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Enable Conservation Tillage (ECT Project)

Background

In many regions of the world, Conservation Agriculture (CA) techniques incorporating less intensive soil cultivation, have been adopted to reduce production costs and to improve sustainability. Irish farmers have been reluctant to adopt CA techniques because of concerns about grass weeds and crop establishment in a mild, wetter climate. CA practices can enable rapid spread of grass weeds such as sterile brome or blackgrass, particularly in a mild climate, and herbicide resistance is now reducing options for control and will force an increased use of non-chemical control options. While an integrated approach to weed control, combining cultural control (stale seedbeds, crop rotation, sowing date manipulation etc.) and conventional control methods, offers scope to reduce the grass weed problem, farmers are uncertain about the effectiveness and implementation of these methods.

Against this background, Teagasc has set up the Enable Conservation Tillage project which is

  • a co-innovation model, funded by the Department of Agriculture and Marine and is an “European Innovation Partnerships” initiative and has set up
  • a network of ten ‘focus farms’ to seek evidence on how site-specific IWM can be more fully implemented at farm level to tackle grass weed problems without excessive reliance on herbicides.
  • with the aim reduce the barriers for farmers to adopt non-plough tillage.
  • the structure of the project maximises farmer to farmer knowledge exchange thus increases the potential for practice adoption 

Objective

The overall objective of the project is: 

  • to enable the adoption of conservation agriculture practices on Irish tillage farms.
  • providing growers with the knowledge skills and capacity to achieve effective grass weed control.

The project aims to achieve this objective by: 

  • providing growers with the knowledge skills and capacity to achieve effective grass weed control.

The project will also:

  • capture farmer knowledge locally using “Focus Farms”.
  • Set up comparison trials (Validation Areas)on these farms to measure the effect of different interventions using establishment and weed control techniques.
  • assess the level and nature of herbicide resistance.
  • optimise the use of existing herbicides.
  • prioritise farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange.

Conservation Tillage V’s Conservation Agriculture

Conservation Tillage

Conservation tillage can be defined as maintaining at least 30% soil cover after planting from cover crops and/or cash crops residues. Research has identified that this 30% of soil cover is the minimal amount of soil cover that is required to avoid significant soil loss. Ideally greater soil residues are preferred. Adopting the use of cover crops is critical to producing additional plant residues.

Conservation Agriculture

Conservation Agriculture is based around three guiding principles:

  1. Minimal soil disturbance
  2. Use of crop rotations
  3. Having a permanent soil cover with plants of residues

If these guiding principles are implemented on a farm sustainable and profitable crop production can be achieved bringing benefits to both the farmer and environment.