Tag: Tillage

Less is more: How better water resource management can improve the quality and quantity of your yield

Water is one of the most important elements supporting life on our planet. Climate change, urban expansion, and the need to feed a constantly growing population are greatly affecting fresh water resources. Certain areas are faced with imminent water scarcity, and paying for fresh water will soon become a reality in many regions in order to minimise wasted water.
It is therefore evident that there is a strong relationship between agriculture and water resources, especially for crops growing in areas with low precipitation. Overuse of water for irrigation may result in water scarcity, and irrigation practices must be adapted accordingly. But for farmers, water scarcity is not only the problem threatening their yields.

Credits: Ugljesa TrkuljaThe artificial application of water often leads to over- or under-irrigation; both of which are damaging for crops due to the changes they bring about in soil quality. Maintaining the appropriate levels of soil moisture is a key factor for the healthy growth of plants, as it greatly affects the fertility of the land. Up until recently, water was relatively cheap and easily accessible in most places in Europe. Therefore, for many farmers it is has become common practice to apply (often unnecessary) quantities of water when symptoms of unhealthy crop growth are observed. However, making judgements about soil moisture based on plant observation alone is inherently inaccurate, as it relies on the farmer’s assumptions about sufficient crop moisture levels. This practice usually leads to over-irrigation, jeopardising the health of crops.

Excessive irrigation can result in:

  • seeds not getting enough air to “breathe” (respire) effectively, thus hampering germination;
  • plant roots not growing properly, again due to lack of oxygen;
  • increased surface salt due to evaporation, affecting soil fertility;
  • the creation of an environment favourable to diseases;
  • the movement of nutrients and pesticides from the root zone into the ground water (“leaching”);
  • increased cultivation costs.

On the other hand, it is well-known that lack of water can hamper the crop’s health. When irrigation is performed at the right stages during their growing season, it can preserve the crop’s high quality and increase the expected yield. Knowing when plants need water and – perhaps more importantly – when not to irrigate is the first step towards a healthy and prosperous cropland and sustainable resource management. Besides improving the soil’s fertility, good irrigation management can help farmers to minimise the cost of pumping water; the key is to improve crop water use efficiency.

“Using less water, farmers can achieve the same quality / quantity yield and potentially improve it”.

Keeping soil fertile from year to year

Keeping the soil’s moisture at the appropriate level and preventing its fertility from degrading (through nutrient leaching) will save the grower energy, money, and labour. Degraded soil will need time and additional inputs, in the form of nutrients, to return to its initial state – and this can have a negative impact on yield over several growing cycles.
Scheduling irrigation is a complex task. Water resources (which in many cases are limited), salinity, and rainfall variability/uncertainty are some of the environmental parameters that need to be taken into account for proper water management. Routine irrigation without proper consideration of these parameters will almost always result in overirrigation and waste of water and energy. In addition, different crops demand different irrigation strategies over the various crop growth phases.

Good irrigation practices lead to:

  • high quality yields;
  • keeping the soil moisture at a stable level so that the possibility of diseases is minimised while attractiveness to pests is also decreased.
  • energy conservation;
  • water conservation
  • increasing farm productivity.

Credits: Ugljesa Trkulja

How APOLLO can help

From seeding to harvest, APOLLO will help growers to easily improve their farm water management.
APOLLO will provide regularly updated advisory information regarding irrigation (Irrigation Scheduling Service) along with weather data in one-glance interpretation maps. Specifically, APOLLO will provide information on irrigation timing and dosage along with a weather forecast.
Farmers will be able to use these maps to make better decisions on irrigation, saving both energy and time. The expected result is higher quality yields with less water consumption.

APOLLO’s Irrigation Scheduling service will be provided at a low cost to farmers. It can be used alongside the Tillage Scheduling and Crop Growth Monitoring services. The APOLLO services are provided independently from one another, but the natural relationship between tilling, irrigation and crop growth means that it makes sense to use the three of them together.

Relevant APOLLO data products will also be valuable to agricultural consultants, who will be better able to give trustworthy advice to their clients.

References/Sources:
1. Huang, B. and Scott NeSmith, D. (1999), “Soil aeration effects on root growth and activity”, Acta Hortic. 504, 41-52, DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.1999.504.3, https://doi.org/10.17660/ActaHortic.1999.504.3
2. Suat Irmak, Soil and Water Resources Engineer and Irrigation Engineering Specialist, Professor (2014), “Plant Growth and Yield as Affected by Wet Soil Conditions Due to Flooding or Over-Irrigation”, Nebraska extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
3. Growstone (2012), “The importance of aeration of soil”.
4. Bhishm Khanna, “What are the harmful effects of excessive irrigation?”, Preserve articles website.

Special thanks to our scientific advisor Mr. Evangelos Anastasiou, Agronomist, Agricultural University of Athens.

Image credits: Uglješa Trkulja, UPOR

Why you need to improve your tillage practices – and how APOLLO can help!

