Special Issue "The Future of Farming – Profitable and Sustainable Farming with Conservation Agriculture"

A special issue of Agronomy (ISSN 2073-4395). This special issue belongs to the section "Agricultural Engineering".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 September 2021).

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Emilio J. Gonzalez-Sanchez
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
University of Córdoba, Carretera Nacional IV, km 396, 14014 Córdoba, Spain
Interests: environmental science; soil science; agriculture; conservation agriculture; soil; agronomy; sustainable agriculture; soil fertility; environment farming
Prof. Dr. Amir Kassam
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, Earley Gate, Reading RG6 6AR, UK
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals
Prof. Dr. Gottlieb Basch
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Institute of Mediterranean Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (ICAAM), University of Évora, Núcleo da Mitra Apartado, 94 7006-554 Évora, Portugal
Interests: no-tillage/conservation agriculture systems; carbon sequestration; sustainability of farming systems; farming and land use systems
Prof. Dr. Hafiz Muminjanov
E-Mail
Guest Editor
Plant Production and Protection Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) , Rome, Italy
Interests: cereals; potato; conservation agriculture; breeding; pathology; agronomy
Prof. Dr. Antonio Rodríguez-Lizana
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Aerospace Engineering and Fluids Mechanics, Area of Rural Engineering, E.T.S.I.A., University of Seville, Utrera Road, km. 1, 41013 Seville, Spain
Interests: conservation tillage; cover crops; residue decomposition; application technology; field spraying olive tree
Dr. Rosa María Carbonell-Bojollo
E-Mail
Guest Editor
Area of Ecological Production and Natural Resources, IFAPA Centro Alameda del Obispo, Cordoba, Spain

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Conservation agriculture (CA) is an alternate paradigm of agriculture production and land use that is applicable to all land-based agricultural production systems in rainfed and irrigated farming, including annual, perennial, and mixed systems; orchards; agroforestry and plantation systems; crop–livestock systems; and pasture and rangeland systems. According to the FAO (http://www.fao.org/conservation-agriculture), CA is described as an ecosystem approach to regenerative sustainable agriculture and land management based on the practical application of context-specific and local adaption of three interlinked principles, namely:

  • Continuous no or minimum mechanical soil disturbance. This principle is implemented by the practice of no-till seeding or broadcasting of crop seeds through direct placement of planting material into untilled soil and no-till weeding, resulting in minimal possible soil disturbance from any cultural operation, harvest operation, or farm traffic.
  • Permanent maintenance of a vegetative mulch cover on the soil surface. This principle is implemented by retaining crop biomass, root stocks and stubbles, and biomass from cover crops and other forms of biomass from ex situ sources.
  • Diversification of species in cropping system. This principle is implemented by adopting economically, environmentally, and socially adapted crops in rotations and/or sequences and/or associations involving annual and perennial crops, including a balanced mix of legume and nonlegume crops and cover crops.

This Special Issue focuses on the role of conservation agriculture in climate change adaptation and mitigation. A wide range of manuscripts can be accepted. Some examples of interesting topics are as follows: assessments of agricultural soils as a carbon sink; GHG emissions in CA systems, including CO2 and N2O; energy balance of CA compared to conventional tillage and organic agriculture; irrigation and rainfed CA crops; productivity in CA; review and meta-analysis papers; and models assessing the impact of CA in global warming.

Prof. Dr. Emilio J. Gonzalez-Sanchez
Prof. Dr. Amir Kassam
Prof. Dr. Gottlieb Basch
Prof. Dr. Hafiz Muminjanov
Prof. Dr. Antonio Rodríguez Lizana
Dr. Rosa María Carbonell-Bojollo
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Agronomy is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • soil organic carbon
  • carbon storage
  • no-tillage
  • direct drilling
  • carbon sequestration
  • climate change
  • global warming
  • energy balance
  • energy productivity
  • greenhouse gas
  • productivity
  • irrigated crops
  • rainfed crops
  • mulching
  • carbon sink
  • organic matter
  • carbon flux
  • cover crops
  • groundcovers
  • policy
  • smallholders
  • international agreements
  • 4p1000

