No-till in northern, western and south-western Europe: a review of problems and opportunities for crop production and the environment

BD Soane, BC Ball, J Arvidsson, G Basch, F Moreno, J Roger-Estrade

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

321 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Recent literature on no-till is reviewed with particular emphasis on research on commercial uptake and environmental concerns in northern, western and south-western Europe. Increased interest in no-till, and minimum or reduced tillage, results from changes in the economic circumstances of crop production, the opportunity to increase the area of more profitable autumn-sown crops and increased concern about environmental damage associated with soil inversion by ploughing. Highly contrasting soil and climate types within and between these regions exert a strong influence on the success of no-till. While no-till may often result in crop yields which equal or exceed those obtained after ploughing, modest reductions in yield may be tolerated if production costs are lower than with ploughing. The relative costs of fuel and herbicides have changed appreciably in recent years making no-till more attractive commercially. While effective weed control is an essential aspect of no-till, current herbicide technology may not yet fully achieve this. In northern regions no-till usually allows earlier drilling of winter-sown crops but will give lower soil temperature and higher moisture content in spring, causing delayed drilling of spring-sown crops. Notill soils have greater bulk density and bearing capacity than ploughed soils with a pronounced vertical orientation of macroporosity allowing penetration of roots and water, especially in view of the increased population of deep-burrowing earthworms. Particular care must be taken with no-till to minimise soil damage at harvest and to ensure the even distribution of crop residues prior to drilling. Reduced erosion and runoff after adoption of no-till are widely observed and are of particular importance in southwestern Europe. No-till reduces losses of phosphorus in runoff and, in some cases, reduces the loss of nitrate through leaching. Emissions of greenhouse gases CO2 and N2O from no-till soils are highly variable and depend on complex interactions of soil properties. Emission of CO2 from fuel during machinery usage is always appreciably reduced with no-till. Increased soil organic carbon in surface layers of no-till soils is widely found but may not be associated with increased carbon sequestration throughout the profile. The evaluation of the relative carbon balance for no-till and ploughing depends upon complex inter-relationships between soil and climate factors which are as yet poorly understood. Adoption of no-till could be encouraged by government financial assistance in recognition of environmental benefits, although future restrictions on the use of herbicides may be a deterrent. Opportunities for further research on no-till are outlined. 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66 - 87
Number of pages22
JournalSoil and Tillage Research
Volume118
DOIs
Publication statusFirst published - 2012

    Fingerprint

Bibliographical note

62700032

Keywords

  • Direct drilling
  • No-till
  • Northern Europe
  • Ploughing
  • South-western Europe
  • Western Europe
  • Zero tillage

Cite this