The Western Siberian grain belt is of global significance in terms of agricultural production as well as carbon sequestration and biodiversity preservation. Regional downscaling of general circulation models predict increasing drought risks and water scarcity for this area. Additionally, significant land-use changes took place in this region after the dissolution of the USSR and collapse of the state farm system: Land-use intensity in Western Siberia (Russian Federation) continuously decreased on grassland, whilst on cropland the intensity increased through recultivation of abandoned cropland and rising fertilizer inputs since 2003. Together, these changing conditions have led to challenges for sustainable agriculture in this semi-arid environment. For sustainable land management, strategies for adapted crop production systems are needed. In agronomic field trials, the potential of enhanced water use efficiency as contribution to a resilient agricultural system under changing climate conditions was evaluated and related to the common practice and regional research. In participatory on-farm trials, higher average soil water content (+40%) in the top soil layer led to higher grain yield (+0.4 t ha−1
) and protein yield (+0.05 t ha−1
) under no-till compared to the common practice of conventional tillage. Despite this, regional research still promotes bare fallowing with beneficial effects only in the first harvest after fallow, whereas the potential of no-till was visible each year, even under above-average wet and cool growing conditions. In this case study from the Western Siberian grain belt, we depict a possible pathway to make cereal production in Western Siberia more sustainable. However, the approach of applied sustainable intensification by promoting no-till is related to the negative concomitant effect of increased herbicide applications. Due to the strict rejection of GMOs in Russian agriculture by the federal government, this is a great opportunity to maintain a large, pristine area of over 17 million km2
with a lower risk of glyphosate-dependent cropping systems.
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