Sense and nonsense in conservation agriculture: Principles, pragmatism and productivity in Australian mixed farming systems

CSIRO - Kirkegaard, J & K. Conyers, Mark & R. Hunt, James & A. Kirkby, Clive & Watt, Michelle & Rebetzke, Greg

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Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

This research article looks at sense and nonsense in conservation agriculture. It covers the principles, pragmatism and productivity in Australian mixed farming systems, provides an interesting comparison with other countries and looks at why taking it slowly when adapting new technology and practices are okay.

What is the problem?

These principles of:

(1)  diverse rotations
(2)  reduced (or no) till systems and
(3)  the maintenance of surface cover makes good sense in extensive, mechanized, rain-fed cropping systems on erosion-prone, structurally-unstable soils.

Yet the adaptation and application of CA principles within specific farming systems remain pragmatic.

It is useful to consider why a sensible approach to CA principles has been necessary.

The increased yield has not been the main driver for CA adoption in Australia, but rather the time, labor and fuel savings and higher economic returns offered by the technology along with soil protection.

What did the research involve?

Reviewing aspects of CA adoption in Australia in an effort to draw out important lessons as CA principles are adapted elsewhere.

Providing evidence that mixed farming system based on phases

• of legume-based pastures
• intensive cereals with tactical break crops,
• strategic soil disturbance and managed cover thresholds
• careful livestock management
• do make sense and are sustainable in the long-term.

Noting that much less flexibility exists in highly erosion-prone areas.

What were the key findings?

Australian farmers have adopted and adapted the principles of CA in many ways to develop practices that suit

• their soils and environment
• their enterprise mix
• financial arrangements
• family circumstances.

The adoption rates of the more recent CT and PA technologies appear to be following a similar pattern. In this paper, we have discussed the underlying reasons for the more flexible and pragmatic approach to aspects of CA systems evident on most southern Australian mixed farms

Final comment

Our Australian experience suggests that we should continue to apply good science to sift the sense and nonsense in the evolution and adaptation of CA worldwide and be pragmatic rather than prescriptive in how the principles are applied.

2014 - Australia - CSIRO - Kirkegaard, J & K. Conyers, Mark & R. Hunt, James & A. Kirkby, Clive & Watt, Michelle & Rebetzke, Greg
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