Agri Kultuur March/ Maart 2016 - Page 7

with wheat, so we are producing more yield per kg of applied nitrogen. The pastures also helped integrating livestock into the farming operations, which meant more production per unit of land. The efficiency of wheat production in the Western Cape, when measured in yield per hectare, has nearly doubled since 1994. We are producing more wheat on much less hectares. The question still remains how can, we be even more ecoefficient than we currently are. We know that the use of conservation agricultural practices is the base of this improvement. We need to fine tune the systems and that can be done in three main areas: improving soil health, management and genetics. Our management of the cropping system (planting at the correct time, using optimal machinery, application timing etc.) is very near to optimal efficiency, small adjustments can still be done. As more efficient machinery comes available, the management can be adjusted to include these. Bio-fuel powered tractors and combines could play a role in the near future. The use of aerial drones could help to improve on-farm management on-farm even further. The improvements in management for the most part will be external. The improvement of soil health and genetics of crops will probably be the biggest contributors to improved eco-efficiency within the grain producing areas of the Western Cape. Research from around the world supports the improvement of soil health to increase yields without relying on more and more external inputs into the system. The increase of the organic matter content of our soils will be the key. For every one percent increase in organic matter the carbon content of the soil increases (building the moisture storing capacity of the soil), the availability of nutrients for recycling as well. The increased infiltration rate and storage capacity of our soil along with the protection of residue on top of the soil will thus ensure a more efficient use of water in producing yields. An increased nutrient recycling capacity relates to less artificial fertiliser inputs, thus a more eco-efficient production. Increased diversity and resilience in our cropping systems might be achieved by the inclusion of multi-specie cover crops. Building the resilience of our systems will decrease the need for pesticides. All of these improvements will increase the microbial life in the soil and thus soil health. The greater the diversity below the soil the more eco-efficient our production systems will become. Crop genetics will also play a huge role in breeding more efficient plants such as improved yield with lower amounts of moisture or higher yields through more effi- cient use of available nutrients. This type of improvement is relatively slow and thus more and more focus is also being placed on the improvement of associations between plants and the microbial life in the soil. The important role of mycorrhizal fungi and their association with plant roots is gaining more and more interest (the following article will help shed some light on this: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/ nova/next/nature/more-food-withmicrobes/). New systems research that will focus on several of these improvements will be undertaken at the Langgewens Research Farm (between Malmesbury and Moorreesburg) from this coming cropping season (2016) over the next ten years. Bibliography Brian A. Keating, Peter S. Carberry, Prem S. Bindraban, Senthold Asseng, Holger Meinkee and John Dixon, 2009. Eco-efficient Agriculture: Concepts, Challenges, and Opportunities. Crop Science, Vol 50 no 1, pp 109 -119 Dr Johann Strauss Scientist Sustainable cropping systems Directorate Plant Sciences Western Cape Department of Agriculture johannst@elsenburg.com 0829073109