There are a number of aspects that you will need to pay attention to when following the principles of Conservation Agriculture (CA):
Cover crops and crop residues protect the soil from drying out and erosion, but cover crops can also inhibit the warming of the soil in the spring. Farmers should be aware of this and must therefore not necessarily get stressed out by the fact that their neighbour has started sowing if the CA farmer deems their soil not ready for sowing yet.
The CA crops will therefore on average get a slightly later start, but they will usually catch up during the growing season. Of course, there may be years when the crops in the CA system do not catch up with the crop from the tilled fields but conversely, there may also be years when the crops in the CA system overtake the crops from the tillage systems because growth continues longer into the summer.
Tilling is a well-known tool against grass weeds and therefore grass weeds are also one of the challenges that one must pay special attention to when cultivating according to the principles of CA.
You can manage weeds in different ways:
-By using crops and other forms of soil cover (planting crops closer together, using cover crops, mulch, crop rotation, or intercropping)
-By hand weeding or using equipment to cut or crush the weeds
Since tillage is not part of the CA toolbox, it is even more important to make the right decision at the right time. Good farming, focus and timeliness are therefore even more important than in conventional cultivation. CA cultivation requires a concrete assessment in relation to the current situation.
Moisture, no mechanical disturbance and organic matter on the soil surface are considered delicacies for slugs. They pose a greater problem in CA than in a traditional tilled system. They can be handled with slug pellets. It is however very important to treat in time as they can reach several generations in one growing season. If damages from the slugs are discovered too late, it can be difficult to correct them.
No cultivation of root vegetables
Crops such as potatoes, beets, carrots and other root vegetables are difficult to comply with the CA principles. In principle, it may be possible to establish and cultivate these crops, but the harvest causes intense disturbance of the soil and thus counteracts the main principles of CA.
The biggest challenge
One of the biggest challenges when converting to CA is that it can be difficult to assess whether what you are doing is good enough - is the straw distributed well enough in the field? Is the seed placed correctly when sowing? Do the crops emerge sufficiently after drilling?
New CA farmers cannot rely on former farming experiences on crop establishment as the seedbed looks completely different than normal.
Additionally, the neighbouring farmers will likely think everything has gone completely wrong. It may be enough to make even the most confident farmer doubt whether it was a good idea to switch to CA.
It is an advantage to have a good farmer network with like-minded farmers to draw experiences from in the form of both network groups and experienced agronomists. These two things together can make up for the lack of experience in the field.
At Agreena, we are aware of these challenges and our purpose is to make your transition towards CA as smooth as possible. Should you have any questions or doubts during your journey, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our platform's chat.
It is not necessarily easy or without challenges to cultivate the soil according to the CA principles but many farmers experience joy in using their knowledge of soil and plants to cooperate with nature instead of fighting against it.