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Conservation agriculture cropping systems in temperate and tropical conditions, performances and impacts. A review

Abstract

Nowadays, in a context of climate change, economical uncertainties and social pressure to mitigate agriculture externalities, farmers have to adopt new cropping systems to achieve a sustainable and cost-effective grain production. Conservation agriculture consists of a range of cropping systems based on a combination of three main principles: (1) soil tillage reduction, (2) soil protection by organic residues and (3) diversification in crop rotation. Conservation agriculture has been promoted as a way to reduce production costs, soil erosion and soil fertility degradation under both tropical and temperate conditions. Conservation agriculture-based cropping systems have diffused widely under Brazilian large-scale farms’ conditions and more recently in Europe in the context of medium-size mechanized farms. Their diffusion, however, is still limited under small-scale non-mechanized farms’ conditions of tropical countries. To assess the advantages and limits of such new cropping systems, this article compares experiences with conservation agriculture from the tropical Cerrado region of Brazil and from temperate conditions of Europe. It focusses on agronomic performances, environmental impacts and economical results. Conservation agriculture systems appear to be interesting options to achieve sustainable and intensive crop production under different agroecological environments because they use efficiently available resources and maintain soil fertility. However, this mostly results from the permanent presence of an organic mulch on the soil surface and the incorporation of cover crops in the rotations. Such modifications require a significant reorganization of the production process at farm level, and when facing technical or socioeconomic constraints, most farmers usually opt for applying only partially the three main principles of conservation agriculture. Investigating more fully the consequences of such partial implementation of conservation agriculture principles on its actual efficiency and assessing the most efficient participatory approaches needed to adapt conservation agriculture principles to local conditions and farming systems are top priorities for future research.

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Acknowledgments

This work was partly funded by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche under the Systerra Program: ANR-08-STRA-10 (Ecological, technical and social innovation processes in Conservation Agriculture).

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Scopel, E., Triomphe, B., Affholder, F. et al. Conservation agriculture cropping systems in temperate and tropical conditions, performances and impacts. A review. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 33, 113–130 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13593-012-0106-9

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Keywords

  • Soil fertility
  • Soil biology
  • Biodiversity
  • Ecological processes
  • Environmental services
  • Cover crops
  • Grain production
  • Farming systems
  • Brazil
  • Europe