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Research

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Article
Soil Health Check-Up of Conservation Agriculture Farming Systems in Brazil
Agronomy 2021, 11(12), 2410; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11122410 - 26 Nov 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 452
Abstract
Conservation agriculture has been promoted as the main strategy to regenerate soil life but its effect on soil enzyme activity remains little documented. This study investigated the β-glucosidase and arylsulfatase enzymes as tools to evaluate soil health at the field level. Croplands in [...] Read more.
Conservation agriculture has been promoted as the main strategy to regenerate soil life but its effect on soil enzyme activity remains little documented. This study investigated the β-glucosidase and arylsulfatase enzymes as tools to evaluate soil health at the field level. Croplands in four main grain-producing states in Brazil were selected for this study. In each cropland, three environments (high yield (HYE), medium yield (MYE), and low yield (LYE)) were delineated for soil sampling to determine soil chemical attributes and enzyme activity. In one of these fields with a large temporal database, soil DNA characterization was also undertaken. The two soil enzymes investigated were affected by a range of soil attributes and the most important of these were identified. Around 40% of the data points sampled had low soil organic matter content; these were associated with low enzyme activity. Furthermore, in HYE there was more biodiversity and a higher presence of plant-growth promoters, while in LYE there were more plant pathogenic organisms. Full article
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Article
Interaction of Inherited Microbiota from Cover Crops with Cash Crops
Agronomy 2021, 11(11), 2199; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11112199 - 30 Oct 2021
Viewed by 487
Abstract
Cover crops (CC) provide important ecosystem services that are demanded to achieve more sustainable agrosystems. However, the legacy effects of CC on the microbial community structure and its interactions with the subsequent cash crops (CaC) are still poorly understood, especially when CC mixtures [...] Read more.
Cover crops (CC) provide important ecosystem services that are demanded to achieve more sustainable agrosystems. However, the legacy effects of CC on the microbial community structure and its interactions with the subsequent cash crops (CaC) are still poorly understood, especially when CC mixtures are involved. In this work, five CC (3 monocultures and 2 mixtures) were selected in an experiment under semi-controlled conditions to investigate if CC monocultures and mixtures differed in their effects on soil and crop variables and if the identity of the subsequent crop modulates these effects. The two most consumed crops worldwide, wheat and maize, were sown separately after CC. The legacy effects of CC on the studied microbial variables largely depended on the interaction with the CaC. The vetch and the barley-vetch mixture stood out by providing the microbial conditions that enhanced the absorption of macro- and micronutrients, to finally seek the highest wheat biomass (>80% more than the control). In maize, the effects of CC on soil microbiota were more limited. The soil microbial responses for CC mixtures were complex and contrasting. In wheat, the barley-vetch mixture behaved like barley monoculture, whereas in maize, this mixture behaved like vetch monoculture. In both CaC, the barley-melilotus mixture differed completely from its monocultures, mainly through changes in archaea, Glomeromycota, and F:B ratio. Therefore, it is necessary to deepen the knowledge on the CC-CaC-microbial interactions to select the CC that most enhance the sustainability and yield of each agrosystem. Full article
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Article
Effects of Multifunctional Margins Implementation on Biodiversity in Annual Crops
Agronomy 2021, 11(11), 2171; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11112171 - 28 Oct 2021
Viewed by 377
Abstract
The most suitable land for agricultural use has been gradually occupied by crops around the world. Large, uninterrupted croplands have been created, while disproportionate amounts of fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides are applied on them. As a result, agricultural activity has a negative [...] Read more.
The most suitable land for agricultural use has been gradually occupied by crops around the world. Large, uninterrupted croplands have been created, while disproportionate amounts of fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides are applied on them. As a result, agricultural activity has a negative impact on biodiversity the ecological intensification of cultivated lands has become necessary. Multifunctional Margins (MFM), the establishment of native flora margins adjacent to croplands, provide a semi-natural habitat for food and wildlife refuge. Three different species mixtures sown in MFM were studied in this paper. The large capacity of six species used in MFM (Borago officinalis, Glebionis coronaria, Coriandrum sativum, Sinapis alba, Trifolium resupinatum and Vicia sativa) was determined. Reductions of up to 65% in the appearance of weeds and increases of 36% in pollinator biodiversity in sown MFM with respect to the MFM of spontaneous flora were observed. The biodiversity of the epigeal fauna increased by 15% in the MFM of spontaneous flora and by 32% in sown MFM, with respect to annual crops. Full article
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Article
Effectiveness of Multifunctional Margins in Insect Biodiversity Enhancement and RTE Species Conservation in Intensive Agricultural Landscapes
Agronomy 2021, 11(11), 2093; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11112093 - 20 Oct 2021
Viewed by 613
Abstract
Starting in the 1950s, agricultural production has been remarkably intensified, resulting in modern management systems where a severe increase in field size led to an elimination of edges and other ecologically valuable structural elements. The resulting habitat loss caused dramatic changes in natural [...] Read more.
Starting in the 1950s, agricultural production has been remarkably intensified, resulting in modern management systems where a severe increase in field size led to an elimination of edges and other ecologically valuable structural elements. The resulting habitat loss caused dramatic changes in natural communities. The aim of this work is to test whether there are statistically significant differences in insect abundance over time by using multifunctional margins that are seed mixtures of autochthonous species planted in combined strips, which are the fastest way to provide significant biodiversity benefits within farmed landscapes, enhancing the diversity and abundance of insects, birds, and small mammals, offering resources and reservoirs. This study was carried out in three intensive fruit farms in Spain over a three-year period (2013–2015). Each field was divided into two zones: the margin where a multifunctional margin was planted, and another that remained unchanged in the field. A clear trend to increase RTE species throughout the years in all farms was observed. Moreover, the margin showed a significant difference with respect to the field in the average number of insect species and individuals. The use of margins improves the appearance of RTE species in mean percentages ranging between 12.06 and 25.26% according to the sampling area. Margins also favour the increase in species (148.83–232.84%) and individuals (207.24–586.70%) in agricultural landscapes. These results clearly show that margins are an essential tool to fight insect decline in intensive farming areas. Full article
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Review

