Organic and conservation farming boost multifunctionality of ecosystems: Study

Source: Down to Earth

What is the news?

A recent study has found that the organic and conservation farming has the potential to boost multiple functions of an ecosystem. 

About the study:
  • The study assessed the overall performance of important cropping systems in Europe within adapted ecosystem services and using the ecosystem multifunctionality (the ability of ecosystems to provide multiple functions and services simultaneously)
  • Researchers evaluated and compared the agronomic, economic and ecological performance of the arable cropping systems in Europe — organic, conservation and conventional agriculture.
Conservation agriculture

It is characterized by no tillage or reduced tillage. Conventional no tillage and organic reduced tillage systems are considered to reflect conservation agriculture, as the three pillars of conservation agriculture — minimum tillage, six-year crop rotation and permanent soil cover with crop residues and cover crops — are largely fulfilled.

Findings of the report
  • Less environmental impact– Organic farming has less environmental impact, with a 46-51% lower global warming potential and an 80-85% reduced aquatic eco-toxicity potential per hectare
  • Less yield compared to conventional farming– Conventional systems with intensive tillage showed improved performance, because of increased weed control and a better availability of applied nutrients
  • Weed cover – Weed cover was six to nine times higher in the organic systems, whereas reduced and no tillage had a negative impact on summer crops like maize and beans.
  • Use of fertilizers– The use of mineral fertilizers and herbicides in conventional systems led to higher yields for wheat and maize compared to organic systems.
  • High income– The loss of productivity in organic systems did not mean reduced economic performance, as the highest income was obtained under organic production.
  • Promotes soil biodiversity– Organic farming and reduced tillage intensity in particular had a positive impact on soil biodiversity and the abundance of macro and micro-biota. Beneficial soil biota, such as earthworms and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, were promoted under organic management and conservation agriculture.
  • Increases soil carbon content– Soil fungi and bacteria responded positively to conservation tillage and was associated with soil carbon content increase
  • Greater soil protection– Organic management and conservation tillage significantly reduced sediment delivery and contributed greatly to soil protection
  • Area– The largest adoption of conservation agriculture is seen in North and South America, followed by Australia and New Zealand, Asia, Russia, Ukraine, Europe and Africa

One of the main challenges facing agriculture is to produce sufficient food with minimal environmental impact. Studies like this indicate that the agricultural practices rooted in conservation agriculture and organic farming can help us achieve the desired balance.


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