Strategic tillage in conservation agricultural systems of north-eastern Australia: why, where, when and how?

Abstract

Farmers often resort to an occasional tillage (strategic tillage (ST)) operation to combat constraints of no-tillage (NT) farming systems. There are conflicting reports regarding impacts of ST and a lack of knowledge around when, where and how ST is implemented to maximise its benefits without impacting negatively on soil and environment. We established 14 experiments during 2012–2015 on farms with long-term history of continuous NT to (i) quantify the associated risks and benefits to crop productivity, soil and environmental health and (ii) explore key factors that need to be considered in decisions to implement ST in an otherwise NT system. Results showed that introduction of ST reduced weed populations and improved crop productivity and profitability in the first year after tillage, with no impact in subsequent 4 years. Soil properties were not impacted in Vertosols; however, Sodosols and Dermosols suffered short-term negative soil health impacts (e.g. increased bulk density). A Sodosol and a Dermosol also posed higher risks of runoff and associated loss of nutrients and sediment during intense rainfall after ST. The ST reduced plant available water in the short term, which could result in unreliable sowing opportunities for the following crop especially in semi-arid climate that prevails in north-eastern Australia. The results show that generally, there were no significant differences in crop productivity and soil health between tillage implements and tillage frequencies between ST and NT. The study suggests that ST can be a viable strategy to manage constraints of NT systems, with few short-term soil and environmental costs and some benefits such as short-term farm productivity and profitability and reduced reliance on herbicides.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

References

  1. Adam G, Duncan H (2001) Development of a sensitive and rapid method for the measurement of total microbial activity using fluorescein diacetate (FDA) in a range of soils. Soil Biol Biochem 33:943–951

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Argent S, Wixon A, Dang Y (2013) Farmers thoughts about CTF in Australia’s northern grain growing region, First International Controlled Traffic Farming Conference, Toowoomba, 25–27 February 2013 http://www.actfa.net/conferences/ctf2013/CTF2013%20papers%20pdfs/Argent,%20Suzette.pdf

  3. Baan CD, Grevers MCJ, Schoenau JJ (2009) Effects of a single cycle of tillage on long-term no-till prairie soils. Can J Soil Sci 89:521–530

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Beck T, Joergensen R, Kandeler E, Makeschin F, Nuss E, Oberholzer H, Scheu S (1997) An inter-laboratory comparison of ten different ways of measuring soil microbial biomass C. Soil Biol Biochem 29:1023–1032

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bell M, Lester D, Smith L, Want P (2012) Increasing complexity in nutrient management on clay soils in the northern grain belt—nutrient stratification and multiple nutrient limitations. In: Yunusa I (Hrsg.) Capturing opportunities and overcoming obstacles in Australian Agronomy. Proceedings of 16th Australian Agronomy Conference 2012, 14–18 October 2012, Armidale, NSW. http://www.regional.org.au/au/asa/2012/nutrition/8045_bellm.htm#TopOfPage

  6. Cambardella CA, Elliot ET (1992) Particulate soil organic-matter changes across a grassland cultivation sequence. Soil Sci Soc Am J 56:777–783

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Chadwick DR, Cardenas L, Misselbrook TH, Smith KA, Rees RM, Watson CJ, McGeough KL, Williams JR, Cloy JM, Thorman RE, Dhanoa MS (2014) Optimizing chamber methods for measuring nitrous oxide emissions from plot-based agricultural experiments. Eur J Soil Sci 65:295–307

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Chaer G, Fernandes M, Myrold D, Bottomley P (2009) Comparative resistance and resilience of soil microbial communities and enzyme activities in adjacent native forest and agricultural soils. Microb Ecol 58:414–424

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Chauhan BS, Singh RG, Mahajan G (2012) Ecology and management of weeds under conservation agriculture: a review. Crop Prot 38:57–65

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Conant RT, Easter M, Paustian K, Swan A, Williams S (2007) Impacts of periodic tillage on soil C stocks: a synthesis. Soil Tillage Res 95:1–10

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Crawford MH, Rincon-Florez V, Balzer A, Dang YP, Carvalhais LC, Liu H, Schenk PM (2015) Changes in the soil quality attributes of continuous no-till farming systems following a strategic tillage. Soil Research 53:263–273

