Conservation Agriculture


China started no-tillage studies in the 1950s, and no-tillage seeding experiments with two crops a year (wheat during winter /maize during summer) in a region of Northern China throughout the 1980s. In 1992, China began the systematic study on Conservation Agriculture (CA) technology, with emphasis on the development of no-tillage seeders. These studies generated convincing evidences that CA can benefit the dryland wheat and maize production ecologically and economically.

A series of CA equipment was developed based on local agricultural conditions. Typical CA equipment includes manual direct seeders, no/minimum tillage seeders for 2-wheel tractors, middle and small no/minimum tillage seeders (strip rotary hoe seeder, strip chop seeder, powered disc seeder, rice strip rotary hoe transplanter, etc.) for four-wheel tractor. In 1999, the Conservation Tillage Research Centre (CTRC) was set up at the China Agricultural University by Chinese Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), specifically for CA. CA studies were extended to the maize-wheat annual double cropping region, the Northeast ridge tillage region, the farming-pastoral region and the rice-wheat annual double cropping region.

All these laid the foundation for national CA extension. Since 2002, national and local CA demonstration projects have been launched successively – 226 national and 365 provincial demonstration counties – covering more than 3 Mha by the end of 2008. Within those counties, ten sites were established by CTRC to monitor CA benefits. Most of these sites have consistently shown that the synergetic application of the CA components including minimum soil disturbance, organic soil cover and crop diversity could enhance and sustain the agricultural production while promoting ecosystem services.

In China, farming systems based on CA principles were further studied and implemented to solve the specific regional problems. The Permanent Raised Bed (PRB) farming system, which has been shown to improve soil productivity and reduce water requirements worldwide, was used in Hexi Corridor, Gansu Province to solve the problems of soil degradation, limited water and subsequent yield decline. There on-farm demonstration sites in Hexi Corridor showed that PRB had more macro-aggregates (2.7%), a better distribution of pore size classes and higher crop yields (4.2%), and water use efficiency (21.3%) compared with traditional tillage.

Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF), which is also a CA based farming system, was studied in Linfen in the Chinese Loess Plateau. The over ten-year experimental results indicated significant improvements in soil physical and chemical property in cropping zones, as well as a winter wheat yield increase of 10.8% under CTF treatment.

After years of systematic research and demonstration, the CA farming system has been widely recognized as a sustainable way to cope with soil degradation, water shortage, as well as the changing climate in China. Given its noticeable ecological, economic and social contributions, many policies for CA have been formulated by Chinese government for rapid expansion of CA, such as the Central Document No. 1 which stressed the importance of CA over an eight-year period, and MOA and the Ministry of Finance (MOF) supported to extend the spread of CA from 2002 and beyond. Up to 2016, CA systems have been extensively implemented in China to reach an area averaging as much as 8 Mha.