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Eight-year project with nearly 100 trial plots will provide farmers with soil conservation advice

Trial plots will investigate the soil effects and harvest results of strip tillage, mulch drilling and no-till cropping – Fertilizer placement strategies will also be examined – Trial to last at minimum eight years for long-term results

FRANKFURT/MAIN, Germany, July 13 2016 – With a mission to address the central challenges faced by agriculture, including sustainability, it is not surprising that the DLG (German Agricultural Society) International Crop Production Center (IPZ) is taking a close interest in minimum- and zero-tillage crop establishment systems. In fact, an eight-year trial utilizing 96 trial plots on 12 ha on the IPZ site near Bernburg-Strenzfeld, Germany, is currently underway to compare the merits of mulch drilling, strip-tillage and no-tillage cropping.
The research work is currently at the half-way point, but by 2020 the results should significantly help farmers to more fully understand the potential benefits from the three systems: mulch drilling, which combines soil cultivation, consolidation and planting in a single machine; strip-tillage, where only the portion of the soil that receives the seed is disturbed and mixed; and no-tillage seeding (also known as direct drilling), where the seed is deposited in a slot, usually cut by a disc coulter, without disturbing the soil at all.
The aim of both strip-tillage and No-tillage systems is to increase the organic matter in the soil in a more natural way than conventional ploughing that buries trash from the surface before it has had the chance to be broken down naturally. Additional organic matter not only helps with moisture retention and the cycling of nutrients in the soil, but it can also help reduce or eliminate soil erosion, and it increases the amount and variety of life in and on the soil.
There are also financial benefits for the farmer, which include reduced energy and labour requirements for minimum tillage systems compared to conventional cultivations – a factor that’s primarily related to the reduced amount of fieldwork required. These benefits are clearly appealing to farmers who want to make the best profit margins in terms of field efficiency, fuel economy and work rate.
The DLG Committee on Crop Production proposed the tillage trial for the IPZ in 2012 after discovering that conditions there – deep soil, low rainfall and steady winds – were similar to those seen in parts North America that had led to the establishment of tillage systems designed to reduce moisture loss from the soil.
The trial was set up using a conventional crop rotation for central eastern Germany: winter oilseed rape, winter wheat, silage maize and a second winter wheat. The rotations were then established using 6 different treatments: 1, conventional mulch drilling; 2, strip tillage (at 50 cm row spacing) for the oilseed rape and maize, and mulch drilling for the wheat; 3, strip tillage (at 50 cm row spacing) for all the crops in the rotation; 4, as treatment 2, with fertilizer placed alongside the seed; 5, as treatment 3, with fertilizer placed alongside the seed; and 6, no tillage (direct drilling).
“These tillage experiments have never before been conducted on such a scale in Germany,” the Head of IPZ, Dr. Klaus Erdle said. “The detailed analysis of each of the eight harvest years will involve numerous variables such as degree of weed suppression, pest appearance, yield and the evolution of the soil in terms of the organic matter in the soil and its water-holding capacity.
“The objective is to compare the three tillage methods and understand the long-term soil effect of both strip-till and fertilizer application. The IPZ will thus play a key role in supporting sustainable, forward-looking and competitive agriculture,” Erdle added.
The 2015 test report from the IPZ trial has already produced some interesting results. When comparing the mulch drilling and strip-tillage, the number of established wheat plants were 251 and 118 plants per square metre respectively due to different seeding densities. But, by the end of June 2015 the number of wheat ears per square metre were 390 and 342 respectively, with additional tillering in the strip-tillage crop making up for the initially lower plant population (and lower seed cost).
Due to drought conditions last year, crops yields at the IPZ were lower than average, yet both the mulch and strip-tillage plots produced about 7.5 t / ha. The thousand kernel weight and protein content were also very similar. More detailed results from the trials are expected at the end of this year, when data from the first half of the project will have been collected and analyzed.
About the IPZ
The IPZ was established by the DLG in 2010 to carry out research that provides new and practical information for crop farmers. Situated at Bernburg-Strenzfeld, about 65 km north-west of Leipzig, the site is in the rain shadow of the Harz region. It has an annual rainfall of 511 mm and 80-90 cm of good-quality black topsoil. The center supports the DLG’s goal, in place since the organization started in 1885, which is to share practical international agricultural knowledge in order to optimize and improve farming methods.
The DLG, which has 27,000 farming members, supports 80 working committees made up of members and companies that are dedicated to specific topics. About 20 of these committees, dealing with subjects such as precision farming, crop nutrition and crop protection, are connected to the work carried out at the IPZ.
Media contact:
Malene Conlong
Tel: +49 69 24788237
Email: m.conlong@dlg.org


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Friedrich W. Rach

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Malene Conlong

International media and communications manager