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Issues, management problems and solutions for maintaining a zero tillage system and other beneficial soil management practices

Report on national producer consultations, January to April 2005

Prepared by:
D. Haak
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
September 2005

This report describes producers' experiences with long term no till and reduced tillage systems. Despite the high adoption of zero till across the prairies and other regions in Canada since the early 1990's, this revolutionary cropping system still presents challenges for even die hard practitioners.

Acknowledgements

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) would like to acknowledge the following organizations for their assistance in planning, conducting and reporting on the producer consultation meetings. These meetings provided the information contained in this report.

The author, Dennis Haak, would like to thank the numerous individuals from AAFC and each partner organization who contributed their time and effort toward this project. A listing of all individuals and their respective role(s) can be found in Appendix VI.

Financial support for this project was provided by AAFC

A special thank you goes to all producers across Canada, who participated voluntarily at each consultation, for their contributions and valuable insight into this report.

Introduction and summary

A. Purpose

During the winter and spring of 2005, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) conducted a series of ten producer consultation meetings across Canada, to help better understand producer/industry issues related to the adoption and implementation of zero tillage and other beneficial soil management practices. This information will be used to assist in the development of soil management protocols under Canada's Climate Change Offset System. This information will also assist AAFC and other project partners in improving agricultural programs and policies related to research and technology transfer, and support for environmental stewardship.

During the project planning stage, AAFC researchers/facilitators elected to consult only with producers who had already achieved a measure of success in implementing zero tillage and/or other beneficial soil management practices. This group provided AAFC with a more focused approach on issues related to the ability to maintain these types of practices rather than deciding whether to adopt new ones. This focus was deemed necessary since a requirement of the Offset System is to maintain practices for a period of time. Nevertheless, it is not surprising that some of the issues related to maintaining a practice were also identified as constraints for initial adoption. This, however, was derived from the perspective of (a) producer(s) who had already gone through the adoption phase. Appendix V provides a profile of those producers who attended each meeting location. The majority of producers selected for this process had considerable experience in direct seeding (zero or reduced tillage). However, this practice was not common in Atlantic Canada.

B. Methodology

All meetings were planned in consultation with partner agencies in each province. A list of agencies and individuals involved in the planning and implementation of these meetings is provided in Appendix VI. The meetings in Western Canada and Ontario used a facilitated approach to identify, prioritize, and clarify issues and management problems that constrained a producer's ability to maintain a zero tillage or no tillage system. The practice of efficient nutrient management within the context of a zero/no tillage system was also discussed, but to a much lesser extent. A variety of facilitated methods were used at all meetings, including the following:

At the beginning of each meeting, Dennis Haak, Project Coordinator with AAFC, delivered an introductory presentation to outline the intended purpose, while providing background information on how the information collected would be used. A key message in this presentation was that understanding these issues was critical in order to develop an improved definition of tillage systems that could be used in future Offset System protocols and projects.

A number of existing definitions were presented, including those used in the Pilot Emission Removals, Reductions and Learnings (PERRL) initiative administered by Environment Canada. The PERRL definition for zero tillage involves allowing no tillage operations and using seeding equipment that does not disturb more than one-third of the soil surface. There are also guidelines or restrictions on additional practices such as removal or grazing of crop residue. AAFC facilitators agreed that the guidelines used in the PERRL do not provide enough flexibility to address many of the management issues producers face. Researchers also emphasized that the information obtained at these meetings would be used to generate improved zero tillage definitions and guidelines for use in Offset System projects, and that there would be another opportunity for producer consultation during this process.

The meeting in Atlantic Canada used a similar process. However, due to much lower adoption of zero and reduced tillage systems, it was deemed more appropriate to discuss a broader range of beneficial soil management practices. These practices included cover crops, residue management, spring versus fall plowing, longer crop rotations, strip cropping and/or terraces, and more efficient nutrient management. Due to the large number of issues discussed, prioritization was not possible. Fortunately, high priorities became evident through more detailed discussions.

The meeting in Quebec had a similar practice focus as the majority of the other consultation meetings (example, no tillage and ridge tillage). The process at this meeting differed slightly, involving a refereed open discussion leading to consensus-based conclusions. At the Quebec meeting, there was more discussion on issues relating to adoption of these practices, not only the ability to maintain them once initiated.

At the Quebec session, there was also significant time spent discussing the definition of tillage systems, and building consensus to develop a definition that was supported by the majority of participants (see Appendix III). At the other meetings, a separate discussion on tillage definitions was not planned, but was rather treated as an issue category identified by producers and discussed in that context. At these other sessions where tillage definitions were discussed to a lesser extent than in Quebec, researchers noted that some producers would have benefited from more deliberate and detailed discussions on this topic. In retrospect, this may have helped generate increased producer interest, even though the planning committees felt it would be premature to establish definitions until all issues had been discussed.

C. Organization and reporting of issues and solutions

At each meeting, a consensus approach was used to group similar issues into broader categories. The number of categories developed at each meeting ranged from 4 to 8. Even though these categories differed from meeting to meeting, there were some common categories that arose. These included financial (or economic) issues, residue management, pest management, producer awareness/attitude, and government policies. A listing of categories and their priority for each meeting are provided in Appendix IV.

For the purposes of preparing a national report, a single set of categories and subcategories were prepared. These categories and subcategories are not listed in order of priority, but rather as a logical progression of themes and sub themes. Section I of the detailed results (following this summary) provides specific issues and solutions ordered around each category and subcategory for all meetings (except Moncton, New Brunswick (Atlantic region)). The meeting source for specific issues and solutions is shown in Appendix I and Appendix II. The detailed results for the Moncton meeting are provided in section II under Detailed results. Since the Quebec (Ste. Hyacinthe) meeting addressed additional issues, these are presented in Appendix III.

The information contained in this report is essentially limited to the comments provided by agricultural producers at each consultation. In the detailed section, additional comments are provided by the author, which help explain the issues or solutions. Nevertheless, the issues and solutions presented should not be considered exhaustive, although they could be considered comprehensive since they were generated from a diverse group of zero and reduced tillage producers across Canada.

Note: While all reasonable efforts were taken to help clarify any uncertainties or inconsistencies regarding issues and solutions, there can be no guarantee that all information is technically or scientifically applicable for all areas, since much of it is based on perceptions that occurred at a local level.

Categories and subcategories used to document issues and solutions

D. Key results

A variety of zero tillage and broader agricultural issues were raised at each meeting, and many of these issues were discussed at more than one meeting. There were also unique issues raised, especially those that related to specific soil, climatic and cropping factors for a specific region within a province.

At each meeting it became evident that some issues were not necessarily unique to zero or reduced tillage systems, but issues common to all producers (example, low commodity prices). Therefore, while many issues could have an impact on, or be addressed through, a tillage definition used in a GHG emission reduction protocol, there were other more general issues that have little relation to tillage definitions. Nevertheless, an appreciation for broad-range issues demonstrated the vulnerability of producers to many factors, including those beyond their control, and confirmed the need for flexibility within tillage definitions. While these broader factors may not impact tillage definitions, they should be considered in the development of policies and programs, including GHG emission reductions or removals through the Offset System.

It is anticipated that issues relating to crop production (that is, residue, pests, livestock, manure, seed, nutrients, equipment and special soil/crop) will have the greatest impact on tillage definitions. Broader issues included economics, climate and weather, producer and public awareness/attitude, land tenure, external interests, research and policy (including carbon credit policy).

Detailed results: Section I: All regions except Atlantic

A. Residue management

1. Inadequate residue

Issues - Inadequate residue

Even under zero tillage management, there may be instances of inadequate crop residue cover (typically less than 30%) from an erosion-protection requirement. This can occur for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. growing crops that produce low amounts of residues, such as pulses (peas, lentils, chickpeas), oilseeds (canola, soybean), potatoes, and vegetables;
  2. harvesting the majority of top growth for livestock feed (hay, silage, or grazing); and
  3. baling and removing straw for feed, bedding, strawboard, biofuels, etc.

The amount of residue required for erosion protection depends partly on the orientation and amount of stubble portion. For example, under tall standing stubble, less residue is required because it is more effective at providing protection. Even under zero tillage management, there may be situations of little standing stubble. These include the following:

  1. crops harvested close to ground level (example, pulses);
  2. flattening of stubble by rolling recently pulse-seeded fields to smooth field and enable harvesting close to ground level;
  3. flattening of stubble by heavy snowfall and ice; and
  4. destruction of weathered standing/anchored stubble after seeding into chemical fallow.

It should be noted that cereal stubble in items e) and f) will be more effective than d) and g), because it will remain anchored and more substantial in amount.

Solutions - Inadequate residue

If possible, one can limit the frequency of use of low-residue producing crops in rotation to allow for more carbon accumulation. A number of other beneficial soil management practices can be used to provide erosion protection. These include cover crops and farming narrower fields (that is, strip farming).

Nevertheless, it is recognized that under zero tillage management, there are other positive impacts that result in the soil becoming less erodible. This includes the following:

  1. evidence that N-fixing legume crops in rotation can be help improve soil aggregation;
  2. undisturbed root systems help to hold soil together;
  3. for fields that have been in zero till for a number of years, a thatch layer of partially decomposed straw develops, which provides some erosion protection.

It was also noted that in areas not prone to drought, inadequate residue is not a common problem. In many cases, removal of straw for even low-residue producing crops still leaves enough residue cover to provide erosion protection.

2. Excess residue

Issues - Excess residue

Good residue management in zero tillage systems usually refers to doing a proper job of chopping and spreading straw at harvest, in order to enable good trash clearance, seed/fertilizer placement, and packing at seeding time. A common approach to improving trash clearance has been to increase row spacing. However, this may not be the best solution due to other possible negative impacts of wide-row spacing. Nevertheless, there has been a general trend to use wider-row spacings for zero tillage systems.

It is recognized that good residue management is still a challenge under the following circumstances:

  1. high-straw production of cereal residues in humid and irrigated areas; and
  2. increasingly wider swaths or straight cut headers.

Despite good straw chopping and spreading technology, the cost of this technology is a constraint for some producers.

Other problems associated with excess residue include the following:

  1. cooler and wetter soil conditions that delay seeding and inhibit germination;
  2. increased susceptibility of young seedlings to early frost damage due to lower ability for soil to store solar radiation. This is especially noted for canola;
  3. extra nitrogen fertilizer required to combat increased immobilization;
  4. increasing thatch layer (amount and depth of partially decomposed crop residue) inhibits good seed-to-soil contact and contributes to frost risk;
  5. flax residue continues to be a challenge to manage in a zero tillage system, due to its slow rate of decomposition and poor trash clearance characteristics. There is a lack of alternate uses for flax straw, and, as a result, burning still occurs to some extent. Burning is usually limited to straw windrows left by the combine, and does not include the anchored stubble portion between the windrows; and
  6. hair pinning of residue in the seed furrow inhibiting good seed-to-soil contact and wicking of soil moisture away from the seed.

It was also noted that excess residue problems are usually greater on finer textured soils (example, clay), and that excess residue problems are often closely correlated with excess moisture (discussed later under the Climate and weather sub-section).

Solutions - Excess residue

Technology now exists to effectively spread straw and chaff. However, financial incentives may be necessary to help some farmers manage the initial capital cost. Nevertheless, it is accepted that even under good straw chopping and spreading, there may still be excess residue problems.

Excess residue problems should be anticipated in advance and addressed immediately after harvest. A strong recommendation is that there needs to be flexibility to bale residue, especially cereal straw. Removal of residue is often considered a normal requirement in irrigated and high-moisture areas. While removal of residue from a field may have some immediate negative impacts (that is, lower carbon inputs and possibly lower carbon sequestration), this is offset considerably by having it re-applied later in the form of livestock manure. Therefore, residue management must be considered in the context of the whole farm.

Producers must also consider the value of straw in management decisions. This could involve using the straw for various purposes, including the sale to off-farm users. There is also increasing interest in potential alternate uses to produce biofuels and strawboard.

Other potential solutions for managing excess residue include the following:

  1. consider new equipment designs (example, row cleaners);
  2. do field operations on a warm dry day;
  3. balance excess/inadequate residue through good crop rotation; and
  4. more research to develop varieties with shorter straw, earlier maturity, and improved hardiness.

Finally, it was recognized that residue management improves with more zero tillage experience. However, this will not eliminate all excess residue problems, and some problems may actually increase over time (example, thatch layer). It was also noted that in some cases, excess residue may still be a problem, even after baling straw.

B. Livestock and manure management

Issues - Livestock and manure management

Producers that operate mixed farms (that is, crops and livestock) are faced with more challenges in maintaining a zero tillage system than producers who have no livestock. Arguably, the greatest and most obvious challenge is management of solid manure. It is desirable to incorporate solid manure to maximize nutrient management benefits and minimize odour and risk of nutrient movement into water supplies. However, incorporation compromises the zero tillage objective. Therefore, there is a requirement for flexibility within the zero tillage context.

There are a number of other issues related to livestock and manure management that are unique or exacerbated for zero tillage producers due to the inability to mitigate some of these impacts through tillage. These include the following:

  1. application of solid manure (with or without incorporation) can contribute to greater weed problems and risk of herbicide-resistant weeds, due to viable weed seed populations in solid manure;
  2. increased soil compaction from manure applicators;
  3. increased cost associated with modifying liquid manure applicators to direct inject with minimal soil disturbance;
  4. increased risk of injected liquid manure (that is, nutrients) leaching into the water table and tile drainage through soil macro pores created by zero tillage;
  5. there is a need to allow for fall grazing of harvested standing stubble fields by cattle. In addition to the impact of lower residue levels (discussed earlier), cattle can cause negative impacts such as soil compaction and increased surface roughness;
  6. manure contains potentially harmful substances such as antibiotics, pathogens, and salt. While not certain, under certain situations these substances may have greater negative impacts under zero tillage (example, surface runoff or leaching through macro pores); and
  7. best management standards requiring the incorporation of manure as soon as possible (maximum recommended time lapse from 6 to 24 hours, depending on situation).