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Dalal RC, Allen DE, Wang WJ, Reeves S, Gibson I (2011) Organic carbon and total nitrogen stocks in a Vertisol following 40 years of no-tillage, crop residue retention and nitrogen fertilisation. Soil Tillage Res 112:133–139

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Dang YP et al (2010) Diagnosis, extent, impacts, and management of subsoil constraints in the northern grains cropping region of Australia. Aust J Soil Res 48:105–119

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Dang YP, Dalal RC, Pringle MJ, Biggs AJW, Darr S, Sauer B, Moss J, Payne J, Orange D (2011) Electromagnetic induction sensing of soil identifies constraints to the crop yields of north-eastern Australia. Soil Research 49:559–571

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Dang YP, Moody PW, Bell MJ, Seymour NP, Dalal RC, Freebairn DM, Walker SR (2015a) Strategic tillage in no-till farming systems in Australia’s northern grains-growing regions: II. Implications for agronomy, soil and environment. Soil Tillage Res 152:115–123

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Dang YP, Seymour NP, Walker SR, Bell MJ, Freebairn DM (2015b) Strategic tillage in no-till farming systems in Australia’s northern grains-growing regions: I. Drivers and implementation. Soil Tillage Res 152:104–114

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Dang Y, Balzer A, Bell M (2016) Does strategic tillage undo long term improvement in soils under no-till?, ERM00003 Final Technical Report. Grains Research & Development Corporation, Canberra, Australia

  18. Díaz-Zorita M, Grove JH, Murdock L, Herbeck J, Perfect E (2004) Soil structural disturbance effects on crop yields and soil properties in a no-till production system. Agron J 96:1651–1659

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. FAO (2016) What is Conservation Agriculture? http://www.fao.org/ag/ca/1a.html

  20. Freebairn DM, Littleboy M, Smith GD, Coughlan KJ (1991) Optimising soil surface management in response to climatic risk. In: Muchow RC, Bellamy JA (eds) Climatic risk in crop production: models and management for semiarid tropics and subtropics. CAB International, Wallingford, pp 283–305

    Google Scholar 

  21. Freebairn DM, Loch RJ, Silburn DM (1996) Soil erosion and soil conservation for vertisols. Dev Soil Sci 24:303–362

    Google Scholar 

  22. Grandy AS, Robertson GP, Thelen KD (2006) Do productivity and environmental trade-offs justify periodically cultivating no-till cropping systems? Agron J 98:1377–1383

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Haak MI, Peck DM, Thompson JP (1993) Numbers of Pratylenchus thornei and P. neglectus are altered by frequent tillage and stubble retention. In: Vanstone VA, Taylor SP, Nicol JM (Hrsg.) Proceedings of the 9th Pratylenchus workshop. APPS conference, Hobart, pp. 69–73

  24. Hamza MA, Anderson WK (2005) Soil compaction in cropping systems: a review of the nature, causes and possible solutions. Soil Tillage Res 82:121–145

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Hatfield JL, Sauer TJ, Prueger JH (2001) Managing soils to achieve greater water use efficiency: a review. Agron J 93:271–280

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Jalota SK, Prihar SS (1990) Bare soil evaporation in relation to tillage. Adv Soil Sci 12:187–216

    Google Scholar 

  27. Kay BD, VandenBygaart AJ (2002) Conservation tillage and depth stratification of porosity and soil organic matter. Soil Tillage Res 66:107–118

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Kettler TA, Lyon DJ, Doran JW, Powers WL, Stroup WW (2000) Soil quality assessment after weed-control tillage in a no-till wheat-fallow cropping system. Soil Sci Soc Am J 64:339–346

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Kirkegaard JA, Conyers MK, Hunt JR, Kirkby CA, Watt M, Rebetzke GJ (2014) Sense and nonsense in conservation agriculture: principles, pragmatism and productivity in Australian mixed farming systems. Agric Ecosyst Environ 187:133–145

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Liu H, Crawford M, Carvalhais LC, Dang YP, Dennis PG, Schenk PM (2016) Strategic tillage on a Grey Vertosol after fifteen years of no-till management had no short-term impact on soil properties and agronomic productivity. Geoderma 267:146–155

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Llewellyn RS, D’Emden FH, Kuehne G (2012) Extensive use of no-tillage in grain growing regions of Australia. Field Crop Res 132:204–212

