Conservation agriculture

We research techniques and cultivation methods that contribute to better soil health and carbon sequestration in the farmland at Torsåker farm, Axfoundation’s development center for sustainable food. These methods usually have an umbrella name called “conservation agriculture”.

The Issue

Topsoil, the basis for all our food production, is depleted, polluted and eroded in many places around the world, resulting in a long-term decline in production capacity, with lower yields from soils of lower quality. Farming is at the same time a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. According to estimates from IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), 23 % of the global emissions of greenhouse gases come from forestry and agriculture. The emissions are made up of methane gas from beef cattle, greenhouse gases released from fertilization and lime treatment of soils, carbon dioxide from farming machinery and transports, and nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide released from arable land and organic soil.

The Solution

More and more researchers are pointing to the need to implement conservation agriculture in order to rectify the climate and environmental problems connected to today’s agricultural system. This may require the farmer to:

  • Disturb the soil as little as possible (i.e. plough minimally).
  • Keep the fields green for as large a part of the year as possible to harness the carbon in the ground.
  • Grind down the cover crop into the soil just before sowing.
  • Direct drilling (i.e. seed placement without ploughing).
  • Arrange the rotation of plants as efficiently as possible, this leads to a wide variety of crops, minimizing the use of plant protectant products and maximizing biodiversity.

Conservation agriculture is a combination of different farming methods, not a single action, which together creates an entirety which is larger than “the sum of the parts”, thus contributing to a reduction in the adverse effect on the environment. The moisture in the ground is better preserved by using this system, which decreases the risk of draught and erosion. Furthermore, it improves the soil fertility and increases the humus content in the soil.

Our Work

Axfoundation collaborates with researchers and farmers who practice conservation agriculture. We want to gather Swedish and international expertise at Torsåker farm to make further developments.

The farmer at Torsåker farm, Mats Eriksson, practices a farming method called the “Sättra-method” which could be classified as a “light version” of conservation agriculture. The Sättra-method ensures that the ground is undisturbed from the threshing in the autumn to the cultivation in the spring. This is different from traditional farming where the ground is ploughed or cultivated as early as in the autumn. A thorough cultivation takes place in the spring with disk harrows just prior to sowing using a seed drill.

According to Mats Eriksson, who owns and runs Sättra farm and has developed the Sättra-method, the fields where the Sättra-method has been used show:

  • Increased fertility.
  • Increased biological activity.
  • Clear increase in straw decomposition in the fields.
  • More birds around the machinery and increased occurrence of worms and worm tunnels in the soil.
  • Improved drainage (decreased problems with surface water) because of less packed soil since Sättra-method requires less passages than conventional ploughing.
  • Increased mineralization – there are more minerals in the ground if it’s covered by plants, leading to less need for nitrogen fertilizers and a better structure with soil that is more porous and loose.
  • Maintained or increased harvest.
  • Reduced problems with soil erosion.
  • Non-existent problems with soil crushing.
  • Less stone picking.
  • Reduced fuel consumption.
  • Reduced hours worked per hectare.

Axfoundation’s ambition is to help researchers to scientifically analyze the Sättra-method to identify whether it contributes to increased carbon storage and improved soil fertility and also to develop the method further using catch crop. We also want to spread this knowledge as widely as possible and help to Swedish farmers adapt to more sustainable farming methods without risking the loss of crop yields or profits.

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