Other manure management issues were noted. However, these are probably not considered unique to a zero tillage or tillage system. These include:

  1. over application of manure in areas of high livestock concentration; and
  2. over application of manure associated with lowering application costs, especially with increased custom applicators.

Solutions - Livestock and manure management

It is recognized that considerable progress has been made with injecting liquid manure with very low soil disturbance. This system works well and is fully compatible with a zero tillage system.

Composting may be a significant solution to improve management of solid manure in zero tillage systems. Benefits of composting within the zero tillage context include killing of weed seeds and pathogen organisms, creating more stable forms of nitrogen, and reducing trash clearance problems. Composting will also help address the more general over-application issue by reducing transportation costs.

Applying liquid manure at lower rates is seen as one way to reduce macro pore leaching rates.

More research is required on the following:

  1. improved manure application equipment;
  2. impact depth of incorporation; and
  3. how to use solid manure in a zero till system and maintain nutrient efficiency.

Other solutions that could be applicable to various tillage systems include:

  1. extend fall, winter and early-spring grazing to reduce requirement for manure handling; and
  2. more diligent timing of manure application to avoid risky periods.

C. Nutrient management

Issues - Nutrient management

A variety of issues were raised with regard to nutrient management:

  1. in humid areas, applying all-nutrient requirements in a one-pass system at seeding time can be logistically difficult, costly, and create greater-than-allowed seedbed disturbance;
  2. the price of fertilizer (example, nitrogen (N)) is increasing and there is a tendency to under apply nutrients, which may result in lower zero tillage benefits relating to carbon sequestration; and
  3. stratification of less mobile nutrients near the soil surface may result in lower soil productivity (root zone) and higher dissolved concentrations in runoff.

Some of the issues raised related to the impact of current and possibly future regulation. The first three items listed below relate specifically to zero tillage, while the latter two could also apply equally to other tillage systems:

  1. surface broadcasting of nitrogen/manure fits within zero till, but may be regulated against due to nutrient inefficiency and water quality risk;
  2. some nutrient management legislation and/or beneficial management practices require incorporation of applied materials (that is, manure, non-ag-sourced materials, fertilizer), ranging from a maximum time span of 6 to 24 hours from time of application;
  3. some nutrient management legislation and/or beneficial management practices require pre-tillage when applying nutrients (that is, manure, non-ag-sourced materials, fertilizer) on tiled land, to prevent nutrient leaching through macro pores;
  4. regulations that rely on mandatory soil testing may incorrectly ignore other data sources and not adequately address soil sampling accuracy; and
  5. converting to a P-based nutrient management regulation may result in increased costs to the producer due to greater manure transportation and higher N fertilizer requirements.

Despite the tendency to occasionally under apply nutrients, there is also a tendency to over apply. This is more common in humid areas, often where fertilizer is used to supplement high manure application. This issue is not dependant on tillage systems.

Solutions - Nutrient management

A number of solutions were presented:

  1. applying fertilizer through a narrow opener in a separate operation before or after seeding should be considered part of a zero till system, but fall application may not be acceptable from a nutrient efficiency perspective;
  2. soil testing should be considered part of the solution, despite its limitations. Soil testing should be done regularly and carefully;
  3. regulations should be based on good science;
  4. it is generally perceived that while zero tillage may use more nutrient inputs, it is also more efficient, resulting in higher economic and environmental benefits; and
  5. despite the risk of nutrient leaching and loss through macro pores and tile drains, zero till and tile drainage may mitigate environmental risk due to more uniform and optimal soil conditions for crop growth and nutrient uptake.

D. Pest management

1. Pest management - General

Issues - Pest management - General

In general, zero tillage has a greater reliance on pesticide use due to the inability to use tillage as a control option. Some specific management issues within the zero tillage context include:

  1. short cuts in pest management can be less forgiving because tillage is not an option to control wrecks;
  2. increased potential to kill beneficial organisms with increased pesticide use. However, this impact may be offset by fewer tillage impacts on beneficial organisms;
  3. greater risk of producer liability due to damages associated with spray drift on neighbour's land, resulting from increased pesticide use;
  4. uncertainty regarding potential for longer persistence and environmental impact (example, runoff) of chemical residues close to the soil surface due to less soil disturbance (example, edge);
  5. inability to use pesticides that require soil incorporation limits producer options;
  6. certain pest problems become worse under zero tillage (explained more under Specific Pest Issues);
  7. greater reliance on crop rotation to manage pests reduces flexibility to take advantage of short-term crop price changes; and
  8. decreasing number of pesticide or pesticide options, due to company actions (example, bundling with seed varieties) and increasing government regulation/protocol for pesticide registration, has greater impact on zero tillage systems.
Solutions - Pest management - General

Crop rotation has long been considered a key requirement, and there is strong consensus that it must continue to be a key part of the solution. Generally, rotations must be longer and more diversified. Inclusion of fall seeded crops is highly beneficial. It is also important to rotate chemical groups to minimize pesticide-resistant organisms.

Removal of excess residue will help to reduce pests that thrive under specific, high-residue conditions.

There is also a need for more research and development for pest control under a zero tillage system. This research must be non-biased, and consider various alternatives using an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. There must be incentives/mechanisms to encourage private companies to develop a broader range of pesticides, including minor-use pesticides and new pesticides tailored for zero tillage of horticultural crops.

The pesticide registration process should be improved and streamlined, possibly using the United States protocol.

Finally, there was some recognition that pesticide issues decrease as experience with zero tillage increases.

2. Weed control

Issues - Weed control

Herbicide resistance is viewed as a very serious issue, which could potentially become catastrophic for zero tillage systems. Generally, the problem is exacerbated by having limited herbicide options, and relying too heavily on glyphosate-based products. Herbicide resistant weeds not only jeopardize current and future weed control options, but also have immediate economic impacts on infested seed and grain.

A major impact of zero tillage is changing weed spectrums. There is a general trend to decrease flushes of annual weeds and increase difficult-to-control perennial weeds. Specific problem weeds identified tended to vary across the country. Some examples include downey brome, Japanese brome, cleavers, foxtail barley, dandelion, fall broadleaves, field bindweed, horsetail, buckwheat and dog strangling vine.

Finally, raw uncomposted cattle manure creates more weed-control problems for zero tillage systems due to weed seeds found in cattle feed.

Solutions - Weed control

While less soil disturbance associated with zero tillage may result in lower weed seed germination, weed control is a critical management issue. The following principles for weed-control management are important to maintain:

  1. need to clean up weed problems before starting zero tillage;
  2. fall burndown (burn off) and spring pre-plant weed control are important principles to practice;
  3. good chaff spreading to ensure uniform germination of weed seeds and volunteers;
  4. crop rotation is an important tool, especially as one moves to a less-fallow system;
  5. timeliness of seeding operation to ensure good crop start; and
  6. attention to controlling perennial weeds.

Some additional recommendations included:

  1. using cover crops to assist with fall weed control;
  2. improved spraying programs along right of ways. This involves cooperation with non-farming land owners/managers; and
  3. more research on controlling weed species that tend to increase under zero tillage management.

It was also noted that while creating new herbicide options to deal with the herbicide-resistant issue is important, a broader integrated approach is required over the long term.

3. Disease management

Issues - Disease management

Under zero tillage systems, there is a greater incidence of residue-borne diseases, due to higher residue conservation and slower residue breakdown. This problem is exacerbated under humid or irrigated scenarios.

Some diseases are impacted by external factors that are beyond a producer's control. An example includes fusarium in imported corn used in Alberta feedlots that can spread via manure or wind. While this poses a potential problem for all producers, it could have greater impacts for zero tillers.

Solutions - Disease management

Aside from diligent management and crop-rotation techniques, no additional solutions were presented.

4. Insect management

A number of insect pests can be more serious under zero tillage, due to associations with increased residue and the inability to use tillage as a control method. The only specific example mentioned was sawfly, and no specific solutions were mentioned.

5. Other animal pests

Issues - Other animal pests

Slugs can be a more serious problem under zero tillage in Ontario, due to higher moisture and excessive residue conditions.

In the Prairie region, gophers and badgers can become a more serious issue for zero tillage systems, due to the inability to disturb/destroy habitat/burrows through tillage. The problem is most serious when converting perennial forage stands to annual crop. These pests cause problems not only from a crop damage perspective, but also by causing severe surface roughness to the point that farm machinery cannot be operated safely.

A third issue involves crop damage and feeding by deer, mice and squirrels. While it is unclear if this problem is worse under zero tillage systems, it is reasonable to speculate that increased overwinter feeding damage of unharvested crops may be greater due to increased snow cover protection for small rodents.

Solutions - Other animal pests

In the past, there have been environmental pressures to deregister some effective rodenticides. There is a need for improved rodenticides and custom rodent control programs.

E. Seed technology

Discussion of seed technology focused primarily around Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) varieties and the bundling of seed and crop inputs (that is, pesticides) with new varieties. It was acknowledged that these systems tended to work well within a zero tillage system because of their reliance on pesticides rather than tillage for pest control. Nevertheless, these developments were leading to a decreased seed gene pool, increasingly confined to GMO, loss of pesticide options, and potential for cross pollination between GMO and non-GMO varieties.

While farmers may be able to adapt, there is greater future risk associated with having fewer management options. It was perceived that part of the reason for this trend is the high cost of seed and product development/registration.

In some cases, a GMO system may involve alternative pest control methods (example, Integrated Pest Management (IPM)), which may reduce the need for a pesticide. Aside from this, no specific solutions were raised, except for those already discussed under the pest management section.

F. Special soil and crop issues

1. Soil acidity

Certain agricultural soils (especially in humid areas) are naturally acidic and require periodic application of lime to raise the soil pH to a level suitable for crop production. Traditionally, lime has been incorporated with tillage to maximize its effectiveness. There is also a separate concern related to the trend for certain fertilizers to have a slight acidifying effect on the soil. Under zero tillage, this effect may be concentrated closer to the soil surface due to the lack of soil disturbance.

Zero tillage may need some flexibility to allow for periodic incorporation of lime. Alternatively, lime could be applied at lower rates and more often with less incorporation. However, it is possible that this method may not effectively maintain suitable soil pH.

2. Soil texture

It is recognized that in humid environments, clay soils are more difficult to manage in a zero tillage system due to increased problems related to excess moisture and crop residue, and cool soil temperatures. These problems are much less frequent or non-existent in sandy and loam soil types.

3. Soil drainage and excess moisture

In some regions of Canada, soil drainage is required to enable annual crop production. A change to a zero tillage system can sometimes create a stronger need for soil drainage, especially on clay soils and where producers also rely on tillage to dry out the soil in preparation for seeding. Proper drainage enables timely seeding and other field operations which result in uniform crop establishment, development and maturity. These positive agronomic benefits also result in greater nutrient uptake by crops and increased biomass production. This could result in other environmental benefits such as reduced risk of nutrient movement due to lower residual soil nutrient levels after harvest, and higher soil carbon sequestration.

Irrigation of non-uniform soils and landscapes can also create excess moisture problems which are hard to manage in a zero tillage system.

Other water control structures related to surface or subsurface flow may also contribute to reducing excess water and, thereby, improving zero tillage viability.

4. Soil compaction

Soil compaction is related to drainage and soil texture, and becomes a problem sooner with wet clay soils. Often zero tillage equipment is larger than conventional, which can exacerbate the problem. Tillage is often used to break up compacted soil.

5. Marginal soils

Some land is inherently marginal, while other land becomes marginal through poor management. While zero tillage can improve the productivity of marginal soils, the cost may not justify the small incremental benefits. Some marginal land (example, saline, steep slopes, excessively stony or wet, sandy soils in arid areas) should instead be seeded to perennial forage. Nevertheless, it is recognized that zero tillage can reduce the cost of stone removal by not disturbing the soil surface.

6. Perennial rotations

Using a zero tillage system, there are increased costs and the requirement for flexible management (example, tillage) associated with going from a perennial to annual crop. This tillage is probably more than offset by the increased carbon sequestered by the perennial crop. Perennial crops in rotation also provide other benefits such as pest control and support for a growing livestock sector. Perennial crops in rotation may not work everywhere, but many are often suited to sub-marginal land.

7. Cover crops

Cover crops can compliment a zero tillage system, but general constraints that are common to all tillage systems include cost, late harvest of preceding crop, and lack of research into the practice. Unique to a zero tillage system is how to incorporate unharvested residues into the soil without tillage. One way to reduce costs is to use cheap, out-of-date seed sources. As nutrient management and source-water protection develop, cover crops may become a more necessary part of managing certain cropping systems.

8. Horticultural and specialty crops

Issues - Horticultural and specialty crops

A number of high-value horticultural crops require considerable tillage or soil disturbance in their management protocol (example, potatoes, sugar beets, beans, sunflowers and vegetables). These protocols are often set through contracts with crop-processing companies that have high-quality standards (example, zero contaminants, purity perception, food grade liability). Tillage is perceived to support this high quality, as it not only kills pests but buries any evidence (example, weed trash). Tillage management is also seen as important to maintain crop uniformity and critical dates for crop establishment to meet rigid harvesting objectives.

