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Extreme Grain-Based Cropping Systems: When Herbicide-Free Weed Management Meets Conservation Tillage in Northern Climates

  • Anne Légère (a1), Steven J. Shirtliffe (a2), Anne Vanasse (a3) and Robert H. Gulden (a4)

The challenges associated with the adoption of conservation tillage and/or low-input cropping systems, whether organic or herbicide-free, across Canada are shaped by scale, environment, and local practices. A study in eastern Canada captured the challenges of introducing low-input cropping systems in mature (20+ yr) tillage treatments in a barley/red clover/corn/soybean rotation. Each mature tillage system came with its own weed problems, but this did not affect crops such as barley and red clover, which produced similar yields across high and low input systems. However, some form of primary tillage was needed to achieve adequate weed control and yield in organic (ORG) and herbicide-free (HF) systems. The HF and ORG systems with no-till actually failed to produce a corn crop but produced soybean yields that were half or less than that for other treatments. The successful combination of conservation tillage practices and low-input systems in eastern Canada would thus appear to be crop-specific, being easier to achieve in competitive cereal crops. In western Canadian organic agriculture, tillage is practiced with low-disturbance chisel plows instead of inversion plows. However, green manure crops (summer cover crops) are often terminated with tandem discs. Both roller crimpers and mowing can successfully kill annual green manure crops such as field pea and rye, and usually result in reduced weed growth following termination. However, the lack of tillage can result in lower crop yields in wheat following green manure terminated by roller crimping compared to tillage. Challenges for no-till organic practices include perennial weed control and soil fertility. Overall, flexible crop production programs such as the former Manitoba Pesticide Free Production program and the “Agriculture raisonnéeTM” program in Québec are more likely to promote sustained environmental, economic, and social prosperity than rigid adherence to organic or no-till practices.

Los retos asociados a la adopción de la labranza de conservación y/o los sistemas de cultivos de bajos insumos, ya sean orgánicos o libres de herbicidas, a lo largo de Canadá, están determinados por la escala, el ambiente y las prácticas locales. Un estudio en el este de Canadá capturó los retos de introducir sistemas de cultivos de bajos insumos en sistemas maduros de labranza (20+ años) en una rotación cebada/trébol rojo/maíz/soya. Cada sistema maduro de labranza tuvo sus propios problemas de malezas, pero esto no afectó a cultivos como cebada y trébol rojo, los cuales produjeron rendimientos similares en los sistemas de altos y bajos insumos. Sin embargo, algunas formas de labranza primaria fueron necesarias para alcanzar los controles de malezas y rendimientos adecuados en sistemas orgánicos (ORG) y libres de herbicidas (HF). Los sistemas HF y ORG con cero-labranza fallaron en producir cosechas de maíz, aunque produjeron rendimientos de soya que fueron la mitad o menos que aquellos producidos en otros tratamientos. La combinación exitosa de prácticas de labranza de conservación y sistemas de bajos insumos en el este de Canadá pareciera ser específica al cultivo, siendo más fácil de alcanzar con cultivos tales como cereales competitivos. En la agricultura orgánica del oeste de Canadá, la labranza se realiza con arados de cinceles de baja perturbación en lugar de usar arados de inversión. Sin embargo, los cultivos para abono verde (cultivos de cobertura de verano) son generalmente terminados con discos en tándem. Tanto rodillos de cuchillas y aplanadoras como chapeadoras pueden matar exitosamente cultivos anuales para abono verde, tales como leguminosas y centeno, lo que usualmente resulta en un crecimiento reducido de las malezas después de la terminación del cultivo. Sin embargo, la ausencia de labranza puede resultar en bajos rendimientos en trigo después de la terminación del cultivo para abono verde usando rodillos en comparación con la labranza. Los retos en las prácticas orgánicas de cero-labranza incluyen el control de malezas perennes y la fertilidad del suelo. En general, programas flexibles de producción tales como el anterior programa de Manitoba para la Producción Libre de Plaguicidas y el programa “Agriculture raisonnéeTM” en Québec tienen más probabilidades de promover en forma sostenida la prosperidad ambiental, económica y social que la adhesión rígida a prácticas orgánicas o de cero-labranza.

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