GHGMP News Releases

Reduced tillage benefits greenhouse gas objectives

Indian Head, Sask., July 14, 2004

Although there are regional variations, Canadian farmers are finding both production and environmental benefits from adopting farming practices such as zero and reduced tillage, say soil conservation specialists.

The techniques, which eliminate or reduce tillage in crop production, also play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, says Jerome Damboise, the eastern co-ordinator for the federal Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Program (GHGMP) for Canadian Agriculture. The soil and nutrient management components of the program are administered by Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC).

Details of how reduced and zero-till farming practices are benefiting Canada's objective to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are explained in a recently released feature article now available on the SCCC Web site at www.soilcc.ca.

"More farmers are finding conservation farming practices make production and economic sense," says Damboise. "They can maintain or increase yields and reduce production input costs. At the same time, these soil and moisture conservation practices are important to sequestering carbon in the soil."

Research on Canadian climate change estimates Canadian cropland can store or sequester as much as 22 million tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year by using best management practices such as zero tillage. It's further estimated that grazing land can store another three million tonnes of carbon dioxide through improved grass production and proper grazing management.

Zero-till and direct-seeding production practices, along with reduced use of summer fallow, can store from 0.3 to 0.5 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year in the soil depending on the weather and moisture patterns.

Approaches to zero tillage and conservation farming need to be modified for different regions of the country. The benefits of using a zero-till drill to seed directly into standing wheat and barley stubble has been demonstrated across much of Western Canada. However, new approaches are being evaluated through Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, which produce different crops, with different cropping techniques under higher moisture weather regimes.

In Ontario it's estimated approximately 10 percent of corn, 50 percent of soybeans and 75 percent of wheat are produced under no-till, while in Quebec it's estimated 20 to 25 percent of soybean and grains are no-till. Figures are higher if reduced tillage production is included. Although zero-till has yet to catch on among corn growers in Eastern Canada, there is growing interest in the technique.

Depending on the region and weather patterns, Western Canadian producers have been buying into conservation farming practices for more than two decades. In Manitoba, where zero tillage was pioneered about 25 years ago, the practice has been adopted in the drier parts of the province. Of approximately 12 million cropped acres, two million are cropped under zero-till systems.

In Saskatchewan, about 50 percent of the seeded acres, or 16 million acres, are farmed under zero-till, while in Alberta about 27 percent or 7 million acres are cropped under zero-till practices. British Columbia reflects both trends in the country with producers in the Peace River region adopting conservation farming practices similar to those used on the Prairies, while farmers in the Lower Mainland face similar challenges as producers in Eastern Canada.

Soon after they were first broken, Prairie soils lost much of the organic matter from the surface layer, says Dr. Henry Janzen, a research scientist specializing in soil biochemistry with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Lethbridge Research Centre. He estimates between 20 and 30 percent or soil organic matter has been lost. "Part of that can be recovered with improved management practices," he says. "Within a few decades, carbon storage will again reach a plateau or a point of stability."

Adopting conservation tillage or other practices that preserve organic matter is an important part of a sustainable agriculture system, he says. "Carbon sequestering is only one part of the whole process. The main objective is to enhance the resilience and productivity of our farm land."

The GHGMP supports a broad range of projects across Canada with the goal to promote awareness of agricultural practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC) administers the delivery of the soil and nutrient management sector component of the program. For more information on activities, visit the SCCC's Web site at www.soilcc.ca.


For more information, contact:

Jerome Damboise, Co-ordinator
Eastern Canada Soil and Water Conservation Centre
Phone: (506) 475-4040
Web site: www.soilcc.ca