Sometimes there is little flexibility in management, especially at harvest time, due to the highly perishable nature of some crops and the need to meet processing quotas. A typical problem is large ruts created by large machines that harvest vegetable crops regardless of soil conditions (example, wet).

These types of crops are often grown on irrigated land where high income is required to justify the capital investment. Contracted horticultural crops typically provide considerably higher income for producers than more traditional field crops.

Solutions - Horticultural and specialty crops

Contracting companies often do not consider the long-term implications of declining soil productivity. In fact, there are some examples where companies have relocated to new areas once the soil has degraded to the point where producers cannot meet production quotas.

There may be some potential to work with company agrologists to consider and develop other cropping systems that work within a zero tillage context. However, these opportunities pose additional challenges that may not be worth pursuing due to the relatively small acreage of land in horticultural production. The main exception would be potatoes which occupy a considerably larger acreage. There may also be other beneficial soil management practices, such as cover crops, which may have greater potential than zero tillage for horticultural cropping systems.

9. Organically-grown crops

Organically-grown crops do not fit within a zero tillage system due to the high dependency on tillage. Despite the perceived food safety benefits of organically-grown crops, there is uncertainty of the greenhouse gas impact. For example, the increased use of cover crops is counteracted by increased tillage and fuel use.

10. Headland management

It is recognized that even under zero tillage management, overlap of field operations occurs on headlands. This results in somewhat higher levels of soil disturbance. This problem is minor, but can nevertheless be lessened through Global Positioning System (GPS) guidance or tracking systems.

G. Planting and seeding equipment

Issues - Planting and seeding equipment

Historically, effective planting and seeding equipment was a critical issue, but technological advancements have solved many of the problems and enabled the practice to succeed. Nevertheless, the zero till drill itself can be a constraint for producers who want to get into the system for the following reasons:

  1. high initial cost of zero till drill is especially hard for small producers or for producers zero tilling small areas;
  2. availability of dealer rentals to try out may be tight; and
  3. need to experiment with different opener, row spacing and packing systems to determine best outcome for range of soils and crop types. This experimental stage can be challenging, considering that the optimum window for seeding time is much narrower with zero till (due to delays in drying and warming, as discussed earlier) and seedbed mismanagement is less forgiving than conventional systems.

At the same time, there may be a need to maintain conventional equipment to deal with transition or flexibility issues, which can increase overall equipment cost.

Solutions - Planting and seeding equipment

In addition to the vast technological improvements, it was felt that the following factors were already contributing to solving these issues:

  1. equipment longevity has improved due to better quality and lower-use rate;
  2. reduced tractor horsepower requirement;
  3. fewer number of complete equipment implements required under zero till; and
  4. increasing supply of good used equipment.

Nevertheless, further improvements could be made in the following ways:

  1. investment tax credits for zero till drills;
  2. improved options for equipment rentals for small producers; and
  3. more research and development to improve adaptations to handle one-pass seed and fertilizer.

H. Technology

Issues - Technology

While technological breakthroughs have been critical to the success of zero tillage, new technology creates some significant challenges. The following are some examples:

  1. increasingly complex and requires expert advice, often from large multinational companies;
  2. new technology is most effective, but also the most expensive, thereby increasing financial risk; and
  3. technology-use agreements (example, seed/herbicide bundles) restrict management options, and Technology-Use Agreement (TUA)s are not consistent internationally, resulting in market inequities.

Solutions - Technology

No specific solutions were documented. However, it was emphasized that further technological advancements are to be expected. Recent examples include precise tracking for inter row seeding and GPS tracking systems to reduce overlap/misses.

I. Climate and weather issues

1. General

Issues - Climate and weather issues

Climate and weather issues are significant for all producers regardless of tillage system. Recommended cropping practices for regions and local areas are based on long-term climate and weather trends, and zero till managers have developed sustainable cropping systems to fit into these climate/weather trends. Nevertheless, it is recognized that fluctuations from normal weather patterns within and between years occur regularly and create issues for all producers, including zero tillers.

This entire section deals primarily with these fluctuations. These fluctuations are a concern because of the inability of weather forecasters to accurately predict growing-season weather more than a day or two in advance.

Solutions - Climate and weather issues

Regardless of tillage system, producers must constantly adjust their management method in response to weather. Many of the adjustments required by zero tillage producers fit within the context of this system (example, change the timing or type of pesticide used). However, some flexibility may be required (that is, occasional tillage) to adapt to these fluctuations since they are beyond a producer's control. There is also a need for better, long-term climate / weather data and interpretation for zero tillage management, and local weather forecasting.

2. Drought

Issues - Drought

Drought is a concern primarily in the brown and dark-brown soil zone of the Prairie region. The practice of zero tillage can help mitigate drought by conserving soil moisture through less soil disturbance, and maintaining standing stubble for better snow trap and micro climate during drying winds. However, even well-managed zero tilled crops can fail under severe drought conditions. This can lead to serious erosion risk due to very low crop residue production. The problem is exacerbated with crop rotations that include low-residue producing crops such as pulses, and also with soil types that include heavy clays and sandy soil textures.

Drought negatively affects a producer's ability to carry through on zero till plans by reducing income and resources required to implement, and forcing changes in crop rotation and fallow frequency.

Solutions - Drought

Within a zero tillage system, current options include chemical fallow and irrigation development.

3. Excess moisture

Issues - Excess moisture

Excess moisture problems have already been discussed in previous sections under residue management, clay soils and drainage. Excess moisture can be an ongoing systemic problem (example, Red River Valley of Manitoba) or it can be a periodic issue (most regions of Canada).

Some other specific issues related to excess moisture are:

  1. inability to do pre-seeding tillage to dry out the soil can result in delayed seeding, plugged seed runs, and over packing;
  2. field operations can create ruts during wet conditions, which require subsequent tillage to smooth/level out;
  3. inaccessibility results in delays in timeliness of herbicide application or crop harvest that may lead to fewer options other than tillage to deal with subsequent problems (example, advanced weed growth);
  4. zero tillage under excess moisture conditions may lead to higher water tables, which may eventually contribute to increased salinity. However, zero tillage in semi-arid regions often results in lower water tables and less salinity, associated with decreased fallow (extended crop rotations) and more efficient water use; and
  5. perceived that increased soil organic matter, resulting from zero till, may contribute to excess moisture for some soil types (that is, peat effect).
Solutions - Excess moisture

Some flexibility is required to occasionally use tillage to level ruts and dry fields. Low lying fields that are routinely too moist should be seeded to perennial forage rather than annually cropped. Low lying and saline areas seeded to perennial forage also help to increase water uptake, lower water table, reduce salinity, and reduce excess water on adjacent annual cropland.

4. Frost

Increased residue cover reduces absorption of solar radiation during the daytime, and lowers the emission of thermal energy from warmed soils at night time. This leads to increased frost risk, especially in areas with a short growing season.

5. Climate change

Uncertainty with regard to climate change creates increased risk for the viability of zero tillage over the long term. There is potential that a significant change could jeopardize the entire zero tillage system in some areas. There is a need for a long-term climate change strategy and policy, which includes more research and improved indicators. There is a continual need to adapt crop insurance programs to climate change and weather variability.

J. Financial

Issues - Financial

Financial issues are viewed as a major constraint by most producers regardless of tillage system. Some issues that impact all producers regardless of tillage system are:

  1. reduced competition in the ag-supply sector leads to increased input prices;
  2. input packaging and pricing options increasingly favor the large producer;
  3. low crop and farm commodity prices; farmers are price takers not setters; farm production does not reflect true market signals, but is influenced too much by government policy, including international;
  4. lack of farmer-controlled value added; and
  5. decreasing ability to control costs and prices leads to more off-farm work.

Producers view adoption of their zero tillage system as a positive adaptative response to difficult financial constraints. However, the economic efficiencies gained through zero tillage have been eroded through further increases in costs and decreases in prices. The following specific financial issues unique to the zero tillage system were also raised:

  1. since pesticides and fertilizer are significant and increasing up front cash costs, these are the first to be cut. Cutting corners in these areas has greater negative implications for zero tillage than conventional tillage;
  2. related to the above is the idea of higher financial risk associated with zero tillage. High transition and initial costs must be recouped in a fairly short-term period to remain financially viable;
  3. lower crop yields can be expected at start up and through the transition period, due to suboptimal management through the learning process. Yields should recover and, in many cases, increase on zero till due to higher soil productivity. However, in wetter areas, zero-till induced excess moisture can delay seeding and reduce yields and long-term crop insurance coverage. This is also considered a significant deterrent for new producers trying zero tillage; and
  4. greater requirement for tile drainage under a zero tillage system is a large capital investment that is difficult to invent.

Solutions - Financial

A wide range of options were discussed and presented. At the outset, there was recognition for examples where a zero tillage system may actually lower of some costs. These included:

  1. lower labour and fuel costs;
  2. lower nitrogen fertilizer requirement by increased use of legume and pulse crops (Note: This option may be most relevant in the semi-arid Prairie region where moisture conservation techniques, such as zero tillage, are required to grow low-residue-producing crops such as lentils); and
  3. lower fertilizer costs due to more efficient utilization in a zero tillage system (Note: This option may be most relevant in humid areas where producers have traditionally applied large amounts of fertilizer in conventional tillage systems).

It was felt that producers should be made aware in advance of changes in cash flow, capital, risk and income as a result of changing to a zero tillage system. There was also a need for careful planning in these areas, and support for financial incentives.

In the past, incentives have assisted with adoption of zero tillage. Future incentives should also consider assistance to maintain the zero tillage system. Additionally, there was a desire for incentives for tile drainage, which should consider rented land as eligible.

Other suggestions that would be applicable under various tillage systems included efforts to raise the international floor price of wheat, and reduce fertilizer cost through more efficient manure application.

K. Land tenure and external interests

1. Land tenure

There is an increasing trend of land being farmed or managed by a renter rather than the landowner. Increasingly, the landowner is becoming less involved and knowledgeable about farm management, especially where the owner has purchased the property as an investment for speculative higher economic value, based on non-agricultural future use. There is a need for improved and documented long-term landowner renter agreements that enable the renter to apply good management and a long-term investment. Cash agreements are preferred over income-sharing agreements, since they reduce landowner risk and provide greater management flexibility for the renter.

Another important land tenure trend is increasing farm size (that is, acreage of cropland). While this presents management challenges for all farmers, the zero tillage system has enabled producers to manage more land due to fewer field operations and lower labour costs. Nevertheless, the narrow window for many critical tasks can negatively impact timeliness of operations.

2. External interests

Activities of non-agricultural companies (example, energy sector) on agricultural land often result in poor stewardship of the soil resource and inadequate damage compensation, both of which can constrain the success of zero till. For example, it is more difficult to adjust to the impact of poor pest management on well sites and pipeline right of ways.

In some jurisdictions (example, Ontario), regulations require the incorporation of applied organic wastes from non-agricultural sources (example, municipal and industrial biosolids and sludges), which compromises the zero tillage system.

L. Producer awareness and attitude

Issues - Producer awareness and attitude

1. Resistance to change

Resistance to change is seen as a major constraint for some producers to initiate the practice of zero tillage. In some cases, this can also be a constraint to maintain the zero tillage system, especially if success is not achieved within the first few years. Some specific factors related to resistance to change are:

  1. older farmers with a small land base are risk averse for good reason, to avoid a large capital investment;
  2. it's harder to move to zero tillage in local areas with a low adoption rate due to increased peer pressure;
  3. pride of ownership and independence is a constraint to consider non-traditional options (example, rental equipment or custom work), which can often help to make zero till work;
  4. greater risk at the beginning often feeds resistance to change. Fear of change results in greater perceived risk, rather than real risk; and
  5. producers of traditional, high-disturbance systems (example, horticulture and potatoes) are more resistant to change.
2. Complexity

There is strong agreement that the zero tillage system involves greater complexity in terms of technology, capitalization and management, and that some producers have difficulty adapting to this increased complexity. Producers should not view zero tillage as a get-rich quick scheme, but as a system that requires increased knowledge, wisdom and patience. There is a knowledge gap between age groups, generations, and younger producers are often more willing to learn new ideas. However, it is not easy to bridge the generation gap.

There is a lack of information on many complex issues discussed in this report (that is, soil compaction, poor drainage, cool soil temperature, and biomass production). The information or training available is often not suited to the environmental conditions facing zero till producers.

Adapting to increased complexity can be constrained by the need to balance with other demands and priorities, such as other aspects of the farm operation, market conditions, government policy, off-farm work, and personal goals. In other words, increasing complexity can create time constraints, which can have serious impacts due to the timeliness requirement of many zero tillage practices.

Finally, there is an important recognition that many of the issues and constraints facing zero till producers change over time. Some of this is a natural progression as experience grows, and one impact leads to another. Other issues may be external to the zero tillage system or the farm operation. Therefore, there is a high degree of complexity related to the dynamic nature of issues that need to be addressed.

3. Wrong perceptions

Sometimes producers may have wrong perceptions about specific aspects of the zero tillage system. While they are supportive of the system and are making a change towards that system, wrong perceptions can impact the ability to succeed. Some specific examples include the following:

  1. crop residue is often perceived as an enemy rather than a friend. This can result in a lack of understanding on how to handle excess residue;
  2. some livestock producers would rather be cutting hay than side dressing nitrogen on zero till crops, when the economic benefit of the latter may be greater;
  3. too much emphasis on maintaining high-corn yields. Under a zero tillage system, corn yields may decline slightly, but higher profit may still justify the system due to greater reduction of costs (example, fuel, labour); and
  4. creating awareness of the need for zero tillage, based on environmental protection goals, can lead to feelings of guilt, which is rarely a positive motivation for change.
4. Technical support

There is less and less technical support available to producers in the field. Where local farm conservation clubs exist, most hire young agronomists with little expertise and whose responsibilities focus more on administrative duties, such as drawing up plans and budgets. At the same time, there is an increasing network of ag-supply dealers who provide advice at the field level. However, their advice is often biased since their profit is more linked to sales volume rather than environmental protection. It is unfortunate that a considerable number of agricultural media still print articles promoting conventional practices that are not suited for environmental protection.

