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winter 2013 PArtnerS
have helped him to reduce his weed control
sprays from three to two.
He has traditionally grown maize-on-maize,
but his irrigation system is allowing him to
introduce a winter crop into his rotation. His
initial choice was a forage oat crop, but he is
also considering faba beans to increase soil
nitrogen. Mr Vergara also produces greenhouse
tomatoes to complement his cereal production.
Dr nele Verhulst is the strategic research
coordinator for CiMMYt’s Conservation
Agriculture Program, and says the program is an
essential part of Mexico’s strategies to address
the risks of climate change and increasingly
BY CAtHerIne nOrwOOD
when it comes to access to the latest
agricultural research, Mexican
farmer Fernando Vergara is
undoubtedly well positioned. His farm is only
a few kilometres from the international Maize
and wheat improvement Center (CiMMYt )
headquarters in el Batán.
As a well-respected member of the local
farming community, he is participating in
the take it to the Farmer extension program,
initiated in 2011 as part of the national MasAgro
program to modernise agriculture and improve
MasAgro is a collaborative effort of more
than 150 Mexican partner institutions, led
by CiMMYt and supported by SAGArPA (the
Mexican ministry of agriculture), which aims to
increase maize production in rainfed areas by
85% and increase wheat production by 10%.
Mr Vergara has been involved with CiMMYt’s
conservation agriculture program for more than
six years, committing part of his property to
trial new varieties and farming systems. He and
four other local farmers work with a CiMMYt-
trained technician to implement farm trial plots
and monitor the results, and their experiences
provide a model for other local farmers.
Mr Vergara grows irrigated maize and has
introduced conservation techniques such as
stubble retention to conserve soil moisture.
“if we get normal rain, then i only need to
irrigate the crop three times,” he says. “ that’s
compared with six irrigations before adopting
the new techniques.”
He says the greatest benefits of conservation
agriculture have been improved weed control
and reduced water use. in conjunction with
the use of new maize varieties he has almost
Maximum yields six years ago were 3–4
tonnes, using indigenous maize land races. By
2010, he was achieving yields of almost 12 t/ha
using CiMMYt-bred hybrid maizes, with
improved fertiliser and management.
“You do have to pay more to use the hybrid
varieties, but you get much more in return,”
Mr Vergara says. He estimates that he has also
halved his crop preparation costs by adopting
testing the weed-control benefits of stubble
retention, Mr Vergara says he left less residue
on one part of the trial area and weeds quickly
established in greater numbers on the barer
soil. in general, the conservation techniques
fernando vergara, el baTán, mexico
Conservation agriculture beats drought
kazakhstan’s 2012 drought and high temperatures cut the country’s wheat harvests by more than
half from 2011 output, except under conservation agriculture (ca), where wheat produced up to
10 times more grain than conventionally cultivated crops.
kazakhstan went from practically no land under ca in 2000 to two million hectares in 2012—
13% of the country’s wheat-growing area—with the support of the international Maize and Wheat
improvement center, the international center for agricultural Research in the dry areas and
international donors. This makes kazakhstan one of the top 10 countries for ca and the world’s
sixth-largest wheat exporter.
However, more than 14 million of the country’s 15 million hectares of wheat are rainfed,
making yield susceptible to climate variability. in kostanay—the country’s main wheat-growing
region—wheat fields went two months without rain after planting in 2012 and daily temperatures
were several degrees above normal. But kostanay is also where many farmers adopted ca and it
protected them from the drought’s worst effects. under ca, farmers reported yields of 2 tonnes per
hectare, while some farmers using conventional practices lost their entire crop.
Benefits to kazakhstan farmers from ca include the capture of snow on the surface and improved
water retention under heavy snowfall and sub-zero temperatures. Zero tillage also augments soil
organic matter and cuts erosion by 75–100%. These benefits have helped to nearly double average
wheat yields, from 1.4 to 2.6 t/ha, according to valentin dvurechenskii, director general of the kostanay
agricultural Research institute.
in december 2011, Mr dvurechenskii was awarded the gold star medal and the rank Hero of labor
of kazakhstan by the country’s president, in recognition of his work to promote ca.
“if no-till practices had not been used in this period of drought, we would have gotten nothing,”
he says. “it would have been an absolute catastrophe.”
the take it to the Farmer program uses a
network of regional hubs in different agronomic
zones, with farmer groups such as the one Mr
Vergara leads sharing knowledge about farming
practices that can lift yields. the leading farmers
work with qualified technicians and take part
in once-a -month training sessions during the
course of a year to improve their understanding
of different systems and technologies, and
assist with knowledge transfer to other farmers.
Dr Verhulst says conservation agriculture
extension is “not a top-down approach”. Farmer
hubs test the recommended best practices in field
conditions and their feedback is used to refine
practices and to develop further research. n
Photo: catherine norWooD
good ideas travel. in mexico and
kazakhstan conservation agriculture
is being spread by cimmyT.
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