect on their Bedouin-pastoral lifestyle, identity and tradition of many years.|
Farmers: Loss in income from rent paid by shepherds.
Foresters: might cause a negative effect on fire control in forests due to the combined system of grazing in forests prior to grazing in the wheat fields. Without stubble grazing the shepherds may stop forest-grazing as well.
Public: Lack of sheep in the agricultural landscape may affect the scenery and the anemone bloom.
Conflicts of Interest
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Sagie, H.; Ramon, U. Using an Agroecosystem Services Approach to Assess Tillage Methods: A Case Study in the Shikma Region. Land 2015, 4, 938-956. https://doi.org/10.3390/land4040938
Sagie H, Ramon U. Using an Agroecosystem Services Approach to Assess Tillage Methods: A Case Study in the Shikma Region. Land. 2015; 4(4):938-956. https://doi.org/10.3390/land4040938Chicago/Turabian Style
Sagie, Hila, and Uri Ramon. 2015. "Using an Agroecosystem Services Approach to Assess Tillage Methods: A Case Study in the Shikma Region" Land 4, no. 4: 938-956. https://doi.org/10.3390/land4040938