Solutions - Technical support

Increasing knowledge leads to increased acceptance of the system/practices and successful implementation. Knowledge is obtained through experience and education. There is a need for greater knowledge of the entire system from production to marketing, and one can learn from

organic producers to take a more holistic approach. At the same time, the following specific areas were identified where increased knowledge and/or a change in mindset were required:

  1. the need to change and emphasize crop rotation as an integral part of the zero tillage system;
  2. making cover crops work within the zero tillage system; and
  3. managing manure as a valuable resource, not a waste, within the zero tillage system.

It was also emphasized that patience was a key and necessary ingredient to provide enough time to gain knowledge and experience. It was suggested that a gradual change to reduced till and (eventually) zero till may facilitate this process more effectively than an abrupt change from full to zero tillage in a short period.

There should be continued support for extension, awareness, education and /training programs. Some specific suggestions regarding these types of initiatives are as follows:

  1. work through technology transfer services provided by non-government organizations such as local producer groups;
  2. utilize farm innovators that lead by example;
  3. hire more people to provide practical technical services and assistance in the field to develop and refine conservation practices;
  4. training program(s) suited to new aspects of environmental protection;
  5. involve all members of the farm operation to bridge the generation gap issue;
  6. need for an information tool - a soil conservation farm magazine; and
  7. target the ag-supply/sales sector to change mindset, allowing one to consider environmental protection goals in their farm recommendations.

Finally, it was perceived that increased adoption of zero tillage was a contributing factor to a trend of poor managers being weeded and bought out. Therefore, over time producer awareness and attitude toward issues should decline.

M. Public awareness and attitude

Issues - Public awareness and attitude

Public awareness and attitude is considered important as it shapes policy development. There is also a need to distinguish between the public that lives close to the farm and the broader public. Generally, there is poor public awareness and, or perception of the agriculture industry, which hurts all producers, not only those practicing zero tillage.

There are a number of more specific issues that negatively impact zero tillage. Many of these issues, illustrate that there is no clear consensus on how the general public views zero tillage:

  1. a good portion of the public understands zero tillage conceptually, including the benefits (Greenhouse Gas (GHG) and erosion control). However, most people do not understand the complexity of zero tillage and other farming issues that farmers encounter;
  2. public concern for the use of pesticides and how they impact on food safety and environmental protection may give zero tillage a bad reputation, even though it may be more sustainable in how it manages pesticides than conventional systems;
  3. increased market demands for non-GMO and pesticide-free production is not compatible with zero tillage;
  4. negative GMO perception does not take into account positive impacts for both producer and society (example, improved pharmaceuticals and vitamins);
  5. some traditional perception remains that tillage provides a means to attain purity standards or reduce contaminants in the food system; and
  6. there is growing public support to protect the environment, including soil conservation. However, this leads to greater support for regulation.

Solutions - Public awareness and attitude

There is a need for greater public support for agriculture and zero tillage, in particular greater support from the major players in the agriculture industry. More awareness, education, information resources, programs are required in order to achieve this. The hog industry has enjoyed steady progress towards this effort, from which we can learn some lessons. The focus should be on zero tillage successes and environmental benefits. The Kyoto protocol has pushed support for zero tillage for a number of years, and large final emitters view farm Best Management Practice (BMP)s as a good public-perception vehicle to reduce GHGs. There is also a need for public awareness and education on the benefits of manure as it relates to agricultural production. Manure management is somewhat of a separate issue, although it can also be dealt within the context of zero tillage.

N. Research

Issues -Research

Agricultural research is critical for the future success of the sector as a whole. A number of issues were raised which apply to zero tillage, but also to other farming practices/systems:

  1. there is general concern over a lack of appropriate research, and the research that is taking place is increasingly paid for by producers through check offs - research which producers are unfairly paying for through seed technology contracts;
  2. farming systems and technologies are continually changing, resulting in more emerging issues which need to be researched;
  3. lack of a systems approach. This is a huge cost challenge since research must be a multidisciplinary, multi-site and multi-year process;
  4. increasing reluctance to use public funds to support on-farm research, in conflict with increasing public support for regulatory requirements that impact the farmer directly;
  5. the network of experimental farms and long-term research sites are constantly shrinking. At the same time, researchers affiliated with these research programs are becoming less attuned to the needs of agricultural producers;
  6. too much focus on yield, not enough on economics and environmental impacts. Some costs/benefits difficult to measure, so ignoring economics may be an easy way out; and
  7. cost of research increasing greatly, contributing to lower support of research by industry and government.

With regard to the zero tillage system specifically, there is a lack of research on the long-term impacts.

There is also a lack of understanding on the impact of cover crops on total GHG emission reductions or removals.

Solutions -Research

Research can be improved in how it is conducted (that is, structures) and what issues are addressed.

A new research structure is required with producer group control and input. There is a need for field-scale farm sites and extension specialists to link the researcher with the producer. Farmers need to be empowered to do on-farm research. Research must use a systems approach that considers crop rotation, cover crops, pests, economics, periodic tillage, and soil health.

It was also suggested that much could be learned by inputting on-farm project data from the Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Program into the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Model Farm tool.

Specific issues that should be researched include the following:

  1. identify long-term economic and environmental benefits;
  2. secure good, reliable baseline data on economics;
  3. investigate a flexible zero till system for horticultural crops; and
  4. need a better understanding of all soil-management impacts on GHG emission reductions or removals (that is, Carbon dioxide (CO2) and Nitrous oxide (N2O)), not just zero tillage.

O. Policy and regulation

Issues -Policy and regulation

Agricultural policies, programs and regulations have a large impact on the producer's bottom line. It is difficult to accept that government support for agriculture often seems less than other issues, as a result of agriculture's continued downward spiral.

Some specific policy, programs or regulatory issues that directly impact zero tillage are:

  1. policies and regulations create incremental costs towards farm production and the zero till system, neither of which can be offset in the short term;
  2. over the past 20 years, some programs have not supported positive change for sustainable soil management. In other words, some programs, such as crop insurance, have provided greater support for producers who maintain status-quo conventional practices;
  3. there has been a lack of program and policy support to help producers make the transition from conventional to conservation practices;
  4. government support for organic farming seems to contradict zero tillage goals;
  5. manure management regulations on nutrient application can constrain a producer's ability to maintain a zero till system. Refer to examples under the nutrient management section;
  6. specific import regulations restrict ability to research new crop, products or land practices that would benefit zero tillage; and
  7. inconsistent regulations (that is, Canada does not allow imports of fusarium-infected seed, but has no restrictions on imports of fusarium-infected feed).

Solutions -Policy and regulation

Future policy development must demonstrate a greater political will to support agriculture in general.

Following are a number of suggested solutions that could positively impact zero tillage. Some of these are related, and they are listed in order from general to specific:

  1. future programs should be designed to support good soil management (that is, don't force good managers to change what they do to be eligible for programs);
  2. prefer carrot (incentive) rather than the stick (regulation) approach;
  3. change public policy to enable more taxpayer support for society benefits, such as soil conservation and wildlife habitat;
  4. policy development required to secure international recognition (that is, certification);
  5. addressing financial issues (that is, business risk) as first priority will provide best chance of BMP adoption in the long term;
  6. consider environmental insurance (that is, if zero till fails, there would be a payout);
  7. consider integration of zero till incentives into crop insurance programs;
  8. greater producer involvement in lobbying work;
  9. legislated minimum requirements for biofuels in fuel mixtures would increase market demand and assist with zero tillage-friendly production systems;
  10. if legislated, incorporation of non-agricultural wastes is not allowed, supported under zero tillage. Instead, other incentives should support this;
  11. converting marginal annual crop land to perennial forage requires a more substantial federal cost-share program than past efforts; and
  12. provide a progressive (pro-rated) per hectare incentive to farmers who have adopted agricultural conservation practices. The incentive could recognize different practices according to their environmental effects, and subsidize them according their environmental benefits.
  13. Based on the above suggestions, there appears to be some disagreement to what extent government support should be targeted to support good soil management practices versus general support for agriculture. While there seemed to be general agreement to not support cross compliance (example, link all government support, including business risk, to good environmental performance), some producers felt there needed to be a greater percentage of government support linked to good soil management (example, Quebec).

P. Greenhouse gas and carbon credit policy development

Issues - Greenhouse gas and carbon credit policy development

A large number of issues were raised in relation to the development of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) and carbon credit policies that may impact producers. There has been a lot of past speculation in this area, and it has taken considerable time to develop these policies, given the complexities of being able to provide recognition for GHG emission removals and reductions.

At the time of these consultations, it was fairly clear that zero tillage producers would be able to participate through the Offset System. However, there were many issues that could not be answered because the OS Design Paper had not yet been released. Also, it was mentioned that a soil management technical working group (SMTWG) would be developing a standard protocol to improve the efficiency of how carbon credits would be provided to producers for soil management practices. Despite these new developments, there was a feeling of growing impatience and skepticism by many producers, due to the slowness of this process and the potentially low-market value and economic benefit that may result.

Specific concerns regarding these issues are listed below:

1. Eligibility issues
  1. Who owns the carbon credits;
  2. who are the carbon credit buyers; and
  3. more incentives for late adopters is not fair.
2. Quantification issues
  1. Explain the sensitivity of carbon coefficient variation between regions and soil types;
  2. lower carbon coefficients in eastern Canada does not seem consistent with much higher biomass production;
  3. there is a limit on how much carbon can be sequestered and this may be a problem if it is less than native perennial vegetation;
  4. difficult to measure or quantify small changes;
  5. if you use a measurement approach, how do you handle a carbon loss in the short term;
  6. difficult to establish accurate baselines in terms of carbon in the soil; and
  7. what will be measured: changes in soil carbon, or changes in farm practice?
3. Delivery issues
  1. No clear methodology on how carbon credits will be paid;
  2. no clear federal policy or certification body; and
  3. how to handle existing carbon credits when land tenure changes.
4. Indirect emission
  1. Will all other farm activities that impact GHG emission be considered;
  2. are there penalties for farmers who are net emitters? Will participation in GHG programs make them more accountable as emitters; and
  3. who is responsible for emissions created during fertilizer production?
5. Specific crop issues
  1. Some might suggest that continuous corn provides the greatest carbon production (sequestration), but this is not a recommended rotation; and
  2. current lack of recognition of carbon credit benefits of perennial forages in rotation with annual crops and other good soil management Best Management Practices (BMP)s.
6. Other issues
  1. Governments view farmers as a solution to solve their Kyoto requirement. While this can be positive, years of speculation with few deliverables increase the perception of farmers becoming political pawns;
  2. making a carbon credit transaction is risky due to unknown future implications;
  3. large final emitters from Canada are purchasing carbon credits outside the country. We are lagging behind, and exporting value-added dollars;
  4. perception that government-owned Crown land may receive greatest GHG credit benefit, due to large area of native grass and trees sequestering carbon;
  5. GHG-removal practices, such as woodlots and native perennial vegetation, may provide higher carbon credits, but impede agricultural production due to greater uptake by non-farming landowners who leave land idle; and
  6. government support for the status quo in the auto industry (high emission vehicles) not consistent with GHG reduction goals.

Solutions - Greenhouse gas and carbon credit policy development

1. Baseline suggestions
  1. Must provide incentive for current zero till producer to continue storing carbon, and receive credit for early adoption;
  2. baseline should not be based on time, but rather at conventional practice regardless of when it occurred; and
  3. baseline should go back to when Kyoto was first created (that is, 1990), at the very minimum.
2. Quantification suggestions
  1. Ensure regional differences, based on soil and climate, are adequately built into coefficients;
  2. need to account for all GHG, not just carbon sink;
  3. coefficient approach better than measurement due to cost and uncertainty of measurement;
  4. should consider farm-audit approach with a system of pluses and minuses;
  5. some support to provide recognition for individual producer records (that is, crop yield). Crop insurance records already exist, which may credit a producer for higher than local area yields, but this would increase vulnerability due to natural disaster impacts; and
  6. a carbon credit value of $20 per acre would be reasonable, depending on other factors.
3. Delivery suggestions
  1. Some disagreement over single versus multiple programs; some feel single program should deal with all issues, while others feel there should be opportunity for more than one program where producers could choose how to get paid for GHG emission reductions;
  2. tax break is simplest method for government incentive for GHG reduction;
  3. payments should go to land manager, not owner; and
  4. annual payments (temporary credits) are better than one-time payments (permanent credit).
4. Other suggestions
  1. Appropriate penalties for large final emitters would increase carbon credit value for producers;
  2. carbon credit policy should ensure projects help maintain agricultural production, not leave land idle; and
  3. maintain Canada's agricultural involvement in international Kyoto developments, such as International Standards Organization (ISO), leakage, surplus, etc.

Q. Tillage definitions

During the introductory presentation, it was mentioned that information regarding issues and management problems that constrain a producer's ability to maintain a zero tillage system would be used to develop improved tillage definitions to be used in the Offset System. It was also mentioned that the current definition of zero tillage, used in the Pilot Emission Removals, Reductions and Learnings (PERRL) program, needed to be made more flexible. It was envisioned that the issues and suggested solutions raised at the meetings would help guide the decision on how to make it more flexible.

