This is according to Dr. Stephano Haarhoff, who received his doctorate in agronomy at Stellenbosch University (SU). His research was conducted under the supervision of Dr. Pieter Swanepoel and Prof Nick Kotzé from the SU Department of Agronomy.
In his research he investigated the influence of plant population (the number of plants per unit area) and row spacing on rainfed maize production in no-till and conservation agriculture systems in North West and the Eastern Free State. He believes, however, that some of the principles highlighted could also be considered by irrigation farmers.
Following an integrated approach
Conservation agriculture is an inclusive approach to soil and crop management that promotes the long-term sustainability of farming systems in terms of profitability and the soil-crop environment.
“With conservation agriculture, agronomic principles such as no-till, crop diversification, continuous soil cover maintenance using crops or crop residues, and livestock integration into a farming system are applied,” says Dr Haarhoff, who works as small-grain research and development agronomist in Paarl.
“Applying conservation agriculture can be very challenging because so much depends on soil and climate conditions. The success of conservation agriculture and no-till is only possible when all these agronomic practices are applied together.”
The impact of soil erosion
In South Africa, rainfed maize production systems are characterised by intensive soil tillage practices and the exclusive planting of maize year after year. This often leads to large-scale soil erosion and in the process resources such as water and nutrients in the soil are not used optimally.
“Farmers often still follow agronomic practices that are based on outdated research,” he says. “New maize cultivars and improved planter technology enable them to think differently about the long-term sustainability of their farming systems by, for instance, considering conservation agriculture.”
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