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CORE 2: Reduced tillage and green manures for sustainable organic cropping systems - OF0392

Organic farming systems contribute to ecosystem services such as the maintenance of soil quality and biodiversity. Reduced tillage and green manures are efficient conservation agriculture tools that can be adapted to further improve organic crop production systems. The TILMAN-ORG project’s overall goals are to design improved organic cropping systems with:
(a) enhanced productivity and nutrient use efficiency,
(b) more efficient weed management and
(c) increased biodiversity, but
(d) lower carbon footprints (in particular increased carbon sequestration and lower GHG emissions from soils).

These goals will be achieved by adapting and integrating conservation agriculture techniques (in particular reduced tillage and improved use of green manures) into organic farming systems to intensify biological soil functions like nutrient cycling, soil carbon build-up, and biological nitrogen fixation, while at the same time optimising management protocols for weeds (which are the main challenge when introducing minimum tillage systems). The European TILMAN-ORG project will identify optimum techniques for organic systems using an integrated approach:
i. Farmers’ experiences and perceptions about reduced tillage and green manures will be assessed in semi-structured interviews. Existing data from medium and long-term trials on reduced tillage and green manures provided by the consortium and the published existing peer reviewed and grey literature, will be evaluated with respect to yield stabilisation, soil quality and biodiversity (WP1 and WP2).
ii. Experimental Case Studies on soil quality and greenhouse gas emissions, weed management and functional biodiversity, and improved nutrient management will be carried out, and carbon stocks under reduced tillage compared to ploughing will be measured (WPs3-5). Data from long-term tillage trials across Europe will be exploited to calibrate NDICEA, a decision support tool to predict soil organic carbon and nitrogen fluxes in the soil - plant system.
iii. Design of optimised cropping systems by modelling approaches based on results from the literature and case studies (WP6). This will also involve the preparation of guidelines focused on helping farmers to address weed management challenges, and temporary shortages of nitrogen supply in order to improve yields and yield stability, thus improving both the environmental and economic sustainability of organic farming systems.

The project’s dissemination activities will target farmers, advisors, and the scientific community, but also the agricultural support industries and policy makers. The main innovative strategy of the project is to adapt conservation agriculture approaches to organic farming drawing on existing field experiments across Europe.

See CORE Organic website for further details and project outputs:
7. (b) Objectives

The project (CORE Organic II acronym TILMAN-ORG) is a European-wide effort with partners in 10 countries. Project partners in the UK are Newcastle University (UNEW) and the Organic Research Centre (ORC). The over-all aim of this project is to develop robust and sustainable arable crop production systems via the introduction of reduced tillage techniques combined with a strategic use of green manures in organic crop rotations, while maintaining and improving soil quality and crop productivity parameters. Clearly, weed management is a major challenge when introducing reduced tillage in organic systems and the development of optimised weed management systems will therefore be a major target. Moreover, the challenge of N supply in organic systems will be addressed by growing N2-fixing legumes used as green manure in the organic rotations.

The project objectives which apply to UK partners are related to management of data from long-term experiments (WP1), management of data produced by the project and meta-analysis of these data, as well as literature findings (WP2), impacts of reduced tillage and green manures on soil quality and GHG emissions (WP3), and improved weed management and functional weed biodiversity under conservation methods (WP4).

The workpackage tasks carried out in the UK are designed to meet the following general objectives of the project:
(i) to summarise existing knowledge and experiences on reduced tillage and green manures in organic systems in a wide range of soils and climates across Europe (WP1 and 2),
(ii) to stimulate bio-geochemical processes governed by soil microorganisms and soil carbon build-up via reduced tillage and strategic integration of green manures into organic rotations (WP3),
(iii) to improve weed control by integrating management techniques such as green manures, mechanical weeding and crop diversification, while evaluating impacts on weed diversity and their functional role in agro-ecosystems (WP4).

Specifically, the contractors will:
1. Provide data to the project from existing trials relating to reduced tillage and green manures. (WP1; UNEW, ORC; month 6)
2. Coordinate the transfer of data from all partners running short-term, mid-term and long-term trials for activities in WP2 (meta-analysis), case studies WP3 to 5, and WP6 (prototyping). (UNEW; month 26)
3. Write a handbook of methods for collecting and reporting the minimum crop production data sets (e.g. site properties, management practices, measured response variables) from short-, mid- and long-term trials provided by WP1 (both historic and new data). (UNEW; month 2)
4. Participate in a survey about farmers’ perceptions towards reduced tillage and the strategic use of green manures for WP2. (UNEW; month 6)
5. Use established database formats to collect and record data from mid-term and long-term trials (WP1; UNEW; month 7)
6. Use established database formats to collect and record data from peer reviewed literature, “grey literature”, and farmer interviews (WP2; UNEW; month 8)
7. Contribute to the statistical analysis of data and publication of findings on reduced tillage and green manure. (WP2; UNEW, ORC; month 14)
8. Provide experimental data on carbon stocks from existing long-term trials. (WP3; UNEW; month 14 & 32)
9. Provide experimental data on weed suppression using innovative machines for direct weed control. (WP4; ORC; month 31)
10. Deliver periodic reports to the EU on WP2. (UNEW; month 5, 16 & 34)

Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2011

To: 2014

Cost: £210,229
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Newcastle University, Organic Research Centre
Organic Farming              
Sustainable Farming Systems