The intent of the meeting was to not discuss future definitions in detail, because we first needed to understand the issues. Nevertheless, at most meetings producers felt that the definitions were of high importance and that they wanted to provide some input. Therefore, this discussion was allowed in the context of one of the issue areas that might constrain a producer's ability to maintain the practice.

1. General comments

  1. producer input into definitions is important;
  2. consider regional differences such as soil and climate;
  3. keep the definition simple;
  4. perception that government is looking for a simple solution to a complex problem;
  5. hard to create a definition for erosion-control criteria;
  6. if nutrient efficiency is part of the definition, how do we define it, and from whose perspective of farmer or public;
  7. definitions must be quantifiable and verifiable; and
  8. definitions should achieve two criteria: carbon sink and erosion control. Carbon sink is not only for GHG benefit, but also for general soil health/productivity, based on building soil organic matter.

2. Management flexibility

Zero tillage cannot be viewed as one practice on a single field, but should be defined within a systems approach that considers multiple fields and years within the context of the entire farm's management. Producers accept terms such as direct seeding and soil management more readily than zero tillage, since the latter infers little flexibility.

An inflexible definition is particularly a problem for mixed farms that produce perennial forages and livestock, in addition to annual crops. It is also a problem for farms that grow horticulture or special crops (example, potatoes, sugar beets, beans, vegetables, et cetera) in rotation with more traditional field crops (cereals, corn, oilseeds, pulses). An inflexible definition also forces current good managers to adapt to a program that is not beneficial to the farm or environment in the long term.

One key point: A flexible definition is acceptable as long as it supports a sustainable farming system. Definitions should fit with good soil management practices that many farm managers are already implementing, even if that is reduced tillage as opposed to zero tillage. Nevertheless, one should consider different levels of payment for different levels of management.

Note: It was mentioned during the presentation that some flexibility could be achieved by providing credit for two practices: zero tillage and reduced tillage. However, it was strongly recommended that, even in this scenario, there was a need to make the zero tillage definition more flexible than what is currently used in PERRL.

3. Indicators of tillage system and definitions under a coefficient approach

It was mentioned during the presentation that, under a coefficient approach for quantification, it is necessary to monitor and verify the farm practices that occurred to determine the tillage system used. Three key indicators of zero tillage farm practices were described:

The following are some comments regarding these indicators:

  1. trying to measure crop residue cover or standing stubble may be challenging;
  2. cannot use crop residue cover as the only indicator of zero tillage due to the low-residue
  3. duction of some crops;
  4. consider average residue cover over one rotation cycle, rather than single point in time;
  5. stubble should be evaluated by percentage anchored rather than percentage standing, since heavy snow pack can flatten otherwise undisturbed stubble;
  6. percentage seedbed utilization (or disturbance) is a better indicator than fixed-opener width, due to varying row spacing. If seedbed utilization is based on the combined effect of opener type and row spacing, that is acceptable;
  7. basing a definition of zero tillage on a single critical amount of residue or soil disturbance is dangerous. This definition does not account for differences in soil, climate, crops and management flexibility required. Need research to justify varying critical levels of soil disturbance or residue levels for different soil, climate, crop type, et cetera.; and
  8. Quebec producers were comfortable in recommending a definition based on an indicator of a fixed amount of residue. In humid areas such as Quebec, it is possible to consistently achieve good levels of residue production, so it is feasible to achieve this goal. Two management systems were defined: Extreme Conservation (that is, zero tillage) - provides maximum protection by eliminating fall tillage and maintaining 30% ground cover after seeding; and Moderate Conservation (that is, reduced tillage) - provides moderate protection by reducing fall tillage and maintaining 20% ground cover after seeding.

4. Specific comments

  1. Be more concerned with the net impact on carbon sequestration, rather than on the activities that are needed to achieve it since activities must allow flexibility. This may support the measurement approach;
  2. does below-ground undisturbed crop residue have any impact on this topic (example, reduced erodibility due to improved organic matter);
  3. speed of operation has a large impact on meeting indicators;
  4. ability to adapt seeding equipment to meet soil disturbance requirements may be difficult for a person who rents or uses custom seeders;
  5. periodic zero tillage into a previous low-residue producing stubble makes sense in nontraditional high moisture areas such as the Red River valley;
  6. how does inclusion of potatoes with heavy tillage once every four years in a zero tillage system impact definition; and
  7. allow for fall strip tillage in wheat stubble in Ontario.

Detailed results: Section II: Atlantic Canada

A. Cover crops

Definition - Cover crops

Cover crops are crops normally planted in fall after the main crop is harvested; provide late fall, winter, and early spring protection from soil erosion and nutrient loss; and are normally not harvested, rather their top growth is terminated and incorporated into the soil to help improve soil productivity.

Issues - Cover crops

a) Short growing season and weather concerns:
b) Economics and labour:
c) Alternative crops:

Solutions - Cover crops

As economic issues are considered most important, addressing these issues would provide the greatest solution. Some examples include increased profitability, a fair return on investment, market place returns, and a return on the cost of environmental stewardship and husbandry.

Other solutions include:

B. Residue management

Definition - Residue management

Residue management is the practice of conserving crop residue cover on the soil surface through straw management at harvest, reduced tillage, and occasionally adding extra straw to areas that are more susceptible to soil erosion.

Issues - Residue management

a) Specific residue problems:
b) Economics:

Solutions - Residue management

Suggested solutions include research, greater access to specialized equipment, and training producers.

C. Spring versus fall plowing

Definition - Spring versus fall plowing

This practice is simply delaying the practice of plowing the soil from fall to the subsequent spring; and conserves and maintains more crop residue on the soil surface during the fall, winter, and early spring period. This method could be considered as one specific component of residue management.

Issues - Spring versus fall plowing

a) Labour and training:
b) Seedbed preparation:
c) Economic concerns:
d) Spring plowing results in slower soil warming:
e) Higher nitrogen requirement with spring plowing:

D. Longer crop rotations

Definition - Longer crop rotations

This practice refers to the length of time between growing the same crops on the same parcel of land. Shorter crop rotations are common where one particular crop type (example, potatoes) has significantly higher income potential than most other crop types. However, shorter crop rotations often leave the land more susceptible to soil erosion and degradation.

Issues - Longer crop rotations

a) Land availability:
b) Economics:

Solutions - Longer crop rotations

Most producers are aware of the limits of how short a rotation can be, as poor crop quality and serious erosion impacts can occur. However, it is recognized that at the current level for most producers there is still some erosion risk. The occurrence of serious erosion events is often a motivator for producers to lengthen the rotation because they realize that erosion will impact the productivity of their soil over the longer term.

One potential solution would be to make crown land with suitable agricultural capability available to producers to increase their land base and lengthen rotations.

E. Strip cropping and/or terraces

Definition - Strip cropping and/or terraces

The Atlantic use of the term "terraces" means small, low (one meter high), grassed water diversion berms that run across a field following the contour of the field. These parallel terraces are placed close enough together on a field to prevent water running downhill from picking up enough velocity (and energy) to cause erosion of the soil. These water diversion terraces channel runoff water to a safe outlet such as grassed waterway.

Strip cropping may be used in combination with the terraces or to reduce the number of terraces required. Strip cropping could involve growing more than one type of crop within each area bordered by terraces. For example, one field may have five terraces, with two strips within each terrace, resulting in ten crop strips across the field. Alternating crop strips would have different canopy and residue characteristics, and would therefore provided greater erosion protection than the most susceptible crop type by itself.

Issues - Strip cropping and/or terraces

a) Field size and orientation:
b) Economics:
c) Increased requirement for disease, pest and herbicide management:
d) Soil type and drainage differences:

Solutions - Strip cropping and/or terraces

Since economics is a key constraint, it makes sense that the primary solution would be increased funding to producers. There is a perception that these practices may be more costly, at least initially. Therefore, it makes sense that other Best Management Practices (BMP) options should be explored before this one. There also seems to be support that this practice should receive support from the public (that is, incentives).

F. More efficient nutrient beneficial management practices

Definition - More efficient nutrient beneficial management practices

More efficient nutrient management in a generic sense normally means more efficient application / management of crop nutrients to maximize crop nutrient uptake and minimize nutrient losses to the environment.

Issues - More efficient nutrient beneficial management practices

a) Low natural soil fertility:
b) Better diagnostic tools:
c) Economics:
d) Education:
e) Catch crops:

Solutions - More efficient nutrient beneficial management practices

As already mentioned in the "Issues" section, there is a need for a more reliable soil test for all nutrients. There was support, as with other issues, for more societal support to producers to improve nutrient management.

G. Further discussion / Clarification on issues and solutions

As discussions progressed, it became apparent that many of the critical issues and potential solutions were the same for most, if not all, practices. Some further comments on these issues are listed below:

Economics and incentives

Producer education / Awareness

Challenges related to complexity of issues

Research

Public awareness / Perception

Greenhouse gas and carbon credit issues

Other specific issues

Appendix I: Meeting source for management issues

Residue management

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Inadequate Residue
increased acreages of pulse and oilseed crops produce very little residue (e.g. lentils, peas, flax) but have higher economic value x x
low residue conditions under vegetables, silaging, soybeans, beans and potatoes x x
using crop growth and residue for livestock, including silage, hay, baling straw, grazing x x x x x
alternate uses of straw such as biofuels could result in inadequate residue x
need to roll pulse crop fields after seeding to smooth field for low cutterhead at harvest; result is flattening of stubble x
ability to maintain 30% crop residue depends on row spacing x
Excess Residue
proper straw and chaff spreading remains a challenge for ZT to seed through, especially with wider swaths / cutterheads x x x x
residue management equipment a financial constraint for some x
heavy residue may still be a problem even after baling straw x
wider row spacings not necessarily the best solution due to different crop requirements, lack of information on total row spacing impacts x
problems during seeding operation: trash clearance and proper seed placement x x x
flax straw remains a unique challenge for ZT to seed through; few options other than burning x x x
extra N required in short term to combat more immobilization x
excess residue problems often correlated with excess moisture problems x
result in cooler soil temperatures that inhibit germination and increase frost risk, especially for canola x x x x
some residue removal required under irrigation systems and higher moisture areas x x x
Increasing thatch layer (amount and depth of partially decomposed crop residue) inhibits good seed to soil contact and contributes to frost risk x x
excess residue problems greater on heavy textured soils x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Livestock and manure management

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
incorporation of solid manure required to properly manage nutrients and reduce odour, needs to balance with need to reduce tillage x x x x
soil compaction and surface roughness caused by cattle grazing or watering sites x x
incorporation of solid manure leads to greater weed problems which may require a pre- emergent incorporated herbicide, also greater risk of herbicide resistant seeds x
manure contains other potentially harmful substances such as pathogens, antibiotics and salt (originating from high conductivity water) x
over application of manure a problem in areas with high concentration of CFOs x
increased reliance on custom manure applicators increases risk of over application due to less due diligence regarding equipment calibration x
increased soil compaction from manure applicators x
increased cost associated with modifying liquid manure applicators to direct inject x
need to allow for fall grazing of stubble
increased risk of injected liquid manure leaching to water table through soil macro pores x x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Nutrient management

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
converting to a one-pass system that applies all nutrients at seeding time is a cost and logistics constraint, and may result in greater-than-allowed seedbed disturbance x x x x
surface broadcasting of N and manure fits with ZT, but nutrient inefficiencies and chance of regulating out may push more soil disturbance x
mandatory soil testing part of regulations may result in less than optimal management, since soil sampling is not always accurate, and other data sources should also be considered x
converting to a P based nutrient management plan/regulation may result in reduced manure rates which result in higher cost due to greater manure transportation and additional requirement for N chemical fertilizer x
nutrient management legislation requires tillage on manured tile land due to risk of leaching through macro pores x
price of nitrogen and its application is costly x x
some producers are over applying nitrogen x
fall application of nutrients has advantages, even though not supported as BMP x
Under application of nutrients may result in less carbon sequestration x
stratification of less mobile nutrients (e.g. P, K, Ca, and lime) under NT in the top 5-10 cm may result in lower soil productivity and higher dissolved concentrations in runoff x
in Ontario, legislation requires soil tillage for incorporation of manure on tile land to prevent leaching of nutrients through macro pores x x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Pest management

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
General
short cuts in pest management under ZT are less forgiving (can't use tillage to fix wrecks), turning people away from ZT x
potential for increased pesticides in ZT to kill beneficial organisms x
producer liability for damages x
uncertainties regarding increased chemical residues near the soil surface and science of sustainability (e.g. edge breakdown slower under ZT) x x x
some chemicals require soil incorporation x
certain pest problems become worse under ZT x x
tradeoffs in using crop rotation to manage pest problems, and difficulty in maintaining flexibility with crop rotations to take advantage of cash crops x x
generally ZT involves greater reliance on pesticide and few IPM options x
decreasing number of registered pesticides, due to company actions or increasing government regulation/protocol, results in fewer options for producers x x x x
Weed Control
Increased herbicide resistance results in fewer herbicide options (e.g. soil incorporated herbicides less effective, glyphosate resistance would have huge impact) x x x x x
too much reliance on glyphosate x x
Changing weed spectrum, greater incidence of harder to control weeds under ZT, such as downey brome, Japanese brome and cleavers x x x
greater incidence of foxtail barley and dandelion x
greater incidence of hard-to-control fall broadleafs and field bindweed x
greater incidence of horsetail and buckwheat x
greater incidence of dog strangling vine x
raw, uncomposted cattle manure creates more weed control problems in ZT x
for some specific crop / weed combinations, there are few effective herbicide options (e.g. kochia in flax) x x
Herbicide-tolerant weeds and hard-to-control weeds cause greater impact of weed-seed infested seed and grain x x x
Disease Management
increased disease-control costs with ZT under irrigation; even greater need for proper crop rotation and management x
fusarium problem in ZT compounded by external factors such as lack of controls on fusarium in imported corn for feedlots; disease spread via manure and wind x
greater incidence of residue-borne diseases due to slower residue breakdown and higher residue conservation x x
Insects
ZT can contribute to greater sawfly due to slower breakdown of residue and larvae x
increased insect problems with no till x
Animals
gophers and badgers are an increasing problem on ZT since tillage cannot be used to disturb habitat and smooth fields x
gophers and badgers are a serious problem on forage land, making it difficult to use ZT to transition to annual cropping, because of need to cultivate to smooth out hills x
crop damage and feeding by animals, including deer, squirrels, mice, etc. x
slugs are an increased problem with no tillage under wet and excessive residue situations x x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Seed technology

