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One further strategy to reduce GHG emissions is to optimize machinery used on the farm, and arable fields. If machinery is used only as much as needed, the farmer saves fossil fuels and money at the same time. Therefore, reduced tillage is an often recommended climate change mitigation strategy. However, up to now, no common definition of reduced tillage exists in the EU, and therefore, different practices are considered as reduced tillage by farmers, scientists and policymakers. This makes comparisons of the different practices and effects challenging.
Nevertheless, a meta-analysis of Cooper et al. (2016) has shown that reduced tillage can increase weed pressure and thus result in fewer crop yields. In conventional farming, this is controlled by herbicide applications which by definition is not possible in organic farming.
Nevertheless, projects such as the TILMAN-ORG (project duration 2011-2014) show that tillage intensity can also be reduced on organic farms, which can vary from less frequent and less deep ploughing over ploughless up to organic no-till approaches. In particular by the use of cover crops, the right timing of soil management operations and the adjustment of machinery equipment, weed pressure can be controlled on the farms.
If reduced tillage is practised without the additional application of synthetic herbicides, fewer fossil fuels are consumed, and therefore CO2 emissions are reduced. Compared to the other SOLMACC practices, this measure has a limited implication for mitigation but helps to promote soil health and structure, an essential climate change adaptation benefit for the farmer.
What are the SOLMACC farmers doing?
To reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on the SOLMACC farms, tillage management was adapted, depending on the local climate conditions (in particular precipitation patterns), soil types, crops cultivated and the farmer’s technical, and economic possibilities. The following practices were applied:
- the frequency of tillage was reduced (e.g., only every second year the plough was used),
- the depth of tillage was reduced (e.g. instead of ploughing 25-30 cm, only 10-15 cm depth is ploughed),
- the machinery used was changed (e.g. using the field cultivator instead of a plough), or
- to skip tillage entirely (no-tillage).