Using a multicriteria assessment model to evaluate the sustainability of conservation agriculture at the cropping system level in France

Abstract : Several international research and development organizations are promoting conservation agriculture in a wide range of contexts. Conservation agriculture is based on a combination of three main principles: (i) minimal or no mechanical soil disturbance; (ii) diversified crop rotations and (iii) permanent soil cover (consisting of a growing crop or a dead mulch of crop residues). However, in the face of the diversity of practices that can be associated with conservation agriculture, of goals assigned to agricultural systems, and pedoclimatic contexts, there is still no empirical evidence about the overall performance of conservation agriculture in France. Global assessments of conservation agriculture, with the full or partial application of its principles and in different contexts, are required to provide a more comprehensive picture of the performance of such systems. We tackled these objectives simultaneously, by evaluating 31 cropping systems with the MASC (R) model (for Multicriteria Assessment of the Sustainability of Cropping Systems). These systems were selected to represent a wide diversity of practices, from ploughed conventional systems to crop sequences based on the full application of conservation agriculture principles. Positive interactions were observed between the key elements of conservation agriculture, resulting in better sustainability performances (particularly in terms-of environmental criteria). Nevertheless, the systems most closely respecting the principles of conservation agriculture displayed several weaknesses, principally of a social or technical nature, in this study. Careful attention should be paid to attenuating these weaknesses. A more detailed analysis of the results also suggested that decreasing soil tillage tends to decrease the overall performance of the system unless associated with a diversification of the crop rotation.
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Damien Craheix, Frédérique Angevin, Thierry Doré, Stéphane de Tourdonnet. Using a multicriteria assessment model to evaluate the sustainability of conservation agriculture at the cropping system level in France. European Journal of Agronomy, Elsevier, 2016, 76, ⟨10.1016/j.eja.2016.02.002⟩. ⟨hal-01354938⟩

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