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Climate friendly arable and vegetable production


No-tillage cropping systems were developed for conventional agriculture and usually rely on herbicides and soluble nitrogen fertilizers. The current project aimed at adapting reduced tillage systems to the conditions of organic farming.

Reduced tillage (shallow tillage, loosening or turning until 5 cm depth) has been compared with ploughing (until 15 cm depth) since the start of the project in autumn 2002. This experiment also allows us to test additional factors for the optimization of reduced tillage, i.e. “fertilization with slurry” versus “manure compost” and ”biodynamic preparations” versus “no biodynamic preparations”. It is run on a clayey soil at the FiBL experimental farm in Frick and accompanied by a group of organic farmers and advisors.

In the first three years average yields in reduced tillage were 10% lower than in plough systems, whereas they turned to be 20-30% higher in the years 4 to 6. Over a time period of 11 years, the mean yield was  enhanced by 11% under reduced tillage, obviously due to better drought resistance of the crops. Reduced tilled soils contained 17% more humus (0-10 cm depth) and 37% more microbial biomass, resulting in better soil structure and higher water retention capacity. Reduced tillage did not reduce the protein content in wheat. The use of slurry increased yield and protein content in cereals compared to manure compost. The bio-dynamic preparations had an effect on soil properties and wheat grain quality in the first year only. The data originating from this experiment were used for energy balance and greenhouse gas calculations. According to a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach, reduced tillage had less climate impact and consumed less energy than the plough system.

Reduced tillage systems were also tested on loamy soils in Muri (Canton Aargau) and in Aesch with application of either mineral or organic fertilizers. Averaged over four years yields were about 10% lower in reduced tillage compared to plough systems, corresponding to the results obtained on nine organic pilot-farms.

Project website

Project website

Financing/ Donor
  • Software-AG
  • Mensch-Mitwelt und Erde
  • Sampo
  • Bundesamt für Landwirtschaft
  • Coop Fonds für Nachhaltigkeit
(Research) Program
  • Partnership Coop and FiBL
Project partners
  • Soil Protection Office, Berne, Switzerland (Dr. Wolfgang Sturny)
  • Cantonal extension services
FiBL project leader/ contact
  • Berner Alfred
  • Mäder Paul (Department of Soil Sciences)
(people who are not linked are former FiBL employees)
FiBL project staff
Further information

On-farm Conference, Schlatthof, Aesch, BL:

CORE Organic Project TILMAN-ORG


Current project funded by the Coop Sustainability Fund
Boden- und klimafreundlicher Bio-Ackerbau

Peer reviewed publications:

  • Berner, A., Hildermann, I., Fließbach, A., Pfiffner, L., Niggli, U., Mäder, P. (2008): Crop yield and soil fertility response to reduced tillage under organic management. Soil & Tillage Research 101, 89-96
  • Börstler, B., Thiéry, O., Sýkorovà, Z., Berner, A., Redecker, D. (2010): Diversity of mitochondrial large subunit rDNA haplotypes of Glomus intraradices in two agricultural field experiments and two semi-natural grasslands. Molecular Ecology 19, 1497-1511.
  • Carr, P.M., Mäder, P., Creamer, N.G., Beeby, J.S. (2012): Editorial: Overview and comparison of conservation tillage practices and organic farming in Europe and North America. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 27, 2-6.
  • Gadermaier, F., Berner, A., Fließbach, A., Friedel, J.K., Mäder, P. (2012): Impact of reduced tillage on soil organic carbon and nutrient budgets under organic farming. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 27, 68-80.
  • Krauss, M., Berner, A., Burger, D., Wiemken, A., Niggli, U., Mäder, P. (2010): Reduced tillage in temperate organic farming: implications for crop management and forage production. Soil Use and Management 26, 12-20.
  • Kuntz, M., Berner, A., Gattinger, A., Scholberg, J.M., Mäder, P., Pfiffner, L. (2013): Influence of reduced tillage on earthworm and microbial communities under organic arable farming. Pedobiologia 56, 251-260.
  • Mäder, P., Berner, A. (2012): Development of reduced tillage systems in organic farming in Europe. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 27, 7-11.
  • Peigné, J., Messmer, M., Aveline, A., Berner, A., Mäder, P., Carcea, M., Nardzcci, V., M-F., S., Thomsen, I.K., Celette, F., David, C. (2013): Wheat yield and quality as influenced by reduced tillage in organic farming. . Organic Agriculture, DOI 10.1007/s13165-013-0055-x.
  • Sans, F.X., Berner, A., Armengot, L., Mäder, P. (2011): Tillage effects on weed communities in an organic winter wheat–sunflower–spelt cropping sequence. Weed Research 51, 413-421.


Research area
FiBL project number 10032
Date modified 12.11.2019
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