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Loch RJ (2000) Effects of vegetation cover on runoff and erosion under simulated rain and overland flow on a rehabilitated site on the Meandu Mine, Tarong, Queensland. Aust J Soil Res 38:299–312

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. López-Garrido R, Madejón E, Murillo JM, Moreno F (2011) Soil quality alteration by mouldboard ploughing in a commercial farm devoted to no-tillage under Mediterranean conditions. Agric Ecosyst Environ 140:182–190

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Marley JM, Litter JW (1989) Winter cereal production on the Darling-Downs—an 11 year study of fallow practices. Aust J Exp Agric 29:455–481

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. McGarity JW (1975) Soils of the Australian wheat-growing areas. In: Lazenby A, Matheson E (eds) Australian field crops, Volume 1: wheat and other temperate cereals. Angus and Robertson, Sydney, pp 227–255

    Google Scholar 

  36. McGillion T, Storrie A (2006) Integrated weed management in Australian cropping systems: a training resource for farm advisors. Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management, Adelaide, Australia

  37. Melland AR, Antille DL, Dang YP (2016) Impacts of strategic tillage on short-term erosion, nutrient loss in runoff and greenhouse gas emissions. Soil Research. doi:10.1071/SR16136

    Google Scholar 

  38. Mensah RK, Gregg PC, Del Socorro AP, Moore CJ, Hawes AJ, Watts N (2013) Integrated pest management in cotton: exploiting behaviour-modifying (semiochemical) compounds for managing cotton pests. Crop Pasture Science 64:763–773

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Obanor F, Neate S, Simpfendorfer S, Sabburg R, Wilson P, Chakraborty S (2013) Fusarium graminearum and Fusarium pseudograminearum caused the 2010 head blight epidemics in Australia. Plant Pathol 62:79–91

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Page KL, Dalal RC, Pringle MJ, Bell M, Dang YP, Radford B, Bailey K (2013) Organic carbon stocks in cropping soils of Queensland, Australia, as affected by tillage management, climate, and soil characteristics. Soil Research 53:596–607

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Pierce FJ, Fortin MC, Staton MJ (1994) Periodic plowing effects on soil properties in a no-till farming system. Soil Sci Soc Am J 58:1782–1787

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Pratley JE (2000) Tillage and other physical management methods. In: Sindel BM (ed) Australian weed management systems, Melbourne

    Google Scholar 

  43. Quincke JA, Wortmann CS, Mamo M, Franti T, Drijber RA (2007a) Occasional tillage of no-till systems: carbon dioxide flux and changes in total and labile soil organic carbon. Agron J 99:1158–1168

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Quincke JA, Wortmann CS, Mamo M, Franti T, Drijber RA, García JP (2007b) One-time tillage of no-till systems: soil physical properties, phosphorus runoff, and crop yield. Agron J 99:1104–1110

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Rayment GE, Lyons DJ (2011) Soil chemical methods—Australasia. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria

    Google Scholar 

  46. Rincon-Florez VA, Ng C, Dang YP, Schenk PM, Carvalhais LC (2016) Short-term impact of an occasional tillage on microbial communities in a Vertosol after 43 years of no-tillage or conventional tillage. Eur J Soil Biol 74:32–38

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Scheer C, Grace PR, Rowlings DW, Payero J (2013) Soil N2O and CO2 emissions from cotton in Australia under varying irrigation management. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 95:43–56

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Schwenke G, Herridge DF, Scheer C, Rowlings DW, Haigh BM, McMullen KG (2016) Greenhouse gas (N2O and CH4) fluxes under nitrogen-fertilised dryland wheat and barley on subtropical Vertosols: risk, rainfall and alternatives. Soil Research 54:634–650

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Scott BJ, Eberbach P, Evans J, Wade L (2010) Stubble retention in cropping systems in Southern Australia: benefits and challenges. EH Graham Centre Monograph No. 1, Industry and Investment NSW, Australia

  50. Silburn DM, Carroll C, Ciesiolka CAA, DeVoil RC, Burger P (2011) Hillslope runoff and erosion on duplex soils in grazing lands in semi-arid central Queensland. I. Influences of cover, slope, and soil. Soil Research 49:105–117

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Spoor G (2006) Alleviation of soil compaction: requirements, equipment and techniques. Soil Use Manag 22:113–122

