Fourteen years of evidence for positive effects of conservation agriculture and organic farming on soil life

Abstract

Conventional agriculture strongly alters soil quality due to industrial practices that often have negative effects on soil life. Alternative systems such as conservation agriculture and organic farming could restore better conditions for soil organisms. Improving soil life should in turn improve soil quality and farming sustainability. Here, we have compared for the first time the long-term effects of conservation agriculture, organic farming, and conventional agriculture on major soil organisms such as microbes, nematofauna, and macrofauna. We have also analyzed functional groups. Soils were sampled at the 14-year-old experimental site of La Cage, near Versailles, France. The microbial community was analyzed using molecular biology techniques. Nematofauna and macrofauna were analyzed and classified into functional groups. Our results show that both conservation and organic systems increased the abundance and biomass of all soil organisms, except predaceous nematodes. For example, macrofauna increased from 100 to 2,500 %, nematodes from 100 to 700 %, and microorganisms from 30 to 70 %. Conservation agriculture showed a higher overall improvement than organic farming. Conservation agriculture increased the number of many organisms such as bacteria, fungi, anecic earthworms, and phytophagous and rhizophagous arthropods. Organic farming improved mainly the bacterial pathway of the soil food web and endogeic and anecic earthworms. Overall, our study shows that long-term, no-tillage, and cover crops are better for soil biota than periodic legume green manures, pesticides, and mineral fertilizers.

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Acknowledgments

This study was financially supported by the ANR Systerra-PEPITES research program coordinated by Dr. S. de Tourdonnet (IRC—Montpellier SupAgro). We greatly thank O. Ba, J. Thénard, C. Marraud, J.P. Pétraud, N. Cheviron, E. Kouakoua, L. Amenc, E. Tournier, A. Martin, D. Viratel, R. Lefèvre, C. Naisse, and S. Lutfalla for laboratory, technical, and field support. We are also grateful to A. Marmeys, G. Grandeau, and Dr. J.F. Vian for valuable discussions and P. Deleporte, A. Gauffreteau, and Dr. C. Salomé for their advice on statistical issues.

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Correspondence to Eric Blanchart.

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Henneron, L., Bernard, L., Hedde, M. et al. Fourteen years of evidence for positive effects of conservation agriculture and organic farming on soil life. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 35, 169–181 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13593-014-0215-8

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Keywords

  • Soil biodiversity
  • Functional groups
  • Soil food web
  • Soil functioning
  • Soil quality
  • Land management
  • Agricultural sustainability
  • Agroecosystems
  • Agroecology