, Volume 153, Issue 1-2, pp 135-151
Date: 30 Aug 2006

Breeding crops for reduced-tillage management in the intensive, rice–wheat systems of South Asia

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Abstract

The importance of reduced tillage in sustainable agriculture is well recognized. Reduced-tillage practices (which may or may not involve retention of crop residues) and their effects differ from those of conventional tillage in several ways: soil physical properties; shifts in host–weed competition; soil moisture availability (especially when sowing deeply or under stubble); and the emergence of pathogen populations that survive on crop residues. There may be a need for genotypes suited to special forms of mechanization (e.g. direct seeding into residues) and to agronomic conditions such as allelopathy, as well as specific issues relating to problem soils. This article examines issues and breeding targets for researchers who seek to improve crops for reduced-tillage systems. Most of the examples used pertain to wheat, but we also refer to other crops. Our primary claim is that new breeding initiatives are needed to introgress favourable traits into wheat and other crops in areas where reduced or zero-tillage is being adopted. Key traits include faster emergence, faster decomposition, and the ability to germinate when deep seeded (so that crops compete with weeds and use available moisture more efficiently). Enhancement of resistance to new pathogens and insect pests surviving on crop residues must also be given attention. In addition to focusing on new traits, breeders need to assess germplasm and breeding populations under reduced tillage. Farmer participatory approaches can also enhance the effectiveness of cultivar development and selection in environments where farmers’ links with technology providers are weak. Finally, modern breeding tools may also play a substantial role in future efforts to develop adapted crop genotypes for reduced tillage.