Agricultural soils in Cyprus have small water infiltration rates and poor soil structure. They are therefore highly vulnerable to wind and water erosion and desertification and the effects of climate change. Current land management practices in cereals in Cyprus include both extensive and intensive tillage to combat weeds, a practice which increases the loss of organic matter, accelerates erosion and degrades the soil structure and quality.
No-tillage and minimum tillage farming prevents soil compaction and surface crusting, permitting plants to grow deeper roots assisting their survival under drought. Fields under these management practices often have increased Soil Organic Matter (SOM), better soil structure and much richer soil related biodiversity which helps soil build resistance against disease outbreaks. These fields also emit reduced amounts of airborne dust and their soils have generally greater infiltration and water holding capacity compared to fields under conventional ploughing techniques. These properties are particularly valuable in drought-prone areas, where lack of water is a major concern tied to loss of crop production, and heavy rain falls increase rates of soil loss. Thus, no-tillage or minimum tillage adoption reduces soil erosion, increases soil biological activity, and SOM, benefits leading to economic gains for farmers over time. Moreover, these practices offer significant economic benefits in terms of reduced fuel, labour, and equipment maintenance costs (USDA 2017), and consequently, a reduced carbon footprint (fewer emissions). Finally, no tillage has been found to benefit predatory arthropods that can enhance pest control.
Cereal farmers usually attempt to maximize straw production for use as animal feed by strip mowing the crop during harvesting. Thus, very little plant residue is left on the field to promote mulching and soil protection. As farmers in Cyprus practice tillage following the cereal harvest, the ground remains exposed during the greatest part of the dry summer season permitting wind and storm rain erosion. During the driest part of the year temperatures higher than 55°C may occur on bare ground in lowlands of Cyprus (Hadjimitsis et al. 2013) which further reduces soil moisture, soil microorganism activity and nutrient recycling; a process that urgently needs to be reversed in order to combat desertification. On the other hand, if the ground in summer remains covered by plant residue it may significantly reduce topsoil temperature, e.g. up to 15°C and increase soil moisture in Cyprus by ca. 20%; (Christofi 2020).
This action aims at changing farmer attitude towards land management in Cyprus and Greece by introducing minimum tillage farming in Cyprus, with a small disruption of the soil only before seeding, and by enhancing no-tillage farming in Greece. It is anticipated that farmers will also benefit from the advantages of soil mulching by the mechanically destroyed weed biomass that goes in parallel with the adoption of minimum or no-tillage systems.