The effect of no-till farming on the soil functions of water purification and retention in north-western Europe: A literature review

Skaalsveen, Kamilla, Ingram, Julie ORCID: 0000-0003-0712-4789 and Clarke, Lucy E ORCID: 0000-0002-8174-3839 (2019) The effect of no-till farming on the soil functions of water purification and retention in north-western Europe: A literature review. Soil and Tillage Research, 189. pp. 98-109. doi:10.1016/j.still.2019.01.004

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This review provides a comprehensive evaluation of no-till (NT) based on recent studies (post-2000) in NW Europe and evaluates the separate effect of the NT and other associated practices (e.g. cover crops, crop residue and crop rotations) individually and collectively on the water purification and retention functions of the soil. It also assesses the applicability of NT compared to conventional tillage (CT) systems with reference to a number of soil physical characteristics and processes known to have an important influence on water purification and retention functions. The literature search was carried out by a systematic approach where NT practices were assessed against soil structure, erosion, nutrient leaching/loss, water retention, infiltration and hydraulic conductivity (combinations of criteria = 40). Articles were selected based on their relevance in relation to the topic and location within NW Europe (n = 174). Results show that NT has large potential as an erosion mitigation measure in NW Europe with significant reductions of soil losses from agricultural fields, providing potential beneficial effects regarding inputs of sediment and particulate phosphorous (P) to water bodies. However, NT increased losses of dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) and had little effect on nitrogen (N) leaching, limiting the overall positive effects on water purification. Soil structural properties were often found to be poorer under NT than CT soils, resulting in decreased water infiltration rates and lower hydraulic conductivity. This was an effect of increased topsoil compaction, reduced porosity and high bulk density under NT, caused by the absence of topsoil inversion that breaks up compacted topsoil pans and enhances porosity under CT. However, several studies showed that soil structure under NT could be improved considerably by introducing cover crops, but root and canopy characteristics of the cover crop are crucial to the achieve the desired effect (e.g. thick rooted cover crops beneficial to soil structural remediation can cause negative effects in soils sensitive to erosion) and should be considered carefully before implementation. The contribution of NT practices to achieve Water Framework Directive (WFD) objectives in NW Europe is still uncertain, in particular in regards to water retention and flood mitigation, and more research is required on the total upscaled effects of NT practices on catchment or farm scale.

Item Type: Article
Article Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: No-till; Zero-till; Conservation agriculture; Soil functions; Water purification; Water retention; Farming practices; Cover crops; Soil cover; Crop rotation; REF2021
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Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GB Physical geography
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General) > S589.75 Agriculture and the environment
S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General) > S589.7 Agricultural ecology (General)
S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General) > S604.5 Agricultural conservation
S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General) > S900 Conservation of natural resources including land conservation
S Agriculture > SB Plant culture > SB183 Field crops including cereals, forage, grasses, legumes, root crops, sugar plants, textile plants
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > Countryside and Community Research Institute
Research Priority Areas: Place, Environment and Community
Depositing User: Imogen Young
Date Deposited: 17 Jan 2019 15:35
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2022 13:47

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