The Scott alternative cropping systems study: background and treatment structure
Over the past 20 years grain crop production on the Canadian prairies has experienced the adoption of minimum tillage practises and extended cropping rotations that incorporate an ever increasing diversity of crops. This change has been driven in part by long term rotation studies revealing soil erosion and degradation with mechanical tillage and numerous short term studies that document the benefits of diverse cropping systems. Change has been accelerated in recent years as producers faced with the challenge of depressed grain prices adopt technological change, respond to consumer demands, and reduce inputs in an attempt to remain profitable. These changes in farm management practices while having short term economic objectives also have long term implications for the environment, production sustainability, and food safety. While long term studies in the past have generally compared components of production systems such as rotations or soil amendments, a long term multidisciplinary cropping system study initiated at Scott in 1994 is based on a comparison of different cropping systems. To evaluate the sustainability of arable crop production on the Canadian Prairies the study incorporates three levels of inputs (Organic, Reduced, High) and three levels of cropping diversity (low, diverse annual grains, diverse annual forage) in a six year rotation cycle. This paper is the first in a series of papers discussing results from the first 6 year cycle. This document provides an introduction to the issue of sustainable agricultural crop production with a focus on the objectives, experimental design of the study, and management practices within each of the systems.
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