16 May 1997

ICM thrives in dry conditions

INTEGRATED farming systems are more drought resistant than conventional approaches, claims a leading proponent of the technique.

The Less Intensive Farming and Environment project being pioneered by IACR Long Ashton aims to use integrated production practices which reduce inputs without loosing excessive output.

Non-inversion tillage is a cornerstone of the approach and helps avoid drought stress, says project leader Dr Vic Jordan. More natural soil structure also helps conserve moisture and encourage roots to develop freely and deeply.

Better soil structure

"We consider the LIFE system is even more appropriate under drought conditions, simply because the management practices improve soil structure. This gives good root penetration right through the soil profile. When things dry up in the summer, conventionally treated crops scenesce early and fail to reach their full yield potential."

That was proved during the particularly dry summer two years ago. The mean yield from winter wheat plots on a conventional rotation and managed to standard farm practice was 4.8t/ha (1.9t/acre).

That was well exceeded by low input treatments, with an overall average yield of 7.03t/ha (2.85t/acre). The lowest yield obtained from these LIFE treatments was 4.26t/ha (1.7t/acre), with the highest at 9.42t/acre (3.8t/acre). The crop canopy characteristics of low input crops also help reduce transpiration losses in hot, dry conditions, Dr Jordan adds.n