The combination of crop protection products and biotech crops has significantly helped advance conservation agriculture as a means of restoring and protecting soil and limiting erosion.
It is estimated that conservation agriculture can reduce soil erosion by 50 to 98 percent while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent through reduced oxidation of soil organic matter. No till is now being utilized on more than 95 million hectares, mostly in the USA, Brazil, Argentina, China, Canada and Paraguay.
No till farming in the USA doubled in the five year period following the introduction of herbicide-tolerant soybeans. It is estimated that this led to the preservation of 247 million tons of topsoil and 243 million gallons of fuel in 2002 alone.
A case study done in Uganda found that weeding absorbed over 50% of smallholder farmers’ production costs.
It also occurs at times when the demand for labour is quite high and needed for many farm activities.
Crop protection products such as herbicides and the adoption of best practices can help reduce this burden.
In the Ugandan case study, farmers found that adopting conservation agriculture practices greatly reduced the labour they needed for weeding, sometimes by as much as 50 days worth of labour. Thus, instead of requiring 73 days under their usual pattern, they only needed 22 days when using herbicide, or even as few as 5 days when practicing no-till.
Innovative solutions can also help protect biodiversity – for example in the UK, farmers were encouraged to leave small plots of bare soil in their growing crops for skylarks to nest.
The results were very positive: in fields where skylark plots had been made, skylark fledglings increased by 49% .
No-till also helps protect food sources for birds and other wild animals because the waste grain is not buried and this provides a good food source for many animals. The mulch resulting from the cover crops is also rich in insects and worms, an important food source for wildlife.