Overview of measures

The interest in farming practices that maintain yield, while minimizing environmental impacts of crop production is certainly growing. These practices help a farmer to reduce the amount of external inputs, replacing them by enhanced ecosystem services. This means that instead of adding excessive amounts of fertilizers and pesticides, the capability of the agri-environment is enhanced (Bommarco, Kleijn, & Potts, 2013).

These measures affect yield only minimally, because they include measures that should be taken after the growing season on the one hand, while covering certain practices during the growing season on the other hand. The categories defined are soil related practices, catch crops and other practices.

Soil related

Several measures to enhance the environment while not affecting the yield are related to soil. All of these practices take place after the growing season. They include mulching the ground, stubble and exercising no-till agriculture.

Catch/cover crops

Catch and cover crops are essentially the same, although the goal of the both concepts is different. Both are plants that grow in between two main crops and both are usually not harvested. Cover crops are used to cover the soil and reduce soil erosion, while catch crops take up the excess nitrogen and thus prevent leaching. Although both have another goal, the practice is the same and they are therefore looked into together 1.

Other practices

Also other practices are mentioned by policy makers. There is no great coherence in these measures, as these are neither measures that were soil related nor catch/cover crops. They include under- sowing, late mowing and limited use of mechanical equipment.

Comparison and details

Agri-environmental schemes    Greening     Less favoured area payment

CategoryExpected from farmerEnvironmental benefitsPriceExamples of regionsBarriersOpportunities
Soil related; mulch

Use of mulch (plant-based) in cropping
  • Water quality
  • Biodiversity
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Erosion
  • Nord-Pas-De-Calais
  • Might increase pests and diseases
  • Allelopathy towards the crop might occur
  • Flammability of the dry mulch
  • Can be adopted by small and large farmer
  • Not a high burden of application
  • Less erosion
  • Better water retention
  • Improved seedling germination because of higher soil temperature
Soil related; stubble

Remain stubbles in field during the winter
  • Preserve organic matter
  • Reduce run-off
  • Biodiversity
  • Habitat for birds (they eat left-over grains)
138-354 EUR/ha
  • Wales
  • Latvia
  • Netherlands
  • Burden of seed bank (of no glyphosate application)
  • Less erosion
  • Snow is conserved on the land and creates benefits such as water infiltration and warming up of the ground
Soil related; no-till

Farmer cannot or only for a small part till soil
  • Minimize soil damage
  • Reduce erosion
  • Reduce leaching of nitrogen
  • Biodiversity
  • Lower
  • Saxony
  • Weed control is harder, more herbicide use is necessary
  • Crop establishment problems might occur
  • More variability in yield
  • Only suitable for well drained soils
  • Possible problems of residual plough pans
  • Crop yield may be higher after a while
  • Lower cost of production
  • Reduced erosion
  • Greater capacity of soil to bare water
Catch crops

Cultivation of catch crops
  • Reduced nutrient leaching from arable land
  • Reduced erosion
  • More soil organic matter
130-682 EUR/ha
  • Sweden
  • Poland
  • Finland
  • Romania
  • Lower Saxony
  • Wales
  • Cost of sowing
  • Slower warming up of the soil

  • Slower demineralization of plant
  • Possible interference with cash crop
  • Not complementary with winter ploughing
  • Improve pest suppression
  • Improve yield of cash crop
  • More SOM in soil
  • Keep nutrients from leaching

  • Less erosion
Other practices; under-sowing

Under-sowing in crops: make sure to maintain both the first and under-sowed crop are maintained
  • Biodiversity
  • Water quality (lower use of pesticides and less leaching)
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Lower Saxony
  • Wales
  • Reduced yield
  • Problems with destruction of under sowed crop at harvest
  • Problem with use of herbicides
  • Better weed control
  • Take up of excess nitrogen
  • Higher SOM
Other practices; Mowing

Mow hard land that is hard to access Do not mow during a certain period
  • Preserve habitat
  • Maintain biodiversity
58 EUR/ha (Romania)
  • Bavaria
  • Austria
  • Romania
  • Extra cost of mowing equipment
  • Lower quality of grass if late mowing
  • Land does not become forested
  • Yield is maintained and payment is given
Other practices; Less irrigation

Use less irrigation
  • Not make land more saline
  • Reduce downstream disposal of irrigated land with nutrients and pesticides
  • Reduce use of water
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Irrigation is needed to maintain yield
  • No use of sunk cost of installation
  • Irrigation might make soils saline
  • Irrigation might spread water borne diseases
  • The maintenance cost is not applicable anymore
  • Cost of water

Case studies: 

Management for farmbirds in West-Sussex, UK

This case study covers four farms in the South of England. The farms have a mix of arable and grassland, of which some grasslands can be considered wetlands as well. All the land is managed for the greatest benefit of farmland birds. Therefore, buffer strips, over-wintered stubbles and unharvested headlands are implemented. The results of the implemented measures are incredible. Over the six years that was reported of (2003-2009) the grey partridge, corn bunting and skylarks have all grown heavily. Also mammals, wildflowers and associated insects have increased during these years. The particular case study does not mention any social and economic benefits for farmers, although these could be expected.

Source: Natural England. (2009). Farming with nature. Agri-environment schemes in action. Retrieved from  http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/41005

ID kit
What: Management of land for birds
Location:  West-Sussex, UK
Duration: /
Area: 4 farms
Measures taken: Over-wintered stubbles

Buffer strips

Unharvested headlands

Results: More birds

More wildlife

More wildflowers and associated insects