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Farming for the Long Haul

How conservation agriculture works 1

retire the Plow

Use a seed drill to insert seeds into the soil without tilling. The disturbed area of soil should be less than 15 centimeters wide or 25 percent of the cultivated area—whichever is less.

2 Keep it Covered

Leave the residues of the preceding crop on the field to act as mulch. Keeping the soil covered—permanently—helps prevent erosion, retain water, and encourage beneficial microorganisms and earthworms.

Yields Yield increases may not be immediate, but studies have shown that crop yields can rise by 20–120 percent.


Switch Crops Ideally, rotate between three different crops. This helps prevent a buildup of pests and diseases in the soil.


Conservation agriculture can cut the cost, time, and drudgery associated with plowing, especially where people till the land by hand or with animals. This is a big advan- tage in areas with scarce labor.


Because conservation agriculture helps soil retain moisture, it requires less irrigation water, allowing groundwater to be used for other purposes like drinking. Water savings of 15–50 percent have been reported.

Infographic: J.Vivalo and C.Hallowell/IFPRI; Sources: P. R. Hobbs, “Conservation Agriculture: What Is It and Why Is It Important for Future Sustainable Food Production?” paper presented at the International Workshop on Increasing Wheat Yield Pote “Agroforestry and Conservation Agriculture: Complementary Practices for Sustainable Development,” paper presented at the II World Congress of Agroforestry, Nairobi, August 23–29, 2009; A. Kassam, T. Friedrich, F. Shaxson, and J. Pretty, “The Spr


Conservation agriculture helps increase soil organic matter—microorganisms, plant residues, and humus—which makes soil less compacted and better at holding moisture.

seed drill

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