The three “pillars” of conservation agriculture are:
1. Minimum soil disturbance
2. Maintaining soil cover, and
3. Diverse crop rotations.
With these in mind the following are recommended for sound crop management.
- Do not till fields. Plowing is unnecessary, takes time and money, and robs soil of moisture, organic matter, and structure.
- If required, kill off weeds with a non-selective herbicide before planting. This may not be necessary where there is little weed growth after harvest, e.g. where summers are hot and dry.
- Sow as early as possible. This is usually immediately after the first effective rains when soil moisture is favorable. If the rains are late, consider sowing into dry soil—the seeds will remain viable for many weeks and when the rains come establishment should be satisfactory.
- Sow seed and apply fertilizer using a zero-tillage or minimum-tillage seeder. Ensure seed depth and distribution are uniform.
- Use reduced seed rates. Seed establishment rates with zero-tillage seeders should be high, so high seed rates are not required; 50–100 kg/ha for cereals and 100–150 kg/ha for pulses are recommended, depending upon expected rainfall.
- Manage crop nutrition and control pests, diseases and weeds according to the best local practices. These may need to be modified to suit CA systems. In medium- and high-rainfall regions pay special attention to weed management with the use of selective herbicides.
- If possible, leave crop residues on the soil surface after harvest. This protects the soil from wind and water erosion and returns nutrients to the soil.
- If needed, allow livestock to graze on stubble and crop residues.* While this is not ideal, livestock production is important for many farmers in the region.
- Do not burn crop residues.
- Wherever possible, rotate crops between cereals, legumes and other crops.* This will help avoid build-up of cereal weeds, pests, and diseases.
* Maintaining soil cover with crop residues and crop rotations are considered essential elements of CA. However, farmers can make significant improvements to their cropping systems by focusing on eliminating tillage as a first step towards a CA system.