No-till farming as a method in a future climate

No-till farming is being tested on farms throughout Sweden, including two farms in Skåne. The method benefits microorganisms that work the soil at the same time that it counters erosion and other consequences of a changed climate.

Climate change is accompanied by a number of challenges to Swedish agriculture. Factors, such as rising temperatures, erosion, increased precipitation and more extreme weather situations, affect agriculture. Strategies are needed to face the changing climate and no-till farming is one method that has proven effective for some of these challenges. At the Scanian farms Charlottenlund and Körslätt, those with different perspectives have tested the method and seen positive results.

What is no-till farming?

No-till farming means that the soil on the fields is not ploughed and is otherwise worked to the least extent possible. The straw is often left after harvest, partly to protect the soil, but also to benefit microorganisms in the soil. The methods in no-till farming vary based on the local conditions. What most often distinguishes the method is how often and at what depth the working of the soil occurs, and how the harvest remnants are handled. The method works best on heavier clay soils.

Worms and harvest remnants

The big job in no-till farming is done by the worms in the soil. In that ploughs are not used, the worm eggs survive better and the worms also have a greater chance at growing larger. When the worms push through the soil, passages are formed that break up the soil and make it fertile. At the same time, they secret fluids that bind the soil together and make it stable. This way, it can counteract soil erosion.

The harvest remnants that are left on the soil surface should preferably be short and split straws. This makes the gripping area larger so that microorganisms can more easily take care of the materials. The worms are attracted all the way up to the surface to gather material. The passages that are then formed serve as a drain and can counteract flooding in the event of large amounts of precipitation. The harvest remnants on the soil surface also mean that the water flow and wind are slowed, which provides further protection from erosion.

Mask på jordhög
The worms do the work. Foto Per Landén

Working of the soil

Working of the soil takes place with different types of machinery, such as the cultivator. It can be used to lift up and cut off the roots to then leave them on the soil surface to dry out. Alternating between 6-8 crops in a good crop rotation is crucial to how well the method works.

Both Charlottenlund’s and Körslätt’s farms work based on working the soil as little as possible and as shallowly as possible. The organic farming at Körslätt requires more mechanical working to be able to handle the rise of weeds. Not using pesticides in no-till farming also requires more timing.

Shorter establishment time

In connection with the reduced working of the soil, the working hours become more efficient. This not only reduces the work load, but also gives the crop more time to establish itself and grow strong. This way, the crop can better handle harsh weather, such as downpours and drought. With greater precipitation, the gaps for when the work can be done decrease, which favours farms with a faster and more flexible method.

In that the method requires less input, neither of the farms have had to make any major investments to convert to no-till farming. It rather required a change in mind-set.

More examples of climate adaptation

This is one of many examples of climate adaptation. There are more in the collection of ideas being built up by the Swedish National Knowledge Centre for Climate Change Adaptation at the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI). The collection of examples has the aim of sharing experiences and providing ideas to everyone who works with climate adaptation. Examples describe concrete measures and challenges in several subject areas. They show how different actors have worked to adapt their activities to the climate changes that are already being noticed today and those that we cannot prevent in the future.