Main content

A comparison of the environmental effects of conservation and conventional crop production systems

Show full item record

Title: A comparison of the environmental effects of conservation and conventional crop production systems
Author: Sadler Richards, Jane
Abstract: This study addressed the on-farm research component of the Canada-Ontario Green Plan agreement and compared the environmental effects of conservation and conventional crop production systems. Concern about the overall environmental effects of conservation cropping systems relative to the effects of conventional cropping systems lead to the question: Are we solving one problem (i.e. soil erosion and phosphorus loading) by promoting conservation practices, while inadvertently creating another (i.e. nutrient and pesticide runoff and leaching)? The main objective of the study was to determine the influence of conservation and conventional crop production systems on soil and water quality, focusing on pesticide and nutrient movement: by measuring the movement of nutrients and selected common pesticides through the soil profile and in off-site water within well established conventional and conservation tillage cropping systems. Fields were selected from farms which represented viable production systems where respective conservation (no-till) or conventional (till) crop production systems were in place for a minimum of four years. Selected soil and water quality indicators (total phosphorus, nitrate, nitrite, metolachlor, 2,4-D, water infiltration, water holding capacity, microbial biomass carbon) were monitored with a focus on pesticide and nutrient concentration and movement through the soil/water continuum. Monitoring occurred on a seasonal and rainfall event basis for three growing seasons. Data to support an economic analysis was also compiled for the two production systems involved. The main conclusions from the research were as follows: 1. This on-farm research study was sensitive enough to achieve the objectives of the work. 2. Based on a rotation of corn, beans and cereals and a monitoring period equivalent to the active growing season, a conservation no-till crop production system had a comparable or better (i.e. environmentally positive) effect on the soil and water environment than a similar conventional till crop production system with regard to total phosphorus, nitrate, nitrite, metolachlor, 2,4-D, water infiltration, water holding capacity and microbial biomass carbon content. 3. During the active growing season and regardless of crop production system, guidelines for the maintenance of freshwater aquatic life were regularly exceeded in surface and tile water runoff for total phosphorus, nitrate, nitrite, metolachlor and 2,4-D. 4. Under either crop production system there were complex interactions of conditions which when combined in certain ways caused significantly different results. These findings indicated that individual field conditions may exist which may have a positive or negative impact on the environment regardless of the crop production system involved. The main recommendations from the research were as follows: 1. In Ontario the production of field crops using conservation no-till crop production strategies should continue to be encouraged since the environmental effect as characterized in this study, appears to be comparable or better than the effect from conventional till crop production strategies. 2. In Ontario the effect of both conservation no-till and conventional till field crop production systems should continue to be examined for ways to decrease off-site impacts since the environmental effect as characterized in this study, appears to be negative with regard to water quality and the maintenance of freshwater aquatic life. 3. Producers using either conservation no-till or conventional till crop production systems should examine their crop management strategies to ensure they are not over applying input materials that may have a detrimental impact on the environment. 4. A pilot project aimed at developing a low cost, practical on-farm water monitoring system (e.g. the McKague catchbasin) for use by those producers or organizations wanting to document the impact of their agricultural practices on tile and surface runoff, should be initiated. This system would provide both crop and livestock producers with an opportunity to track the results of changes to their crop management strategies. Such information could be described as a natural extension of the Ontario Environmental Farm Plan initiative and used to support a claim of due diligence in protecting the environment.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10214/15002
Date: 1998
Rights: In Copyright - Non-Commercial Use Permitted
Rights Holder: Agriculture Canada


Files in this item

Files Size Format View
GP_rep2_3.pdf 1.067Mb PDF View/Open

This item appears in the following Collection(s)

Show full item record