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Sustainable Intensification of Crop Production Requires Agricultural Equipment Innovation: the Case of Strip-Till for Fine Seedbed Preparation in Silty Soil

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Abstract

This communication aims to discuss a project of strip-till design following an innovation system approach. First, we present the agronomic challenge and our approach for a custom supply development. Then, we discuss the relevance of our some early outcomes for the wider goal of sustainable intensification of crop production.
Società Italiana di Agronomia XLVII Convegno Nazionale Marsala (PA), 12-14 settembre 2018
L'Agronomia nelle nuove Agriculturæ
(Biologica, Conservativa, Digitale, di Precisione)
Page 1
© Rizzo et al., 2018
Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY -SA
4.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by -sa/4.0/
Sustainable Intensification of Crop Production Requires
Agricultural Equipment Innovation: the Case of Strip-Till
for Fine Seedbed Preparation in Silty Soil
Davide Rizzo12, Benoît Detot1, Andrii Yatskul1, Carolina Ugarte13
1 Chaire Agro-Machinisme et Nouvelles Technologies, UniLaSalle, Beauvais, FR name.surname@unilasalle.fr
2 InTerACT Research Unit, UniLaSalle, Beauvais et Rouen, FR
3 AGHYLE Research Unit, UniLaSalle, Beauvais et Rouen, FR
Introduction
Sustainable intensification of crop production calls for agricultural innovations. In the past, the solution
was to bring new land into cultivation, whereas current and prospected trends in world population growth
orient instead to foster more efficient use and management of the resources (Pisante et al. 2012). Various
solutions are being developed in function of the local agropedoclimatic conditions. In this context,
agronomists are questioning the soil tillage practices, eventually to reduce the tillage intensity. On the
one hand, the goal is to reduce fuel use, time and labour. On the other hand, a lower tillage intensity
might improve soil organic matter building and, in the end, soil health (DeJong-Hughes 2017).
Rethinking soil tillage inevitably underpins and follows farming system design (Leclercq and Corfdir
2017; Yatskul and Ugarte 2018). Indeed, the evolution of agriculture is inherently systemic, thus
requiring to address the production intensification across the various components of the agricultural
system and beyond (Darnhofer et al. 2012). Altogether, this results in taking into greater account multiple
stakeholders and embracing the complexity of the farmers’ decision-making (Douthwaite and Hoffecker
2017). The sustainable intensification process has though two main barriers: the learning curve to master
new techniques and the cost of equipment suited for the new practices. This communication aims to
discuss a project of strip-till design following an innovation system approach. First, we present the
agronomic challenge and our approach for a custom supply development. Then, we discuss the relevance
of our some early outcomes for the wider goal of sustainable intensification of crop production.
The agronomic challenge: designing a strip-till for fine seedbed preparation
Sustainable intensification can be pursued (and evaluated) in different way according to the local farming
system and agropedoclimatic condition. In this context, the European Regional Development Fund, the
French State and the Hauts-de-France Regional Council invested about 2.7 million EUR in a project
called Demonstrating site network” (“Réseau de sites démonstrateur IAR” in French) for the period
2015-2020. This project aims to study and show the feasibility of the diversification of current cropping
systems in the region by the introduction of food and non-food crops for feed, bio-based products and
bioenergy (Lamerre et al. 2017). The project particularly addresses the production of knowledge to
support farmers at embracing the innovation. Accordingly, it includes 4 demonstration sites and 3 areas
to explore the organization of new supply chains. Three 4-year crop sequences, each replicated with or
without soil tillage, are tested on each site. The crop sequences are designed on three scenarios: baseline,
food-priority and biomass-priority. The baseline is the regional mixed farming system that includes
canola, winter wheat and silage maize. We focus here on the biomass scenario, which fosters the
intensification of fodder and energy crop production by introducing fodder beet and harvested catch crops
(Fig. 1). Introducing these crops requires therefore to simplify the soil tillage.
The region shows a predominance of silt and silt loam soils (USDA). These soil types are characterized
by a weak structural stability presenting a high risk of crusting and erosion. They thus benefit from
simplified soil tillage, when operated shortly before the seeding, because reducing soil degradation. Amid
the different approaches, strip-tillage appeared as the most promising because combining the reduction
of labour time, and the preparation of fine seedbed, as required for maize and beet (Duval 2014; Laufer
and Koch 2017). Though, available commercial strip-tillage tools, mostly passive, can achieve fine
seedbed if operated months ahead, or at a speed of 10-12 km/h. So, they can be combined only with
Società Italiana di Agronomia XLVII Convegno Nazionale Marsala (PA), 12-14 settembre 2018
L'Agronomia nelle nuove Agriculturæ
(Biologica, Conservativa, Digitale, di Precisione)
Page 2
© Rizzo et al., 2018
Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY -SA
4.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by -sa/4.0/
recent planters or operated separately by using RTK-GPS. Altogether, these machines and technologies
may require high investments by farmers, eventually hampering the whole farming system innovation.
A group of 6 students specializing in agricultural equipment at UniLaSalle (centre for higher education
in Northern France) were challenged to prototype a strip-till fitting commonly available beet planters
operating at low speed (3 km/h). This was achieved by an ad-hoc combination of tools, part of which
power-operated (Fig. 2). The field tests realized at the end of the current academic year with the single-
element prototype succeeded at preparing a fine seedbed 10 cm wide and 20-25 cm deep.
