No more ploughing or a light soil loosening operation. These are two of the variants of a radically different soil management system Applied Plant Research (PPO) is testing and comparing in the Basis project.
This project has been set up to provide farmers with tools to stop soil quality deterioration and make the soil suitable for other functions such as water or CO2 storage at the same time.
Soil quality is deteriorating slowly at many places. Organic matter contents are decreasing or soils are compacted, which results in poor crop rooting and growth. Such continuing deterioration would in the longer term put agricultural production at risk.
Utilising the soil for other functions
Reversing this trend requires a different method of soil handling. And different soil handling also offers the chance to utilise the soil for other functions than agricultural production, the so-called ecosystem services. These are the services demanded by society: immediate water uptake at times of heavy rainfall, storage of water and CO2, a higher biodiversity.
Radical change of agricultural management
Changed soil management does have consequences for total agricultural management. It is almost as if famers need to learn farming again. No longer ploughing in the autumn, e.g., means that it will no longer be possible to plough down a green manure crop in autumn. And then the question is whether it will indeed be possible to properly plough down such green manures, and what the consequences will be for sowing the succeeding crop.
Apart from these technical questions there also are more strategic questions such as: what happens to soil life with increasing crop residue levels in the topsoil, and what will be the effect on the water holding capacity of the soil.
Together with farmers and growers
The PPO researchers are testing the new concepts on their own experimental farm De Broekemahoeve and try to provide a scientific basis for the consequences of non-ploughing or turning soil tillage only. They do this in close collaboration with farmers and growers who themselves are already following these new concepts. This should lead to practical directions that would make it attractive and possible for more farmers to handle their soil in a more sustainable way.