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Review
Benefits of Conservation Agriculture in Watershed Management: Participatory Governance to Improve the Quality of No-Till Systems in the Paraná 3 Watershed, Brazil
Agronomy 2021, 11(12), 2455; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11122455 - 01 Dec 2021
Viewed by 320
Abstract
Adoption of best soil and water management practices is desirable for sustainable production intensification. However, farmers have difficulties in adopting them within a system approach to management, missing out on positive results for themselves and for society. A partnership between the Brazilian No-Till [...] Read more.
Adoption of best soil and water management practices is desirable for sustainable production intensification. However, farmers have difficulties in adopting them within a system approach to management, missing out on positive results for themselves and for society. A partnership between the Brazilian No-Till Farmers Federation and Itaipu Binacional authority adopted a participatory management strategy, as proposed by the National Water Resources Policy, allowing important decisions regarding the use of water to be made in participatory Watershed Committees, to address such farmers’ difficulties. In this paper, we review the development and application of the Participatory Quality Index approach based on the principles of conservation agriculture to improve the quality of no-till systems in the Paraná 3 watershed within the Cultivating Good Water program. We analyze the available documentation and experiences of the program’s executors, highlighting the results from the perspective of sustainability of multiple uses of water in a watershed. Full article
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Review
Conservation Agriculture Effects on Soil Water Holding Capacity and Water-Saving Varied with Management Practices and Agroecological Conditions: A Review
Agronomy 2021, 11(9), 1681; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11091681 - 24 Aug 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 671
Abstract
Improving soil water holding capacity (WHC) through conservation agriculture (CA)-practices, i.e., minimum mechanical soil disturbance, crop diversification, and soil mulch cover/crop residue retention, could buffer soil resilience against climate change. CA-practices could increase soil organic carbon (SOC) and alter pore size distribution (PSD); [...] Read more.
Improving soil water holding capacity (WHC) through conservation agriculture (CA)-practices, i.e., minimum mechanical soil disturbance, crop diversification, and soil mulch cover/crop residue retention, could buffer soil resilience against climate change. CA-practices could increase soil organic carbon (SOC) and alter pore size distribution (PSD); thus, they could improve soil WHC. This paper aims to review to what extent CA-practices can influence soil WHC and water-availability through SOC build-up and the change of the PSD. In general, the sequestered SOC due to the adoption of CA does not translate into a significant increase in soil WHC, because the increase in SOC is limited to the top 5–10 cm, which limits the capacity of SOC to increase the WHC of the whole soil profile. The effect of CA-practices on PSD had a slight effect on soil WHC, because long-term adoption of CA-practices increases macro- and bio-porosity at the expense of the water-holding pores. However, a positive effect of CA-practices on water-saving and availability has been widely reported. Researchers attributed this positive effect to the increase in water infiltration and reduction in evaporation from the soil surface (due to mulching crop residue). In conclusion, the benefits of CA in the SOC and soil WHC requires considering the whole soil profile, not only the top soil layer. The positive effect of CA on water-saving is attributed to increasing water infiltration and reducing evaporation from the soil surface. CA-practices’ effects are more evident in arid and semi-arid regions; therefore, arable-lands in Sub-Sahara Africa, Australia, and South-Asia are expected to benefit more. This review enhances our understanding of the role of SOC and its quantitative effect in increasing water availability and soil resilience to climate change. Full article
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Other

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Concept Paper
Next Steps for Conservation Agriculture
Agronomy 2021, 11(12), 2496; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11122496 - 09 Dec 2021
Viewed by 637
Abstract
The origins, history, and recent advances in Conservation Agriculture (CA) are reported. CA is now practiced worldwide on some 200 million hectares, important for mitigating climate change and ensuring food security. Its bedrock is Zero Tillage (ZT) with crop rotation and retention of [...] Read more.
The origins, history, and recent advances in Conservation Agriculture (CA) are reported. CA is now practiced worldwide on some 200 million hectares, important for mitigating climate change and ensuring food security. Its bedrock is Zero Tillage (ZT) with crop rotation and retention of crop residues. CA approaches Organic Agriculture (OA) when coupled to biological control providing opportunity for OA to become truly sustainable. Ley Farming (LF) and agroforestry with ZT are important for carbon sequestration and land use intensification. Hidden cost: each ton of carbon immobilizes 83 kg of N, 29 kg of P, and 14 kg of S. Industry-backed Regenerative Agriculture (RA) variants have no scientific definition, but generally adopt CA. Sustainable, profitable, and compatible new technologies are emerging and CA needs to embrace them to present a holistic, sustainable package to the farmer. How? A single definition for agricultural sustainability via a multi-stakeholder world congress would standardize certification and de-confuse the market. RA describes exactly what CA does for soil health and all farmers need to unite around a new “Combined Regenerative Agriculture” (CRA) to lobby for adequate payments for environmental services. Expansion of CA is critical for world sustainability. Many gaps and constraints exist, especially for smallholders. Full article
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