Implementation of conservation tillage in organic production systems


Johannes Scholberg (FSE Wageningen UR)


Traditionally excessive use of nutrients and irrigation have masked the detrimental effects of poor soil management on agricultural production. However, with more stringent environmental rules and more erratic rainfall patterns enhancing inherent soil fertility will be required to sustain agricultural productivity. Use of conservation tillage techniques in organic agriculture remans limited and many organic farmers use tillage for controlling weeds. However, frequent and deep tillage tends to off-set some of the potential benefits of organic agriculture in terms of reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emmisions. Moreover, it may also hamper the build-up of inherent soil fertility and soil organic matter.


This project aims to implement an international program pertaining to succesful use of conservation tillage in organic agriculture. It entails a number of research  studies of which two are located in the Netherlands at Wageningen and Lelystad. However, additional opportunities are available to conduct research in close collaboration with scientists at ISARA (France) and FIBL (Switzerland).This project aims to provide a quantitative understanding of the effect of tillage, soil ammendments and/or cover crops on the breakdown and distribution of soil organic matter, nutrient availability, biodiversity, weed growth and crop yields. Soil nutrient release, weed growth dynamics, and crop growth are being monitored via frequent sampling. By using the NDICEA model nutrient mineralisation is also being assessed and changes in soil organic matter and overall nutrient balances are being quantified.

Experiences gained

  • Designing and conducting an on-farm field experiment
  • Gain practical experience with soil sampling and yield measurements
  • Become familiar with a state-of-the-art innovative tillage techniques in the Netherlands and selected regions throughout Europa
  • Gain skills in qualitative assessment of biodiversity and soil profile description