OSCII Activity A.5

Impacts of reduced tillage and diversified cropping sequences under organic management in the semi-arid Brown Soil Zone

Activity summary

Organic growers in the semi-arid Brown soil zone of western Canada are still heavily reliant on cereals, summerfallow, and mechanical tillage. Relatively little is known about the agronomic and economic merits of alternative cropping strategies for organic producers in this region. Thus, there is a need to investigate the effectiveness of reducing tillage intensity on weed control and the benefits of diversified rotations in this semi-arid region, and to quantify the impact of these alternative cropping systems.

The objective of this study is to determine if diversified crop rotations and reduced tillage under organic management can keep weed populations at low levels, soil fertility at adequate levels, and plants healthy for sustainable and profitable production of annual crops under the water-limited and variable environmental conditions of the Brown Soil Zone of western Canada. During this multi-year study, a number of different measurements will be taken, including soil fertility, soil residue cover, plant density and growth, grain yield and quality, micronutrient concentration, weed identification and biomass, and rhizosphere microbial populations, among others. Based on the data collected, carbon footprint and crop production costs and non-renewable energy use efficiency will be determined.

The proposed research will generate new knowledge and understanding about the farm-level performance of alternative organic cropping systems and tillage methods for the semi-arid Brown Soil zone. The information from this study will help encourage producers in this region to adopt more diversified organic cropping systems that include pulse and oilseed crops, reduce the frequency of summerfallow, and make greater use of reduced tillage practices, thereby helping to reverse soil and environmental degradation.  

This project was designed and is being monitored by the Organic Research Advisory Council at the Semi-arid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre, comprised of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researchers and other staff, organic producers in southwest SK, staff from the SK Ministry of Agriculture, University of Manitoba and University of Saskatchewan, among others.  National Research Council-Saskatoon is also involved in this research through the Canadian Wheat Alliance.

Activity researchers

Name Affiliation

Myriam Fernandez, Activity Leader

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre
Shannon Chant Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
Jan Cote Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Saskatchewan Region
Chantal Jacobs Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
Garry Johnson Organic producer

Julia Leeson

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Saskatoon Research Centre
Trevor Lennox Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
Newton Lupwayi Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Lethbridge Research Centre
Brian McConkey
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre
Martin Meinert Organic producer
Dwayne Smith Organic producer
S. Wells Organic producer
Robert Zentner Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Contributing partners