Zero tillage of wheat versus conventional practices


Photo credit: CIMMYT

Farmers in the neighboring state of Bihar, India, sow wheat using zero tillage. Photo: CSISA/CIMMYT

Wheat in the pouring rain: Climate-smart sowing method boosts yields in India

Zero tillage, the agricultural practice of sowing seed directly into unplowed soil and residues of previously grown crops, has been proven for the first time to dramatically boost wheat yields and deliver significant economic benefits to smallholder farmers in seasons of excess rainfall.

A new study involving more than 200 small-scale wheat farmers across 15 villages in Haryana state, northern India, showed that zero tillage of wheat into recently-harvested rice fields can lead to harvests of nearly 16 percent more grain than farmers who followed conventional practices, when heavy rains fall late in the wheat season.

Conventional tillage for wheat in the study area of Karnal district is drawn-out, laborious and costly. Farmers remove residues of the previous rice crop, repeatedly run the tractor over the field to plow and prepare the soil, toss wheat seed by hand onto plots and finally plow it in using a rotary tiller.

“In conventionally tilled wheat plots, heavy downpours during grain development or near harvest can flood the field and sicken plants,” said Jeetendra Prakash Aryal, lead author of the study, published in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, and an economist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

In zero tillage, the wheat seed is inserted directly into the soil, through crop residues and standing stubble, at a precise depth and in a single tractor pass using a specialized seeding implement. According to Aryal, not plowing and thus leaving the rice stubble and roots enhances the absorption and drainage of excess water and fosters a healthy crop.

Read the full article: CIMMYT

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.