FTE-50806 Conservation Agriculture


Credits 6.00

Teaching methodContact hours
Individual Paper1
Practical extensively supervised10
Problem-based learning7
Course coordinator(s)dr. ir. WB Hoogmoed
Lecturer(s)dr. ir. WB Hoogmoed
prof. dr. L Brussaard
dr. MM Pulleman
Examiner(s)prof. dr. L Brussaard
dr. ir. WB Hoogmoed

Language of instruction:


Assumed knowledge on:

This course is optional, basic knowledge on soil and water and/or agronomy is expected. The course is meant for students in the final year of their BSc phase.

Continuation courses:

Advanced Soil Technology (FTE-32306), Integrated Natural Resource Management in Organic Agriculture (SOQ-33306), Nutrient Management (SOQ-31806)


This course examines the concept of Conservation Agriculture (CA) and its effects on ecosystem services. CA is a system based on integrated management of available soil, water and biological resources, combined with as little external inputs as feasible. CA relies on three principles, which must be considered together for appropriate understanding, design and application:
- a (semi-)permanent organic soil cover in order to protect the soil physically from sun, rain and wind and to feed the soil biota;
- minimal disturbance to the soil through no or reduced tillage, and;
- crop rotations to optimize the use efficiency of natural and external resources.
CA is spreading rapidly in Europe and abroad as a potentially powerful basket of technologies, applicable in a wide range of environments to achieve sustained production, reduce environmental and economic risks and protect land and water resources. However, its effect on soil ecosystem services generally receives little attention.
Course components:
- replacement of mechanical by biological tillage (soil micro-organisms, roots and soil fauna taking over the tillage function)
- biological soil fertility management and water balancing through soil cover and crop rotation management
- trade-offs between various uses of crop residues;
-the choice and management of (cover) crops and crop rotations are meant to ensure sufficient biomass production of food and other crops, livestock feed and residue cover for the soil. Crop residue management is meant to stimulate soil structure formation by the soil biota, improve soil fertility and soil water management and help to control diseases, pests and weeds with less dependence on pesticides. Novel technologies and equipment for field operations
- CA implies the design and use of modern precision agriculture technologies such as the use of RTK/GPS and adapted equipment to cultivate the land without trafficking;
Management and management options at farm level;
- CA demands a different, unconventional way of making choices on crops and crop rotations, and needs to consider alternative and additional factors for taking decisions on how to manage the farm Soil ecosystem services
- CA claims to be beneficial in terms of reduction of soil erosion and water run-off and the sustained provision of ecosystem services, such as water storage and supply under conditions of water surpluses and shortages, respectively; the retention of nutrients; the reduction of soil-borne pests and diseases; and the sequestration of carbon.
The course critically addresses the above issues by discussing and studying the various components of CA, with special emphasis on management and soil. It will analyse the bottlenecks in application of CA in order to find an explanation of the successes as well as the failures..

Learning outcomes:

At the end of the course the student is expected to be able to:
- understand the key principles of conservation agriculture;
- evaluate the effects of CA on soil properties by working with soil quality indicators;
- link the effects of CA to soil ecosystem services;
- translate effects of CA into management strategies guided by different scenarios or goals;
- apply the concept of CA under given agro-ecological conditions.


- classroom lectures;
- problem-oriented case studies (small groups);
- write an individual paper, including an oral presentation;
- practical using computer models.


Written examination, individual paper, participation in practical and group work.

Compulsory for: WUSPPBSc Minor Systems in Plant Production6WD
Restricted Optional for: WUSACBSc Minor Sustainable Agriculture and Consumption6WD