Conservation Agriculture has been used for longer than one may think. Let's explore how CA started and has developed throughout multiple decades:
Humans have been cultivating the soil since we began growing crops thousands of years ago. Some form of tilling has thus been a consistent practice in most cultivation systems until the 1930s. At this time, huge dust storms were raging on the prairies in America and Canada, which had extensive consequences both for agriculture, the prairie as an ecosystem, and the people cultivating the land. It was the agricultural adviser Edward H. Faulkner who was the first to question the tilling procedure. He believed that tillage was the real cause of the violent sandstorms that devastated large areas of the Midwest of the United States.
Methods for reducing tillage and protecting the surface of the soil were developed and the term ‘Conservation Tillage’ was introduced. During the 1940s, seed drills that allowed direct sowing without prior tillage were created, and, at the same time, Edward H. Faulkner developed theoretical concepts similar to the CA principles we know today.
At first, interest in direct sowing was limited and it was not until the 1960s that the method began to gain some traction in the United States. In the early 1970s, direct sowing spread to Brazil, where farmers along with scientists developed the system we today call CA.
It was however not until the 1990s when the growing system began to gain a foothold. The prevalence of CA grew exponentially in countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, leading to a revolution in agriculture. This development attracted attention from other parts of the world and from major international organizations such as the FAO and the World Bank. Through development and research projects, CA was extended to a number of countries in Africa and Asia.
After the turn of the millennium, there was also an increasing prevalence in a number of industrialized countries such as Canada, the USA, Australia, Spain, Italy, Finland, Ukraine and Russia. Since then, CA has gradually gained ground all over the world but especially in areas with unfavourable growing conditions. This includes agricultural areas with limited or heavy rainfall events and areas with large proportions of sloping terrain where it is crucial to either limit evaporation, erosion, or both.
In 2016, a total of approximately 180 million ha were managed according to the methods in CA.
Conservation Agriculture in Danmark
Denmark is favoured with a good climate and limited terrain variation. Therefore, Danish farmers have not been forced to find alternatives to the most common form of operation - the soil is worked by ploughing and/or harrowing prior to sowing the new crop. At present, only 1-2% of the Danish agricultural area is cultivated according to the methods of CA.