Specific Obstacles or Clarification Meeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
cross pollination with GMO varieties x
gene pool increasingly confined by GMO and loss of pesticide options x x
increasingly specific new crop varieties require specific crop inputs (bundling), limited seed and management options and less flexibility. Partly due to high cost of seed and product registration. x x x
GMO systems work well with no till but future market acceptance uncertain x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Special soil

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Soil Acidity
lack of soil disturbance may result in increased acidity near the soil surface x
need to periodically apply and incorporate lime x x
Soil Texture
more challenges on clay soils: excess residue, cool/wet conditions. Highest transition costs on low organic matter clays x x
Drainage and Excess Moisture
difficult to no till on poorly drained soils, more compaction, colder, wetter x x
uniform application of irrigation water on uneven soil / landscape creates inefficient use and constrains ZT production system x
Soil Compaction
greater compaction with larger equipment x x
Marginal Soils
salinity and other soil problems impede success of zero tillage x
some land is inherently marginal, other land becomes marginal due to poor management and soil degradation; difficult to recommend NT versus conversion to permanent forage x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Special crop

Specific Obstacles or Clarification Meeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Perennial Rotations
Increased costs and flexible management (i.e. tillage) associated with going from perennial to annual crop under ZT x x
Cover Crops
cover crops can complement a NT system, but obstacles include cost, late harvest of preceding crop, how to terminate cover crop (manage residues), lack of research data x x x
Horticultural and Special Crops
some special crops require considerable tillage to be managed successfully (e.g. potatoes, beans, sunflowers). These crops generally have high short-term value, but there is a long-term environmental cost that is not being considered x x x x
special horticultural crops are highly perishable, have high-crop quality standards, and tolerate less variability; greater risk with NT for achieving predictable desired results x
Large company special crop agreements specify tillage management to enhance purity perception and enable more uniform crop maturity. More common on irrigated land x
Strength of special crop agreements enhanced by zero tolerance for contaminants, high liability for food grade crops, and high rental income for special crops x
Organic Crops
organic farming impacts on C sink unclear; increased tillage and fuel use counteracted with more cover crops x
Headlands
need to overlap to manage headlands x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Seeding Equipment

Specific Obstacles or Clarification Meeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
initial cost of ZT seeder, especially difficult for small producers x x x x x x x
specially adapted machinery is more expensive; it is often more difficult to justify purchasing such machinery for the small areas on which the new practices will be introduced. Nonetheless, it seems that this constraint is quickly overcome once all the other constraints have been addressed. x
need to experiment with different openers to find the best ones; equipment is specialized x x
availability of dealer rentals may be tight x
different crops may require different or modifications to equipment, requiring different sets of equipment components x
may need to keep some of the old conventional equipment to deal with transition issues x
Historically not as effective as desired x
ZT causes a narrower window for optimum seeding time; seeding must be relatively early x
soil type / opener interactions impact success x
seedbed mismanagement less forgiving x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Technology

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Increasingly complex; requires expert advice often from multinational x x
New technology is most cost effective but also most expensive, thereby increasing financial risk x
technology use agreements restrict options; TUAs, not internationally the same, create economic inequities x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Climate and weather

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
General
variable weather requires adjustment and challenges to ZT management (e.g. pests) x x
poor weather forecasting x
Excess Moisture
generally harder to do ZT under high moisture conditions, and fewer advantages x x
rough fields: wheel tracks, ruts x x x x x
ruts problem worse on contracted special crop land due to harvest demands during wet field conditions to fill processing quota x
seeding problems: delayed seeding, plugged runs, over packing x
for some soil types, increasing soil organic matter can result in increased excess moisture at seeding time x
unharvestable crops x
increased weed challenges; not being able to access wet areas at critical weed control time x
higher water tables under ZT contribute to more salinity x
Frost
harder to do ZT in areas with short growing season, since ZT can contribute to more frost impacts x
Drought
drought is a constraint for zero tillage x
even though ZT conserves moisture, drought may still increase need to fallow and greater risk of soil erosion x
drought combined with growing low-residue crops can be recipe for serious erosion risk, even under ZT x
forces a change in crop rotation x
timely rain very influential to continued commitment and ability to carry through on ZT plans x
Climate Change
increased risk associated with no clear trend; potential for significant change to jeopardize entire ZT system in long term x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Financial

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Increased Annual Input Costs
pesticides and fertilizers not affordable; producers cut corners (see short cutsunder pest management) and fail x x x x
reduced competition in ag supply sector x
pesticides and fertilizers are up-front cash costs x x x
product packaging and pricing options increasingly favours very large producer x
Risk Management
higher risk with zero till x x
higher transition / initial costs must be recouped in the short term; otherwise, producers opt out x x x x x x
Low Prices
low commodity prices x x x
Farmers are price takers, not setters; farm production does not reflect market signals; too much influence by government policy, including international policy x x
Crop Yield
lower yields due to no till induced wetter/cooler conditions in spring; long-term pattern reduces long-term crop insurance coverage x
lower yields in the first few years, but yields can recover through transition period x
At present, the basis for comparing agricultural producers is yield. In adopting agricultural conservation practices, it is essential to shift to economically optimal yields. x
Other
Lack of Farmer Controlled Value Added x
ZT provided an opportunity to become more efficient. Increasing costs and lower prices have eroded that benefit. No further efficiency opportunities are currently available x x x
greater agricultural subsidization (e.g. crop insurance based on high yields) is a deterrent for zero tillage, since producers are not forced to change to become more efficient and profitable x
decreasing ability to control variable costs, financial outcome; increased reliance on off-farm work x
tile drainage required for NT is a very large capital investment; difficult to invent x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Land tenure and external interests

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Land Tenure
trend to larger farms (land base); more difficult to manage x
trend to more rented land; impact of rental agreements may inhibit ZT or prevent long-term commitment x x x
Increasingly, farmland being purchased as investment property with lower landowner knowledge of farming systems x
External Interests
Inadequate stewardship of soil resource by energy companies and damage compensation related to land activities constrains success of ZT x
energy companies with well sites, pipelines and right-of-ways do a poor job of pest control, resulting in greater pest problems on adjacent land x
regulated application of municipal and industrial organic waste, biosolids, sludge, etc. requires soil incorporation/tillage x x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Producer awareness and attitude

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Resistance to Change
older farmers with smaller land base are risk averse for good reason; avoid large capital investment x x x
harder to move to ZT in areas of low adoption due to increased peer pressure x
increased risk at start feeds resistance to change; must reach a comfort level to proceed x x x
pride of ownership and independence is a constraint to more options to make ZT work (e.g. equipment rental or custom work) x
fear of change fed by greater perceived risk than real risk x
producers of traditionally high-disturbance systems, such as horticulture and potatoes, don't want to consider change x
resistance to change is often the biggest hurdle that has to be overcome x
Complexity and steep learning curve
technology, capitalization and management practices too complex for many to adapt; not a get-rich quick scheme; requires increased knowledge, wisdom, patience x x x x x
knowledge gap between age groups; young farmers more willing to learn new ideas x x
balancing personal goals, peer pressure, market demands, government policy, etc., to manage specific crop systems x
need better information on tough issues relating to NT, such as soil compaction, poor drainage, cool soil temperature, biomass production x
Time constraints x
timeliness of operations impacts success x
issues and constraints that impact ZT producers change as experience grows x
the training offered is not always suited to actual environmental conditions, and when it is suited to the situation, making the link between generations is not always easy x
Wrong Perceptions
reflecting about the situation and taking responsibility for environmental protection without feeling guilty appears to be difficult x
crop residue is often perceived as an enemy instead of a friend; lack of understanding on how to handle excessive residue x
Livestock producers would rather be cutting hay than side dressing N on NT crops x
Wrong perceptions about corn yields. Non-NT farmers feel yields are lower than real, and also don't consider that higher profit is more important than higher yield x x
Technical Support
Less and less technical support available to producers and the network of farm conservation clubs is made up of mainly young agronomists who have little expertise and whose responsibilities focus more on drawing up plans and budgets. x
The network of sellers (ag industry suppliers) is very strong, and since their profit is linked more to their sales volume than to environmental protection, their advice is biased x
It is unfortunate that many specialized magazines currently praise conventional practices x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Public awareness and attitude

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
generally poor public awareness / perception of ag industry hurts all producers, including ZT x
increasing market demands for non-GMO and pesticide-free (organic) production not compatible with ZT x
public only see the benefits and only understand it conceptually, but don't realize the complexity of implementation for the producer; most people don't understand farming x x
negative perception of GMO doesn't consider positive impacts not only for producer but also for society (improved pharmaceuticals vitamins) x
increased use of pesticide associated with ZT is only negative public perception; food safety and environmental issue x x
need to distinguish between public that lives close to the farm and the broader public x
greater public support and funding for environmental monitoring research leads to greater support for regulation x
public see the soil as a resource to them x
perception that tillage provides a means to attain purity standards or reduce contaminants in the food system. x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Agricultural research

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Lack of systems approach. Huge challenge, requires multi-disciplinary, multi-site, multiyear x x
Too much check-off money to support research with not enough information back to producers. Pay for research again by paying for seed technology; farmer should own the technology since they already paid for it x
Lack of information on long-term impacts of ZT x x
changes in technology and farming systems are resulting in more emerging issues x
increasing reluctance for using public funds to support on-farm research goes against trend toward greater regulation at the farm level x x
the network of experimental farms and long-term sites is constantly shrinking; affiliated researchers are less attuned to the needs of agricultural producers x
too much focus on yield, not enough on economics and/or environmental impacts x x
high cost not seen as priority by industry and government x
some costs/benefits difficult to measure x
lack of understanding of impact of cover crops on total Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission reduction/removals x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Policy and regulation

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
policy and regulations can create incremental costs on farm production and ZT system, which producers cannot offset in the short term x x x
programs sometimes do not allow for sustainable soil management, and have inhibited positive change for 20 years x
financial assistance programs do not favour farmers who have adopted conservation practices, regardless of whether they are insurance programs based on a farm's historical yields, or based on area, such as that of riparian strips and windbreaks. x
there is no program yet to help farmers make the transition between two agricultural systems. That is, to make it easier to move between a well-known system and a cost-effective and efficient agricultural conservation practice x
inconsistent rules for specific issues (e.g. for fusarium there are no feed-import constraints, but huge constraints for seed production) x
specific import regulations make it difficult to research new crop, products, or land practices that would benefit from ZT x
manure management regulation restrictions on nutrient application x
agriculture policy and support are generally lower priorities than other seemingly trivial issues. This is difficult to accept when agriculture is on a downward spiral. Government is not aware of the seriousness of the issue or not willing to address x
organic farming policy: government support for organic production with high tillage seems to contradict ZT goals; however, less use of pesticide positive x x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Carbon credit and greenhouse gas policy development

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Value
Current value unacceptably low x x x x
challenges in setting value x x
Eligibility
who owns the carbon credits x x x
who are the carbon credit buyers x x
more incentives for late adopters is not fair x x
Quantification
the sensitivity of carbon coefficient variation between regions and soil types (e.g. perceived that sandy soils sequester less carbon or lose it faster) x x
concern that lower carbon coefficients in eastern Canada should be higher due to much greater biomass production x
there is a limit on how much carbon can be sequestered; it is a problem if less than native x
how to measure (quantify); difficult to assess small changes x x x x
if you use a soil carbon measurement approach, how do you handle a C loss in the short term x
difficult to establish accurate baselines in terms of amount of carbon in soil x
what will be measured: changes in soil carbon or changes in farm practice x
Delivery
no clear methodology of how carbon credits will be paid to producers x
no clear federal policy or certification body x x
how to handle existing carbon credits when land tenure changes x
Indirect Emissions
will all other farm activities that impact GHG emissions be considered x
are there penalties for farmers who are net emitters? Does acceptance of GHG programs that benefit producers also make them more accountable as emitters x x
who is responsible for emissions created during fertilizer production x
producer participation in carbon credits should be exempted from other GHG emission reduction issues, such as fuel use x
Specific Crops
based on carbon production, continuous corn should create the largest carbon sink but this is not a recommended rotation x
current lack of recognition of perennial forages in rotation with annual crops and other BMPs x x
Other Issues
governments view farmers as solution to solve their Kyoto requirement x
making a carbon credit transaction constrained by unknown future implications x x
LFEs are purchasing credits outside of Canada and we are lagging behind x
perception that government-owned crown lands may receive greatest GHG credit benefit due to C sequestration by native grasses and trees x
some GHG removal practices such as woodlots and perennial vegetation may pay higher carbon credits, but impede agricultural production due to greater uptake by non-farming landowners who leave land idle x
government support for auto industry for increased GHG emissions not consistent with GHG reduction goals x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Tillage definitions