Conclusions and perspectives
Reducing the width and frequency of soil tillage appeared as a lever to deploy the sustainable
intensification of crop production in a mixed farming system on silt soil. Though, cost and customization
of tillage equipment emerged as a major barrier for desired innovation. By adopting a systemic approach,
we involved a group of agronomy students to design a fully adapted strip-tillage tool, thus based on
farmers’ and agronomic constraints. In conclusion, we widen the farming system innovation to include
a farmer-centred perspective, with the final goal to operationalize the design and adoption of sustainable
production practices.
References
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Article
Full-text available
On silt loam sites in Central Europe, autumn strip tillage (ST) might offer an option to produce high sugar beet yields at lower costs and improved erosion control compared to full width tillage practices. Three field trials were conducted in 2013/14 and 2014/15 at Göttingen, Lower Saxony, Germany, to investigate the effect of three tillage systems (intensive tillage (IT), reduced tillage (RT), ST) and two fertilizer nitrogen levels (no fertilizer nitrogen (N0), fertilizer nitrogen required for optimum yield (Nopt)) on sugar beet growth.
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Agricultural innovation systems (AIS) are increasingly recognized as complex adaptive systems in which interventions cannot be expected to create predictable, linear impacts. Nevertheless, the logic models and theory of change (ToC) used by standard-setting international agricultural research agencies and donors assume that agricultural research will create impact through a predictable linear adoption pathway which largely ignores the complexity dynamics of AIS, and which misses important alternate pathways through which agricultural research can improve system performance and generate sustainable development impact. Despite a growing body of literature calling for more dynamic, flexible and “complexity-aware” approaches to monitoring and evaluation, few concrete examples exist of ToC that takes complexity dynamics within AIS into account, or provide guidance on how such theories could be developed. This paper addresses this gap by presenting an example of how an empirically-grounded, complexity-aware ToC can be developed and what such a model might look like in the context of a particular type of program intervention. Two detailed case studies are presented from an agricultural research program which was explicitly seeking to work in a “complexity-aware” way within aquatic agricultural systems in Zambia and the Philippines. Through an analysis of the outcomes of these interventions, the pathways through which they began to produce impacts, and the causal factors at play, we derive a “complexity-aware” ToC to model how the cases worked. This middle-range model, as well as an overarching model that we derive from it, offer an alternate narrative of how development change can be produced in agricultural systems, one which aligns with insights from complexity science and which, we argue, more closely represents the ways in which many research for development interventions work in practice. The nested ToC offers a starting point for asking a different set of evaluation and research questions which may be more relevant to participatory research efforts working from within a complexity-aware, agricultural innovation systems perspective.
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Sustainable crop production intensification should be the primary strategic objective of innovative agronomic research for the coming decades. A range of often very location-specific options exists for farming practices, approaches and technologies that can strengthen sustainability and at the same time intensify crop production in terms of increased output and productivity (efficiency). The main challenge is to encourage farmers in the use of ecologically-appropriate technologies and practices and to ensure that knowledge about sustainable production practices is increasingly accepted, applied and innovated upon by farmers. There is a large but underutilized potential to integrate farmers’ local knowledge with science-based formal knowledge. This integration aims at innovating improved practices and technological options through favourable institutional arrangements to foster an innovation system. The same holds true for the design, implementation and monitoring of improved natural resource management that links community initiatives to new external expertise and knowledge. A comprehensive effort should also be undertaken to measure different stages of the innovation system, including technological adoption, adaptation and diffusion at the farm level, and to investigate the impact of agricultural policies on technological change, technical efficiency and production intensification. This paper provides a review of agronomic management practices supporting sustainable crop production systems and intensification, and testifying to developments in the selection of crops and cultivars. The paper also describes crop farming systems taking a predominantly ecosystem approach and it discusses the scientific application of this approach for the management of pest and weed populations. In addition, it reviews the improvements in fertilizer and nutrient management which are at the basis of productivity growth and it describes the benefits and drawbacks of irrigation technologies. Finally, it suggests a way forward based on seven changes in agricultural development that heighten the need to examine how innovation occurs in the agricultural sector.
Upper Midwest Tillage Guide-Reducing tillage intensity : Soil management and health : Agriculture : University of Minnesota Extension
  • J Dejong-Hughes
DeJong-Hughes J (2017) Upper Midwest Tillage Guide-Reducing tillage intensity : Soil management and health : Agriculture : University of Minnesota Extension. In: Soil Manag. Health. https://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/soils/tillage/tillage-guide-intensity/. Accessed 11 Jun 2018
Assessing environmental impacts of bioeconomy. Oriented cropping systems using Life Cycle Assessment approach
  • J Lamerre
  • C Godard
  • J Boissy
Lamerre J, Godard C, Boissy J (2017) Assessing environmental impacts of bioeconomy. Oriented cropping systems using Life Cycle Assessment approach. In: International LCA Conference, congrès Av'nir. Lille, FRA
Evolution des techniques d'implantation
  • C Leclercq
  • V Corfdir
Leclercq C, Corfdir V (2017) Evolution des techniques d'implantation. Agron Environ Sociétés 7:63-73
Soil-tool interaction for an agro-ecological performance of the tillage implements
  • A Yatskul
  • C Ugarte
Yatskul A, Ugarte C (2018) Soil-tool interaction for an agro-ecological performance of the tillage implements. In: Agriculture durable : une opportunité pour l'innovation des machines et des systèmes. Beauvais, FRA, pp 101-113