Agro-environmental aspects of conservation agriculture compared to conventional systems: A 3-year experience on 20 farms in the Po valley (Northern Italy)

A. Perego, Alessia Perego, Alessia Rocca, V. Cattivelli, Vincenzo Tabaglio, Andrea Fiorini, S. Barbieri, C. Schillaci, M. E. Chiodini, S. Brenna, M. Acutis

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16 Citations (Scopus)


An evaluation of the effect of the conservation agriculture (CA) on agro-environmental aspects is needed at the farm scale in intensive production systems, which are likely prone to reduce soil fertility. Here, as part of the HelpSoil LIFE+ Project and involving 20 farms in the Po valley (Northern Italy), we have estimated the soil organic carbon (SOC) content, SOC stock, crop yield, biological fertility, soil biodiversity, and economic efficiency under different agricultural systems (CA and conventional, CvtA) at the beginning (March 2014) and end (October 2016) of the experimental period. CA was mostly represented by no-till practice (NT) coupled with the cultivation of winter cover crops. Minimum tillage (MT) was considered as CA or CvtA practice according to the farm design. The CA practices have been implemented on the monitored farms at different times (Long-term = before 2006, Medium-term = between 2006 and 2013, Short-term = after 2013). A direct comparison between CA and CvtA of soil-related variables, yields, and costs was performed on 14 out of the 20 farms; data were statistically treated with a linear mixed model. Overall, CA resulted in significantly higher SOC content, SOC stock, biological fertility, QBS-ar, and earthworms for the Medium-term group. Considering the effect of tillage practices observed on the 20 farms, SOC content was the highest in NT for the Long-term group. The biological fertility index was higher in NT and MT compared to CvtA within the Long-term and Medium-term groups in 2016. QBS-ar was the higher in MT and NT than CvtA for the Long-term and Medium-Term groups. The number of earthworms was the highest under NT for the Long-term group. Maize, winter wheat, and soybeans yields were generally 1 t ha−1 higher in CvtA than in CA, but this did not reach statistical significance. The cost for herbicides was 18% more expensive in NT, whereas the fuel consumption and total costs for weeding operations did not differ between NT and CvtA. The overall outcome of the analysis was that CA is a viable solution for intensive farms in the monitored area, but further skills need still to be acquired in to enhance its economic feasibility.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-87
Number of pages15
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Conservation agriculture
  • Cover crop
  • Economic profitability
  • Soil fertility
  • Soil organic carbon


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