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Standley J, Hunter HM, Thomas GA, Blight GW, Webb AA (1990) Tillage and crop residue management affect Vertisol properties and grain sorghum growth over seven years in the semi-arid sub-tropics. 2. Changes in soil properties. Soil Tillage Res 18:367–388

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Stockfisch N, Forstreuter T, Ehlers W (1999) Ploughing effects on soil organic matter after twenty years of conservation tillage in Lower Saxony, Germany. Soil Tillage Res 52:91–101

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Thomas GA, Felton WL, Radford BJ (1997) Tillage and crop residue management. In: Clarke AL, Wylie PB (eds) Sustainable crop production in the sub-tropics: an Australian perspective. Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane, pp 195–213

    Google Scholar 

  55. Thomas GA, Titmarsh GW, Freebairn DM, Radford BJ (2007) No-tillage and conservation farming practices in grain growing areas of Queensland—a review of 40 years of development. Aust J Exp Agric 47:887–898

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Thompson JP, Clewett TG, Sheedy JG, Reen RA, O’Reilly MM, Bell KL (2010) Occurrence of root-lesion nematodes (Pratylenchus thornei and P. neglectus) and stunt nematode (Merlinius brevidens) in the northern grain region of Australia. Australas Plant Pathol 39:254–264

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Vanden Bygaart AJ, Kay BD (2004) Persistence of soil organic carbon after plowing a long-term no-till field in Southern Ontario, Canada. Soil Sci Soc Am J 68:1394–1402

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Wander MM, Bidart MG, Aref S (1998) Tillage impacts on depth distribution of total and particulate organic matter in three Illinois soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 62:1704–1711

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Webb AA, Grundy MJ, Powell B, Littleboy M (1997) The Australian sub-tropical cereal belt: soils, climate and agriculture. In: Clarke AL, Wylie PB (eds) Sustainable crop production in the sub-tropics: an Australian perspective. Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane, pp 8–23

    Google Scholar 

  60. Wendt JW, Hauser S (2013) An equivalent soil mass procedure for monitoring soil organic carbon in multiple soil layers. Eur J Soil Sci 64:58–65

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Wildermuth GB, Thomas GA, Radford BJ, McNamara RB, Kelly A (1997a) Crown rot and common root rot in wheat grown under different tillage and stubble treatments in southern Queensland, Australia. Soil Tillage Res 44:211–224

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Wildermuth GB, Thompson JP, Robertson LN (1997b) Biological change: diseases, insects and beneficial organisms. In: Clarke AL, Wylie PB (eds) Sustainable crop production in the sub-tropics: an Australian perspective. Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Brisbane, pp 112–130

    Google Scholar 

  63. Wortmann CS, Drijber RA, Franti TG (2010) One-time tillage of no-till crop land five years post-tillage. Agron J 102:1302–1307

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Yang XM, Kay BD (2001) Impacts of tillage practices on total, loose- and occluded-particulate, and humified organic carbon fractions in soils within a field in southern Ontario. Can J Soil Sci 81:149–156

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Grains Research & Development Corporation (Project no. ERM00003) for partial funding. We are also indebted to our collaborative growers, Nev and Ron Boland, Darren and Tanya Jensen, Rod and Sam Hamilton, Paul and Samantha Fulbohm, Brian and Val Gregg, Geoff Manchee, Warakirri Farming Co. and Ken and John Stump, for providing field sites, managing the trials and providing their generous support. Thanks are also due to Paul McNaulty, Paul Caster and Stuart Thorn for their support. The authors would like to thank the DSITI Ecoscience Precinct soil laboratory for their skilful soil analysis and Suzette Argent, Don Browne, Ram Dalal, Maria Harris, Tony King, Phil Moody, Clement Ng, Rod Obels and Micheal Widderick for their substantial contributions to the design, setup, acquisition, analysis or interpretation of data and continuing support of the Strategic Tillage project.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Yash Pal Dang.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Dang, Y.P., Balzer, A., Crawford, M. et al. Strategic tillage in conservation agricultural systems of north-eastern Australia: why, where, when and how?. Environ Sci Pollut Res 25, 1000–1015 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-8937-1

Download citation

Keywords

  • Crop productivity
  • Environmental impact
  • No tillage
  • Soil health
  • Strategic tillage
  • Conservation agriculture