Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Zeroing in on no-till farming in Iraq

Conservation agriculture can bring significant returns to farmers, particularly in dry regions. The principles were first introduced to Australian farming back in the 1960’s, and we have been reaping the benefits ever since. An Australian Government-funded project is aiming to bring similar benefits to smallholder farmers in the drylands of northern Iraq, through testing and promoting conservation cropping technologies.

Research is helping farmers cope
with dry and dusty soils in Iraq (Photo: S. Loss)
A key part of the research involves sowing a trial area using methods of conservation agriculture, and comparing it to an adjacent trial area using traditional farming methods. The use of zero tillage (ZT), improved crop varieties and earlier sowing times have been the main factors tested. Local farmers are invited to field days at these trial sites to observe and compare the success of each growing method. If they are convinced that the results of conservation cropping are good, they spread the word. Project leader Dr Stephen Loss, of the International Centre for Agricultural Research and Development in the Arid Regions (ICARDA), says many farmers have been so impressed with the differences in farming effort and yields that they’ve said they won’t go back to the old methods.

Trialling a ZT seeder (Photo: S. Loss)
A major factor for broader-scale adoption of conservation cropping techniques is the use of specialised machines (ZT seeders) for planting crops without digging up the soil. Imported machines are often too large for the local Iraqi farmers with very small land plots, so in this project smaller machines are being converted to ZT seeders. Some are being adapted or built in-country, while others are being manufactured in Jordan and Syria. Many farmers are keen to try these machines out on their own land once they have seen for themselves the difference ZT makes. Stephen says one of the most commonly asked questions by farmers following a field day is “Where can I borrow, hire or purchase a ZT seeder?”
Investigating seedlings and soil in one of the field trials (Photo: S. Loss)
What are the benefits to farmers practising conservation agriculture? The main ones are savings in time, labour and money (since fuel is not needed for ploughing machinery, and less seed is used with precise early planting). One farmer told Stephen he can now afford to sow four times the area he used to sow with traditional methods. In this region that is often hot, dry, dusty and eroded, maintaining soil moisture and reducing erosion through ZT and mulching will also bring major sustainability benefits to both the farmer and the environment.

Next year the project will begin trials using low and high levels of crop stubble as mulch. Currently, animals graze the stubble, or it is cut for use or sale as fodder, or burnt. If stubble could be left on the soil instead, it would retain more soil moisture and improve the soil’s organic matter. But this could be a problem for farmers who need it as livestock fodder, and it may affect seed germination by shading the soil. The trials will investigate the pros and cons of using different levels of stubble, taking into account the whole farm ecosystem.
Training courses are held at the field trial sites (Photo: S. Loss)
This project has been running since 2005 and is being led by ICARDA. It’s been a challenging project to say the least, considering the security situation in that region over the years. ICARDA’s operations were originally based in Syria, but they recently moved to Jordan, Lebanon and other Mediterranean basin locations. These countries are all significant to world agriculture, as they form part of the “fertile crescent” – the geographical region where agriculture was born over 10,000 years ago. Australia has long benefited from the crop and livestock management systems developed in the fertile crescent, and Stephen sees this project as part of returning benefits to that region.

By Joy Hardman, Program Support Officer for ACIAR's Crop Improvement and Management Program

More information:
ACIAR project CIM/2008/027 Development of conservation cropping systems in the drylands of northern Iraq. Collaborating Institutions:
University of Western Australia
Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia
University of Adelaide, Australia
State Board of Agricultural Research, Iraq
Ministry of Agriculture, Iraq
Directorate of Agriculture, Iraq
University of Mosul, Iraq

Blog piece on conservation agriculture: Growing more food, efficiently and sustainably

Partners magazine special edition on conservation agriculture: The dryland agriculture revolution

1 comment:

  1. The agricultural machineries have played a vital role in enhancing the agricultural standards of the country. The various agricultural processes can be boosted in the best manner with the help of agricultural machineries.


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