Every year, 2–12 million hectares or 0.3–0.8% of the world’s arable land is rendered unsuitable for agricultural production through soil degradation. Wind and water erosion accounts for 84% of this degradation (den Biggelaar et al., 2004a). Lal (2207) reported that 1966 Mha of land worldwide is affected by soil degradation. Thus good management to protect the soil against degradation is necessary to meet the world’s future needs for food and fibre (den Biggelaar at al., 2004b) and possibly renewable energy needs as well. Pimentel and Pimentel (2000) stated that 99% of food consumed by humans comes from the land. It is therefore imperative that we do everything possible to sustain and enhance our soil resource.
The challenge for Canadian agriculture is to ensure economic viability while both satisfying society’s need for safe and nutritious food and conserving or enhancing the environment for future generations (Gilson 1989). Sustainable development was defined by Brundtland (1987) as: “economic growth that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. At the 2002 Earth Summit on sustainable development held in Johannesburg, this definition was broadened and strengthened by linking global poverty, the environment and the use of natural resources to sustainable development (Anonymous 2002).
We have ample evidence to show that the most effective way of reducing soil degradation from wind and water erosion is by maintaining a residue cover and preferably with some standing stubble hence the interest in no-till production systems (Smika and Unger 1986). However, a no-till production system is only one of many important aspects of sustainability. Lal (2007) emphasizes that: “Sustainable use of soil resources does not depend solely on the use of fertilizers, irrigation, improved varieties, and even no-till and mulch farming systems. It depends on the adoption of a holistic approach, in which all recommended components are combined in synergism. Judicious use of soil and water resources, based on soil-specific recommended technologies, is the guiding principle.”
The objective of the paper is to discuss some of the major effects of no-till on soil properties and to also examine what we can expect after >25 years of no-till and continuous cropping on overall crop production and what it means for the Canadian prairies.
Download the PDF for the full paper from the FarmTech 2008 Conference Proceedings