Agri Kultuur March/ Maart 2016 - Page 6

Dr Johann Strauss Western Cape Department of Agriculture Photo: Chris Kriel E co-efficiency in the simplest of terms is about achieving more with less (Keating et al, 2009). Extending this elegant definition to the production of annual cereal grains, within cropping systems practiced in the Western Cape, relates to more agricultural outputs with lower inputs. The efficiency in this production practice (or in grain production), has its feet planted firmly in both the impact on the ecology and the economics. To know how we can improve our eco-efficiency, we have to take stock of what we have been doing up to now. Cereal grain production in the Western Cape was mainly based on monoculture production, with low and erratic yields. The plow was also extensively used. This way of producing wheat was not cost effective, especially following the arrival of a free market economy following the 1994 elections. The constant tilling of the soil was also detrimental to increased yields (because of the progressive breakdown in soil health) and it became more expensive to produce a ton of wheat, because more and more inputs were needed to supplement the soils’ production potential. The inclusion of annual (medic/ clover) and perennial (lucerne) legume pastures into our production systems helped to alleviate some of these efficiency problems by lowering some of the inputs and increasing soil health. The introduction of no-till production methods as part of conservation agricultural principles was the next step in improving our eco-efficiency within the cereal cropping systems. This step in our production history lowered input costs, increased yields and improved soil health through alternating different crop types and pastures, eliminating tillage and keeping the soil covered as much as possible. The result was that water infiltration rates and water holding capacity of our soils increased which meant that the efficiency of our production per millimetre of rain has improved. The reason for this was the increase in carbon content of the soils and improved soil structure. Erosion by both wind and water was also brought under control and in most cases even eliminated. Along with this we were lowering the amount of fertiliser added to the system because of the inclusion of legumes into rotation