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
General Comments
perception that government is looking for a simple solution to a complex problem x
hard to create a definition for erosion control x
if nutrient efficiency is part of definition, one needs to define what is meant by efficiency; from whose perspective -- farmer vs. public x
Management Flexibility
cannot judge ZT as a one-year practice on a single field x
an inflexible definition skews management toward a program that is not beneficial to the farm or environment in the long term x
inflexible definition does not work well for mixed farms that include annual crops, perennial forages and livestock x x
Indicators of Tillage System
cannot use crop residue level as the only indicator of ZT x
challenges in trying to measure residue or standing stubble x
basing a definition of ZT on a single critical amount of residue (i.e. 30%) or % soil disturbance is dangerous; does not account for differences in soil, climate, crops and degree of management flexibility required x
Specific Comments
how does inclusion of potatoes with heavy tillage once every four years in an otherwise ZT system impact definition x
what impact does above- and below-ground plant material have on this topic x
speed of operation has a large impact x
ability to meet soil disturbance requirements depends on your ability to adapt seeding equipment (e.g. openers); may be difficult for a person who rents or uses custom seeders x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Appendix II: Meeting source for solutions

Residue management

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Inadequate
need to consider the soil-building qualities of N-fixing pulse crops, even though they produce low-residue amounts x x
strip farming (narrower fields) to control wind erosion on lighter brown soils in pulse crops x
cover crops replenish low-residue levels; target for low-residue situations; consider Roundup Ready crop to follow (e.g. soybeans) to facilitate burn off x x
fall rye cover crop after corn can provide pasture for dairy and beef x
need to recognize that in some areas, inadequate residue is not an issue, even when crop or residue is baled (e.g. even pulse residues) x
lack of residue is compensated by undisturbed root systems which hold soil together x
decrease frequency of low-residue crops to allow for more C accumulation x
removal of residue is less significant for land that has been in ZT for several years, due to improved thatch layer x
Excess
More development in alternate uses of crop residue (e.g. biofuels, strawboard) x x
technology now exists to do a good job of spreading straw and chaff x x x
incentives for improved straw and chaff spreading x
consider new equipment designs (e.g. row cleaners) x
excess residue problems should be addressed in the fall x
Flexibility required for baling straw to avoid excess residue x x x x
excess residue partially managed by doing field work on warm/dry day x
breeding program should focus more on early maturity, hardiness, and shorter straw x
General
residue management requires flexibility within the context of the whole farm (i.e. residue removed from a field is often returned later in the form of manure). Therefore, negative impacts may bebalanced out by positive impacts x x x
must consider the value of straw in management decisions involving utilizing the straw for various purposes, including sale to other users x x x
Balance excess/inadequate residue through good crop rotation x x x x
More R and D for improved options x
residue management issues decrease as experience with ZT increases x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Livestock and manure management

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Composting may assist in management of solid manure under ZT by killing weeds and disease pathogens x x
Composting may assist in management of solid manure under ZT by preventing over application through reduced transportation costs, and making it easier to trash clearance x
composting and other manure treatments x
composting has more stable N forms x
Significant progress has been made with injection of liquid manure through narrow openers x x x x x
consider other improved manure application equipment x
research impact of depth for incorporation of manure x
More research on how to use solid manure in a no-till system and maintain nutrient efficiency x
extend fall and winter grazing to reduce negative impacts associated with manure handling x
apply liquid manure at lower rates to reduce macro pore leaching losses x
more diligent timing of manure application to avoid risky periods x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Nutrient management

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Regular, careful soil tests part of the solution x
Nutrient management regulations need to be based on good science x
Direct seeding systems may use more fertilizer inputs, but also create more efficiency, better economic and environmental results x x
despite risk of nutrient leaching through tile drains, one can achieve more efficient nutrient management and reduced risk of environmental impact due to more uniform soil conditions x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Pest management

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
General
need more R and D for pest control under zero till management x x
R and D should be non-biased; use IPM approach; consider alternatives x x
need more minor use pesticides x
need incentives for private companies to develop broader range of chemical options x
winter crops (e.g. Fall seeded cereals) x x
crop rotation is a key solution; rotations must generally be longer and more diversified x x x x x x
rotate chemical groups x x
improve / streamline chemical registration process; use U.S. protocol x
remove excess residue that harbours crop pests x
pest management issues decrease as experience with ZT increases x
need for better pesticides to support NT in horticultural crops x
Weed control
reduction of fallow requires more careful attention to crop rotation as a weed-control tool x
need to clean up weed problems before starting ZT x
principles of pre- or post-seeding burnoff essential x
cover crop may reduce fall weed problems x
we cannot expect the herbicide-resistant weed problem to continue to be solved only with new herbicide options x
need research on increasing weed species that were not issues in the past x
timeliness of seeding operation x
do a good job of chaff spreading to allow volunteers to grow uniformly x
recognition that less soil disturbance results in less weed germination and possibly less herbicides than conventional systems x
need spraying program along railway right-of-ways x
Animals
more effective rodenticides and custom rodent control x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Seed technology

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
GMO works well with NT, especially if GMO provides alternative pest control which reduces need for pesticide x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Special soil

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Soil Acidity
add smaller rates of lime more often with no incorporation. Is this effective? x
Soil Texture
recognize that lighter-textured soils do not have serious problems such as excess residue, wet and cool soils, etc. x x
tile drainage improves feasibility of no till by draining wet soils that would otherwise require tillage to achieve that purpose x
improved water control structures increase NT viability x
Marginal Soils
marginal land should possibly not be eligible for NT, but be supported for conversion to permanent forage. Need to balance cost of improvement practices to enable more intensive management x
no tillage helps reduce costs associated with dislodging and having to remove large stones x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Special crop

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Perennial Rotations
discrimant tillage for specific issues, such as conversion from forage to annual crops x
encourage perennial rotations within annual crop ZT systems; potential to increase C sink; more control pests; however, not feasible everywhere x x x x
convert more sub-marginal land to perennial forage to sequester more C and support growing livestock sector x
Cover Crops
consider out-of-date, cheap seed sources for cover crops x
Horticultural and Special Crops
may have to concede that there are too many obstacles to make NT work on special-crop contracted acres x
educate crop contract company agrologists on making NT work with special/hort crops x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Seeding equipment

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
investment tax credit for ZT drills x
equipment rentals for small producers x
reduced need for tractor hp x x
improved adaptations to handle one-pass seed and fertilizer x
Equipment longevity has increased partly due to better quality and also due to lower use. x x
New seeding equipment very effective, especially designed for ZT x
ZT requires fewer complete implements x
Increasingly good supply of used equipment x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Climate and weather

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
General
better long-term climate / weather data and interpretation for ZT management x
improved local weather forecasting x
Weather and climate will always be an unknown and uncontrollable factor that cannot be solved, and will sometimes require higher tillage x x x
Drought
need for chemfallow with ZT in dry areas x
increased irrigation land base x
Excess Moisture
seeding saline and other low lying areas to perennial forage will help lower water table in surrounding ZT land x
flexibility required to fix ruts should be an obvious concession x x
occasional tillage required to dry out fields x
Climate Change
adapt crop insurance to climate change and variability x
need a long-term climate change strategy/policy; improved indicators x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Financial

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
make producers aware in advance of changes in cash flow, capital, risk and income as a result of ZT x
no till doesn't necessarily require more inputs, such as nutrients and pesticides, if the system allows more efficient utilization x
reduce fertilizer cost by using manure x
uses pulses to fix N and lower fertilizer cost x
raise international floor price of wheat x
financial incentives x x x x
financial incentives for tile drainage, and should make provision for eligibility of rented land x
past incentives have promoted adoption of no till; future incentives should assist with maintaining no-till systems x
greater need for careful financial management x
reduced labour costs associated with no tillage x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Land tenure and external interests

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Land Tenure
improved and documented land owner/renter agreements to enable good management and a long-term investment x
cash agreements better since they reduce landowner risk and improve flexibility for renter x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Producer awareness and attitude

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Poor managers being weeded out; knowledge increasing over time; less of a problem in the future x
need to be patient for the first few years to gain experience/knowledge and make it successful x x
may need to use gradual approach through increasing reduced tillage to enable adaptation, rather than abrupt change from full to no tillage in a short period x x
increasing knowledge of the entire business, from production to marketing; learn from organic producers x x
more knowledge creates more acceptance of practice x x x
more knowledge required to manage manure as a valuable resource, not a waste x
Increasing innovators lead by example x
Support extension / education / awareness, especially through producer groups x x x
Greater technical support in the field is required. Hire persons with the ability to provide practical assistance in the field to develop and refine conservation practices x
training program suited to the new aspects of environmental protection. Try to involve all members of the enterprise at the same time, and target situations where a new generation is involved in the operation. x
need for a tool (e.g. soil conservation magazine) to promote conservation practices. x
need to increase awareness / change mindset of ag. sales industry x
willingness to change rotation key mindset issue and need for education in this area x
need more education/experience in cover crops x x
increase funding for local, NGO tech. transfer and extension services (e.g. RTL) x x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Public awareness and attitude

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
improved public awareness, education and information resources, including ZT successes and environmental benefits x
Kyoto has pushed public support for ZT for a number of years x
More public awareness and education required. Hog industry has made some good progress which others can learn from x
LFE view farm BMPs as a good public perception vehicle for reducing GHG x
more public awareness and education on benefits of manure (soil health, earthworms, reduced fertilizer, improved yields) x x
more support from general agriculture industry is required x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Agricultural research

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
A new structure required, with producer group control/input. Localized sites in rural setting. Extension staff to take information back to producer (e.g. local clubs) x
Need to empower more farmers to do on-farm research x
research must use a systems approach: include crop rotation, cover crops, impact on pests, economics, periodic tillage, soil health x
more research on crop production systems x
need to identify long-term economic and environmental benefits x
need for good baseline data economics x
more trials to measure flexibility of no till versus conventional till for horticultural crops x
better understanding of processes and practices to increase/retain C versus lose C; need to consider other soil BMPs not just NT and other GHG such as N20 x
use of AAFC Model Farm tool and input of data from GHGMP field research sites x
improve the research network, especially in rural areas x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Policy and regulation

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
change public policy to enable more taxpayer support for society benefits, such as soil conservation and wildlife habitat x
provide a progressive (pro rated) per hectare incentive to farmers who have adopted agricultural conservation practices. The incentive could recognize different practices according to their environmental effects, and subsidize them according their environmental benefits x
policy development required to secure international recognition (i.e. certification) x
future programs must be designed to support good management; don't force good farmers to change management to be eligible for programs x x x
policies must be changed to reflect greater political will to support agriculture in general x x
addressing financial issues (incentives) as first priority will provide best chance of BMPs adoption in long term x
greater producer involvement in lobbying work (e.g. through SSCA) x
legislated minimum requirements for biofuel component in fuel mixtures would increase market demand and assist with ZT friendly production systems x
Prefer carrot rather than stick x x
consider integration of no-till incentives into crop insurance programs x
If incorporation of biosolids and sludges is not permitted under NT, there needs to be other incentive from society to support this x
consider environmental insurance: if no till fails, there'd be a payout x
converting marginal annual cropland to perennial forage requires a more substantial federal cost-share program than past efforts x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Carbon credit and greenhouse gas policy development

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
Baseline Suggestions
must provide incentive for current ZT producer to continue storing carbon; credit for early adoption x x x x
baselines should not be based on time, but rather at conventional practice regardless of when it occurred x
baseline should at least go back to when Kyoto was first created (i.e. 1990) x
Quantification Suggestions
ensure regional differences based on soil and climate are adequately built into co-efficiencies x x
need to account for all GHG , not just C sink; single program should deal with all issues x
coefficient approach better than measurement due to cost and uncertainty of measurement x
should consider farm-audit approach with a system of pluses and minuses x
some support to provide recognition for actual crop yields (i.e. higher credit for higher yields, crop insurance data already exists, somewhat controversial due to natural disaster impacts) x
suggest that a value of $20/acre for carbon would be reasonable, depending on other factors x
Delivery Suggestions
opportunity for more than one program where producers could choose how to get paid for GHG emission reductions x
Tax break simplest method of government incentive for GHG emission reduction x x
payments should go to land manager, not owner x
annual payments are better than a one-time payment; temporary credit better than permanent x
Other Suggestions
appropriate penalties for LFE would help increase value of carbon for producers x
policy for carbon credit should ensure that practices continue to support agriculture production, as opposed to increased idle land (woodlots and permanent cover) x
maintain Canada's agricultural involvement in Kyoto developments such as ISO, leakage, surplus, etc. x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Tillage definitions

Specific Obstacles or ClarificationMeeting Locations*
GPLCSRBrWBeSH
General Suggestions
solicit producer input into definitions x x
consider regional, including soil and climate differences x x x x
definitions must be quantifiable and verifiable x
try to keep the definition simple x
definitions should achieve 2 criteria: carbon sink and erosion control x
definition of agricultural conservation practices in Quebec linked to two fundamental concepts: protecting soils from erosional processes that begin in winter and continue until the ground is covered in vegetation, and returning a maximum of organic matter to the soil under the best possible conditions to keep the soil as healthy as possible and ensure maximum yields at the lowest economic and environmental cost. x
Management Flexibility
use a systems approach: multi-year, whole-farm, entire management x x x x
allow some flexibility as long as it is supporting a sustainable farming system x x x
producers support terms such as direct seeding and soil management more readily than zero tillage x x
definitions should fit with what the best farm managers are already doing, even if that is reduced tillage as opposed to zero tillage x
should consider different levels of payment for different levels of management x
Indicators of Tillage System
% seedbed utilization is a better measure of soil disturbance than opener width x x
Stubble should be evaluated by % anchored rather than % standing, since heavy snow pack can flatten unworked stubble x x
consider using average residue over rotation rather than single point in time x x
need research to justify varying critical levels of soil disturbance or residue levels for different soil, climate, crop types, etc. x
Specific Comments
be more concerned with the net impact on C sequestration rather than on the activities that are needed to achieve it, since activities must allow flexibility x x
periodic ZT into previous low residue crop stubble makes sense in non-traditional ZT areas like the Red River Valley x
allow for fall-strip tillage in wheat x
Extreme Conservation: provides maximum protection by eliminating fall tillage and maintaining 30% ground cover after seeding x
Reduced Conservation: provides moderate protection by reducing fall tillage and maintaining 20% ground cover after seeding x
*List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L= Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = St-Hyacinthe

Appendix III: One-day consultation of agricultural producers in Quebec on soil conservation practices held on April 14, 2005 at Saint-Hyacinthe"

At the request of Dennis Haak, district soil conservation agronomist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Saskatchewan, a one-day consultation of agricultural producers was organized jointly by two Quebec soil conservation clubs, namely Action semis direct (direct seeding) and Action billons (ridge till) clubs, and by MAPAQ (Quebec Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) and AAFC.

