SFI trials show that digging the plow improves bird numbers - petsitterbank

SFI trials show that digging the plow improves bird numbers

Research has shown that fields cultivated with conservation farming systems have higher bird numbers than those managed with a more conventional plough-based approach.

Researchers believe this is due to improved soil health and biodiversity through conservation agriculture techniques.

The results of more than three years of successive monitoring on farms show up to 1,000% higher bird numbers.

See also: Plow, Min-Till and No-Till Compared: Year One

The independently monitored research is part of the Syngenta Conservation Agriculture and Sustainable Farming Initiative.

It examines the agronomic, economic and environmental impacts of field-scale conservation farming systems – on contrasting light soils of East Lenham in Kent and the heavy soils of Loddington in Leicestershire.

In Loddington, on the farm of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) Allerton Project, areas cultivated using conservation farming techniques recorded an average of 1,011% more birds in winter.

This was compared to crops established using traditional plough-based tillage.

In East Lenham, the average number of birds recorded on the ground over the past three winters was 145% higher in fields established by direct drilling/light tillage.

Bird counts were monitored on the various facility systems once a month throughout the winter.

Eat more

Bird numbers are likely to be attracted by cheaper winter forage resources associated with mini-till or no-till cropping systems, where food stays at or near the surface, says Belinda Bailey, manager of sustainable agriculture at Syngenta.

“Higher bird activity is a very positive indicator of biodiversity in protected fields.”

GWCT ecologist John Szczur, who is responsible for the project’s bird monitoring in Kent, reported that the number of all insect and seed eating bird species recorded on conservation farming plots in East Lenham last winter was higher.

Among them were more than two and a half times as many skylarks and twice as many meadow pipits as on conventional plots.

Snipe, partridge and red partridge were recorded only on the no-till plots or catch crops in the conservation farming system.

In recent years, GWCT monitoring has observed up to 55 skylarks on conservation farming plots in Loddington, compared to just four on the conventional plots.

Worm Monitoring

Syngenta Conservation Agriculture Research has also analyzed the numbers of earthworms in different establishment systems monitored by GWCT.

The results show consistently higher numbers of earthworms – an important food source for some bird species – in both no-till and mini-till farming compared to conventional tillage.

Earthworm numbers have responded most positively on the light soils in Kent, averaging 75% more no-till versus conventional tillage, but from a relatively smaller base.

In Loddington, where earthworm numbers were typically 10 times higher in the heavier soils, the increase from conservation agriculture was 8%.

Endogeic earthworms, which normally live below the surface, have thrived particularly well at Loddington under a min-till establishment system, Ms Bailey says.

“That could be because the system incorporates organic material into the surface layers, making it more accessible for food without disturbing the worm’s habitat.”

Ms. Bailey pointed out that both farms involved in the project also have extensive ecological acreage and field margins that are being positively managed to provide environmental resources.

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