Reduced cultivations for cereals: Research, development and advisory needs under changing economic circumstances


Cereals & Oilseeds
Project code:
01 September 2001 - 31 December 2001
AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds.
AHDB sector cost:
£11,800 from the Home-Grown Cereals Authority (project no. 2485).
Project leader:
D B DAVIES, Old Galewood, Hinton Way, Great Shelford, Cambridge & J B FINNEY, 16 The Oaks, Silsoe, Bedford MK45 4EL



About this project



1.  The objectives were:

(i)                 To consult with farmers, research workers, consultants and machinery manufacturers on cultivations for cereals and the related areas of weed and pest control, care of the environment, cost reduction and profitable farming.

(ii)               To identify areas which require new initiatives in research, development and/or technology transfer in reduced cultivations for cereals and to suggest priorities for action.

(iii)       To propose to HGCA a framework for developing its activity in the subject of cultivations for cereals, and to suggest target areas.

2.   We defined reduced cultivations as:

'Sustainable cultivation systems which are less expensive than traditional systems; they may be less energy demanding, and/or quicker and/or have a lower labour demand.'

3.   We consulted widely with individuals and organisations, and reviewed relevant websites, and popular and scientific literature, as listed at Annex I and II.

4.   In the Review of Evidence we identify the following factors as important:
·        labour and machine costs
·        yield maintenance
·        close management
·        soil structure maintenance
·        straw and stubble treatment
·        grass weed and slug control
·        drill design and versatility

5.   Our main conclusions are as follows:

Larger farm units, less labour and larger machines will of themselves enforce a move away from traditional plough-based cultivation.

Reducing input into cultivations offers real opportunities for improving farmers' returns.

Reduced yields should not and need not be accepted as part of a lower-cost establishment system.

Successful reduced tillage systems are individually suited to soil, site, scale and management of an operation whereas the mouldboard plough is universally applicable.

Climatic, soil and cropping differences within Britain markedly influence suitability for reduced tillage. 

The environmental benefits of reduced tillage on farms, as distinct from in experiments, are unclear, sometimes contrary, and far from assured.   

6.  Finally, our recommendations are as follows: 

a)   The development of quicker and less expensive tillage systems should remain one of the six priority topics in the HGCA Research Strategy document, and preferably be raised to first priority among the six.  Resources could be effectively channelled through Agriknowledge and the Soil Management Initiative.

b)   We should not return to long-term tillage trials in the style of the 1970-1990 period.

No new research on the ecology and control of grass weeds should be started until the findings of the current projects are available.

c)   Target areas for research should be:

     the collection and development of information and standards in support
of machinery selection and management

     optimum agronomic inputs for crops established by shallow tillage

     the further development of straw choppers and spreaders, and of cereal drills

     traffic control in cereal production

     reduced tillage to control soil, nutrient and pesticide losses in commercial practice as distinct from experiments

     the role of tillage in flood control

d)   The already extensive exchange of information between practitioners should be encouraged.  Farmers seeking advice on reduced tillage need able and experienced advisers with a comprehensive understanding of machinery, economics, soils and agronomy. Training should be provided.

Leading farmers who practice reduced tillage should be invited, and possibly paid, to have their farms used for long-term demonstration.

e)   A working group for tillage in organic farming should be established.