The objectives of this meeting were to:

Profile of participants

Definition of the systems typically underpinning agricultural conservation practices in Quebec

The definition of agricultural conservation practices in Quebec is linked to two fundamental concepts:

  1. Protecting soils from the erosional processes that begin in winter and continue until the ground is covered with vegetation;
  2. Returning a maximum of organic matter to the soil under the best possible conditions to keep the soil as healthy as possible and ensure maximum yields at the lowest economic and environmental cost.

Three categories of conservation practices that tie in with these concepts were identified:

Categories of conservation practices
Extreme Conservation Moderate Conservation No Conservation
Winter and spring protection Maximum Moderate None
Tillage in the fall None Reduced tillage Conventional tillage
Residue cover after seeding 30% 20% < 20%

Constraints on the adoption of agricultural conservation practices in Quebec

Four broad classes of constraints were identified by the participants:

1. Mindset

Resistance to change is often the biggest hurdle that has to be overcome. Reflecting about the situation and taking responsibility for environmental protection without feeling guilty also appears to be difficult. The training offered is not always suited to actual environmental conditions. And when it is suited to the situation, making the link between generations is not always easy.

2. Technical accuracy

The network of experimental farms is constantly shrinking, and long-term sites have a tendency to disappear. In addition, the affiliated researchers are less and less attuned to the research needs of agricultural producers. Less and less technical support is available to agricultural producers and the network of farm conservation clubs is made up mainly of young agronomists who have little expertise and whose responsibilities centre more on drawing up plans and budgets. The network of sellers is very strong and since their profit is linked more to their sales volume than to environmental protection, their advice is biased.

3. Cost-effectiveness

At present, the basis for comparing agricultural producers is yield (volume). In adopting agricultural conservation practices, it is essential to shift to economically optimal yields. Financial assistance programs do not favour farmers who have adopted agricultural conservation practices, regardless of whether they are insurance programs based on a farm's historical yields, or based on area, such as that of riparian strips and windbreaks. And there is no program yet to help farmers make the transition between two agricultural systems, that is, to make it easier to move between a well-known system and a cost-effective and efficient agricultural conservation practice.

4.Cost of machinery

Specially adapted machinery is more expensive. It is often difficult to justify purchasing such machinery for the small areas on which the new practices will be introduced. Nonetheless, it seems that this constraint is quickly overcome once all the other constraints have been addressed.

Potential solutions

All the participants agreed that, if farmers are to be given help to adopt new conservation practices, some financial support programs will have to be put into place.

Conclusions

The participants in this gathering expressed strong views on the topic and the exchange of ideas was very dynamic. The amount of flexibility available according to the definition of agricultural conservation practices as provided and unanimously accepted may seem very limited. While the requirement of 30% cover after seeding may seem high, it merely signals a commitment to setting the bar high enough, that is, working toward significant objectives in order to achieve significant results.

Contrary to expectations, the participants were adamant that a change in mentality, rather than a change in machinery, is what is needed to ensure the adoption of conservation practices. The best way to foster this change in mindset is to give credit to those who have already made the shift to conservation practices.

Report prepared by Georges Lamarre, Eng. and Odette Ménard, Eng. and Agr.
April 26, 2005

Appendix IV: Issue categories and priorities from specific meetings

Meeting Locations *
GP L C S R Br W Be SH
Residue Management 6 17.5 16.3 16 18.2 15.1
Feed / Manure Management 7.9
Livestock Issues 20.1
Nutrient Management 12.1
Pest Management 9 7.1 10.3 19.3 12.9
Weed Management 19.1 14.4 6.3
Crop Rotation 11.9
Crop Rotation, Type, Cost of Cover Crops 8.2
Traditional Non No-Till Crops 12.6
Yield Loss Challenges 20.1
Seedbed Environment 18.3
Condition of the Soil 4.2
Soil and Nutrient Issues 18.9
Soil Remediation: Ruts, Erosion, Pasture, Hay 5.7
Production Limitations 12.1
General Management 3.6
Technology 9.2
Technique for No Tillage 25
Environmental (Climate / Weather) 1.2 21.9 9.2
Field Conditions/Weather 4
Economic/Financial 5 19 20.6 26.9 15.1 17
Profitability 16.7
Money/Farm Efficacy Incentives 23.9
Cost of Production 15.9
Cost of Inputs 7
Cost of Machinery 12.5
Capital Costs 4.8
Public Awareness and Attitude 11.8
Education and Adoption 8.8
Producer Mindset 13.8 29.2
Stewardship 8.3
Conscience 12.5
Information Sources 11.9
Research 15.1
Research: land use and technology 13.1
Land Management Philosophy 6.9
External/Social Influences 28.8
Society/Political Trends and Demands 7.5
Gov't Policy and Regulation 19 13.8
Relevancy of Government 3
Political versus On Farm 8
Soil Disturbance Definition 6.3
Inadequate Definition of Zero Till 2 19.3
Carbon Value or Emission 1
Carbon Offset Baselines 5
Managing all GHG 1.9
* List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = Ste. Hyacinthe
Note: At all meetings producers were given a set of voting dots (e.g. 5 to 10) and asked to indicate their priority for issue categories identified. Producers were given freedom to place as many dots as they desired by one or more categories. For all meetings, except Grande Prairie, the values in the table express the percentage of dots given to each category. For Grande Prairie the values in the table indicate the priority ranking of each category, from 1 to 9. No prioritization of categories was conducted at the Moncton meeting due to the greater number of soil management practices being addressed. The category wording is maintained for each meeting, resulting in a large number of categories. Categories are ordered along similar themes, and categories with very similar themes are grouped together.

Appendix V

Moncton meeting notes: Producers did not distinguish between annual and perennial forages, most horticultural crops were potatoes. Tillage systems are more flexible within individual farms in Atlantic Canada compared to other regions. Therefore, most producers that indicated zero or reduced tillage, also still practiced considerable high disturbance seeding especially for potatoes.


Producer profiles for crops

Meeting Locations *
GP L C S R Br W Be SH M
grains, oilseeds, pulses 14 6 14 15 13 10 14 16 20 15
annual forages 6 1 4 7 1 6 13
perennial forages 6 1 7 8 5
horticultural [1] crops or irrigated specialty 1 1 2 1 9
organic 1 1 6

[1] Horticultural crops includes potatoes.

* List of abbreviations for meeting locations

  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = Ste. Hyacinthe
  • M = Moncton

Producer profiles for livestock

Meeting Locations *
GPLCSRBrWBeSHM
beef (cow/calf and/or feedlot) 8 1 3 4 2 1 4
hog 1 1 1 2 2 2 3
dairy 1 3 6 5 3
poultry 1 2 1
bison 1
other 1
* List of abbreviations for meeting locations
  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = Ste. Hyacinthe
  • M = Moncton

Producer profiles by tillage system

Meeting Locations *
GP L C S R Br W Be SH M
direct [1] seed # producers 4 5 14 16 12 10 13
years (average) 6 12 8.8 12 11.3 13.9 11.2
years (range) 2-10 8-15 1-22 4-20 4-17 4-34 4-18
zero or no till# producers 6 14 16 4
years (average) 11 13.7 10.8
years (range) 6-15 1-20 1-18
reduced till # producers 4 1 11
years (average) 10 12
years (range) 10 12
ridge till# producers 7
high disturbance direct seeding # producers 1 1 3
years (average) 4 17
Land base (acres)average 3130 4625 1950 3700 4408 2545 1350 1137
range 750 to 6000 750 to 10000 750 to 4500 <1200 to 10000 <1200 to >10000 <1200 to 3750 200 to >2000 <200 to >2000 80 to 5200 50 to->400

[1] Direct seed refers to seeding directly into previously untilled standing stubble, however, the amount of soil disturbance is not specified. Therefore, this term has a somewhat broad definition and could include both zero or no tillage, and reduced tillage.

* List of abbreviations for meeting locations

  • GP = Grande Prairie
  • L = Lethbridge
  • C = Camrose
  • S = Saskatoon
  • R = Regina
  • Br = Brandon
  • W = Woodstock
  • Be = Belleville
  • SH = Ste. Hyacinthe
  • M = Moncton

Appendix VI: Planning and implementation committees for zero tillage producer consultation meetings

National Coordinator and Reporter: Dennis Haak

Planning and implementation committees for zero tillage producer consultation meetings
Meeting Location
Grande Prairie,
Camrose and Lethbridge
Regina and
Saskatoon
Brandon Belleville
and Woodstock
Ste. Hyacinthe Moncton
Provincial Planning Committees Gary Telford[1]

Peter Gamache[13]

Don Wentz[13]

Rob Dunn[2]
Tony Masich[1]

Blair McClinton[15]

Ken Panchuk[14]

Brian McConkey[1]
Jeff Thiele[1]

Kendall Heise[6]

Bryce Wood[8]

Curtis Cavers[5]
Deanna Deaville[11]

Greg Kitchen[11]

Barry Newcombe[19]

Adam Hayes[10]
Odette Menard[7]

Georges Lamarre[7]

Simon Audette[17]

Jocelyn Michon[18]

Daniel Guay[20]

Isabelle Breune[1]

Nancy Lease[7]

Carl Berube[4]
Gordon Fairchild[3]

Pat Toner[9]

Ron DeHaan[12]

Delmar Holmstrom[1]

Vernon Rodd[1]

Malcolm Black[1]
Facilitators Brian Haddow[1]

Ron Gares[1]
Rolf Antonowitsch[1] Ron Gares[1] Nick Kinkel[10] Odette Menard[7] Gordon Fairchild[3]
Recorders Sharon Holden[1]

Denise Repski[1]

Lois Cicman[1]
Linda Cunningham[1] Debra Wilkinson[1] Deanna Deaville[11]

Adam Hayes[10]
Georges Menard[7] Josée Rioux[3]
Written Reports Gary Telford[1] Tony Masich[1] Jeff Thiele[1] Deanna Deaville[11]

Nick Kinkel[10]
Odette Menard[7]

Georges Lamarre[7]
Gordon Fairchild[3]
Facilitation Process Planning: (Dennis Haak, Erwin Allerdings, Rolfe Antonowitsch, Ron Gares)[1], Doug McKell[16]
Report Editing: Rodney Desnomie[1], Technical Review for French Translation: Isabelle Breune[1]

Organization titles:

  • [1] Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada - Agri-Environment Services Branch (AAFC-AESB)
  • [2] Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (AAFRD)
  • [3] Eastern Canada Soil and Water Conservation Centre (ECSWCC)
  • [4] Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Program (GHGMP)
  • [5] Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFR
  • [6] Manitoba / North Dakota Zero Tillage Association (ManDak)
  • [7] Quebec Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAPAQ)
  • [8] Manitoba Zero Tillage Research Association (MZTRA)
  • [9] New Brunswick Agriculture, Fisheries, and Aquaculture (NBAFA)
  • [10] Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)
  • [11] Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA)
  • [12] Prince Edward Island Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture (PEIAFA)]
  • [13] Alberta Reduced Tillage LInkages (ARTL)
  • [14] Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food (SAF)
  • [15] Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association (SSCA)
  • [16] Soil Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC)
  • [17] Action billion, Quebec
  • [18] Action semis direct, Quebec
  • [19] Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario (IFAO)
  • [20] Quebec Producer

Appendix VII: Meeting locations across Canada

Description of this image follows.
Description - Meeting locations across Canada

The meeting locations are spread across the agricultural areas of Canada and are as follows:

  • Grande Prairie, Alberta
  • Camrose, Alberta
  • Lethbridge, Alberta
  • Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
  • Regina, Saskatchewan
  • Brandon, Manitoba
  • Woodstock, Ontario
  • Belleville, Ontario
  • Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec
  • Moncton, New Brunswick

Source of data: The Agricultural Extent of Canada by Soil Landscapes of Canada version 3.0 is based on a number of data sources from 1981 to 2000 including Census of Agriculture, Soil Landscapes of Canada, Land Cover from Satellite Imagery, Statistics Canada 2001 Agricultural Ecumene, and expert knowledge.

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