Long-term weed dynamics and crop yields under organic and conventional cropping systems in the Canadian prairies
Differences in cropping practices, including tillage, inputs and crop rotations are the driving factors affecting weed dynamics (weed abundance, composition and crop-weed competition), which can ultimately affect crop yields. Several experiments were carried out to assess the impact of long-term organic and conventional cropping systems on weed abundance, weed community composition, crop yield and yield loss using a long-term (18 year) alternative cropping systems study (ACS) at Scott, Saskatchewan, Canada. The ACS study consisted of three input systems, namely high (conventional tillage), reduced (no-till conventional) and organic input systems and three crop rotation diversities (low diversity, diversified annual grains and diversified annual-perennials). A statistical analysis of the 18-year rotation revealed that the organic rotations have four and seven times higher weed density and 32% and 35% lower crop yields than the reduced and the high input systems respectively. Weed community composition was consistently different in organic rotations compared to the two conventional rotations throughout the years, but year to year random variations were more profound. All cropping systems showed an increase in weed density, weed biomass and crop yields over time, probably due to an increase in rainfall over time. Increasing the crop rotation diversity with annual and perennial crops did not reduce weeds, but decreased crop yields in all systems. A two-year micro-plot experiment with four additional weed competition treatments on the ACS study revealed that the wheat yields were lower in the organic rotations even in the absence of weeds, implying that lower crop yields were due to soil fertility related factors. A greenhouse pot experiment from soils obtained from both organic and reduced rotations revealed that wheat yields were still lower in organic compared to the reduced input systems, even after excess mineral N and P were added. Furthermore, no differences in crop yield loss due to weed competition among cropping systems were identified. Overall, this study revealed that eliminating tillage and reducing inputs are possible without long-term changes in weed abundance, weed community composition or affecting crop yields. However, eliminating synthetic inputs as was done in the form of organic crop rotations resulted in increased weed abundance, changed community composition and decreased crop yields.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
DepartmentAgricultural and Bioresource Engineering
CommitteeBlackshaw, Robert; Willenborg, Chris; Lamb, Eric; Walley, Fran; Ryan, Matthew
Copyright DateApril 2016
Long-term, weed abundance, weed competition, crop yields, organic, conventional, crop rotations