Tillage has been inseparable from crop production since the earliest days of agriculture. Tillage is the very first task at the beginning of an agricultural season. It is the practice of preparing the soil for planting, usually performed on farms using specialised tillage implements. High yields are associated with well-cultivated soil, providing a proper environment for seeds to germinate and roots to grow. In addition, tillage can help to control weeds, disrupt pest lifecycles, incorporate nutrients into the soil, and manage crop residues*. Tillage affects soil workability and thereby eventually impacts all other field operations: the amount of necessary water for irrigation, the amount of pesticide, as well as the necessary supplement of nutrients. According to APOLLO’s user requirements survey, it has been identified that tillage and spraying were the operations carried out most frequently by farmers during a crop period, independent of the crop type. In addition, it was found that farmers who apply conservation agriculture may decide not plough the soil at all. On the other hand, farmers that practise more intensive agriculture (e.g. in Spain) carry out a higher number of such operations in a year. It is evident that tillage plays a central role throughout the agricultural season.

Keep your soil healthy means higher yields
Tillage quality is crucial in order for crops to complete their biological cycle. Tillage creates suitable growing conditions and promotes sustainable soil fertility. The amount of water in the soil is an important consideration for effective tillage. If soil is tilled when its water content is higher than soil’s upper plastic limit, large clods can be produced and structural damage can occur to the soil, which will impede plant growth and lead to uneven stands. If, on the other hand, the soil water content is less than soil’s lower plastic limit, tillage requires excessive energy and dust is created resulting to severe soil degradation. This is a major threat to agricultural sustainability. When tillage is performed when soil moisture conditions are optimal, soil degradation is reduced, and energy efficiency is improved. Healthy soil allows water infiltration, root penetration, and air exchange to occur, while the best conditions are created for germination and growing.
As previously mentioned, tillage affects many soil parameters that are crucial for the efficiency of cropping inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides, the uptake of water and its transpiration, soil biophysical properties and processes, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.

Reduce costs and decrease emissions
Of all farm management practices, tillage may have the greatest impact on the environment. One aspect of ineffective tillage practices is soil degradation. Tillage is the most energy-hungry – and, hence, most costly – field operation. Tillage can account for more than exceed 50% of the total fuel consumption during a growing season. Some farmers do not till their soil, as a practice, in order to avoid downgrading the soil quality and to reduce costs. However, not tilling seems to imply other important environmental risks. In recent years, it has been proven that compared to no-till practices, tillage lowers the amount of nitrous oxide (N2O) released into the atmosphere per hectare by up to 66% percent. This is significant considering that nitrous oxide is one of the most potent greenhouse gases, trapping up to 300 times more heat that carbon dioxide (CO2). Hence, it becomes obvious that improved tillage practices could be a better solution to help reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions than not tilling at all.

Going organic
Organic farming is all about minimising the use of harmful chemicals and maintaining environmental and agricultural sustainability. Two of the main problems that organic farmers need to deal with without the help of pesticides and herbicides are weeds and pests. A common technique to address these issues is by means of tillage. On one hand, organic farmers cannot use chemical herbicides to control weeds. On the other hand, weeds can be hosts of pests and diseases and thus weed control can also help in pest control. So instead of spraying pesticides, organic farmers simply till more often than conventional farmers. However, such frequent tillage might increase the negative impacts on soil quality and prove costly through the extra wear on machinery and additional labour requirements. Producers should consider the impact of sustained frequent tillage on soil quality and resources management.

Current practices
Farmers generally decide when it is best to till based on their own experience. Four issues are usually taken into account: i) the weather, ii) the soil moisture, iii) the current month, and iv) what operations are planned after the tillage, and how soon it would be feasible to perform them after tilling. For example, inappropriate tilling may result in delays to the seeding operation. Seeding later than the appropriate seeding time usually leads to yield decrease because the crop doesn’t take advantage of its genotype’s yield capacity.
Usually, the final decision on when to till is taken in the field using the “touch and feel” method, which of course means physically visiting the field. On this basis, the farmer decides whether to till immediately or not. If best management practices are applied, fuel and labour time can be reduced, whilst avoiding low quality tillage operations that may result in yield decrease.

How can farmers benefit from the APOLLO Tillage Scheduling service?
APOLLO aims to help farmers to sustainably manage their fields and create the conditions for reducing costs and enable higher yields. By providing information anytime and anywhere on when tillage should be performed, farmers will be able to make better decisions. The advice provided by APOLLO can also help farmers to improve their resource consumption. Farmers will be better able to assess when to perform tillage and to identify soil workability across the field. They will therefore be able to immediately address issues which tilling could solve, e.g. areas that require draining.

Currently, there is no application or a farm management tool available on the market that helps farmers to schedule tillage operations.

Long-term benefits Benefits
Reduce Costs
  • Less fuel
  • Less need for irrigation
  • Less pesticides
  • Less wear and tear of farm machinery
  • Less maintenance of farm machinery
  • Improved yield
Environment
  • Less N2O emissions
  • Less CO2 emissions
  • Less need for irrigation
  • Less pesticides

The APOLLO Tillage Scheduling service will help farmers to reduce their fuel consumption during field operations, improve soil workability and potentially sustain resources from seeding to harvest.

 

We would like to thank Mr. Zisis Tsiropoulos (Agronomist), Mr. Evangelos Anastasiou (Agronomist) and Dr. Spyros Fountas (Precision Agriculture expert) from the Agricultural University of Athens, for their scientific contribution to this article.

Image credits: Zbysiu Rodak (https://unsplash.com/@zbigniew)

 

*Crop residues may cause problems during seeding. Tillage can help to manage crop residues by incorporating them into the soil and thus avoiding problems during seeding.