Minimization of herbicide application in conservation agriculture [Switzerland]

Herbizideinsatz-Minimierung bei Feldern unter Direktsaat

technologies_1259 - Switzerland

Completeness: 73%

1. General information

1.2 Contact details of resource persons and institutions involved in the assessment and documentation of the Technology

Key resource person(s)

SLM specialist:
Name of project which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Technology (if relevant)
Preventing and Remediating degradation of soils in Europe through Land Care (EU-RECARE )
Name of the institution(s) which facilitated the documentation/ evaluation of the Technology (if relevant)
CDE Centre for Development and Environment (CDE Centre for Development and Environment) - Switzerland

1.3 Conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT

The compiler and key resource person(s) accept the conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT:


2. Description of the SLM Technology

2.1 Short description of the Technology

Definition of the Technology:

Through experience with herbicide application the land user learned that there are possibilities to minimize the amount of herbicide application to fields.

2.2 Detailed description of the Technology


The land user interviewed has an experience of nearly 30 years with the application of herbicide to his fields. Through this time he learned that there are ways to reduce the amount of herbicide and thereby conserve soil and nature against this aggressive pesticide. There are different factors to consider to reduce the herbicide application such as time of the day to bring out herbicides or time of the year. For example there is less herbicide needed the earlier in the morning it is applied to the field.

Purpose of the Technology: There are two main purposes of the technology. The fist is to protect crops and to not damage them with great amounts of herbicides. Thereby, also environment as a whole and especially waters are protected because there is always a part of herbicides washed out of soils and into waters. The second aim is more economically. As the effectiveness of the application of herbicides is worse in spring than in autumn, it should be prohibited by law to use herbicides in spring. On the other hand, land users should be allowed to use herbicides for a longer time in autumn because crops tend towards dormancy. Thereby, not only the amount of herbicides applied to a field can be reduced but the land user is also saving money.

Establishment / maintenance activities and inputs: The establishment and maintenance of the technology requires first of all a great deal of knowledge. To receive the desired target situation there are many points to be discussed of the current situation with herbicide application. One point is the free pass which enables land users with a basic education to practice pest management even if they do not know what a pest management gun is and how it is used. A solution to this problem of lack of knowledge is seen by the land user through the structural change in agriculture. Companies providing spraying services are more efficient and tidy than the land user can be.

Natural / human environment: The technology helps protecting the environment and waters from pollution through washed out herbicides. This must always be kept in mind when discussing about the amount of herbicides. Some land users do not trust a smaller amount of herbicides to be as effective as the standardized one. But this overthinking must now be made because it is until today not sure what side effects herbicides have to the human and natural environment.

2.3 Photos of the Technology

2.5 Country/ region/ locations where the Technology has been applied and which are covered by this assessment



Region/ State/ Province:


Further specification of location:


Specify the spread of the Technology:
  • evenly spread over an area
If precise area is not known, indicate approximate area covered:
  • 0.1-1 km2

2.6 Date of implementation

If precise year is not known, indicate approximate date:
  • 10-50 years ago

2.7 Introduction of the Technology

Specify how the Technology was introduced:
  • through land users' innovation
Comments (type of project, etc.):

Society required an overthinking of traditional pest management techniques over the last years. The land user started individually with his tests. But also in politics there were some attempts to reduce herbicides in agriculture. Third, the farmer's association works together with the local government of Bern on solutions for reducing herbicides which could be applied nationwide.

3. Classification of the SLM Technology

3.2 Current land use type(s) where the Technology is applied



  • Annual cropping
Number of growing seasons per year:
  • 2

Longest growing period in days: 120Longest growing period from month to month: May to AugustSecond longest growing period in days: 60Second longest growing period from month to month: August to October


Major land use problems (compiler’s opinion): The major land use problems are erosion by water through heavy rainfall events and therefore loss of soil. Regarding the technology there is also the problem of the extensive use of herbicides and its inappropriate application. This can lead to damages to the following crop, chemical resistance and pollution of waters.

Major land use problems (land users’ perception): The area is likely to be affected by erosion as the main problem. Therefore, cultivation must be adapted to prevent soil erosion by water. The land user is also convinced of a pollution of waters through different human-induced reasons such as the inappropriate and ineffective use of herbicides.

3.4 Water supply

Water supply for the land on which the Technology is applied:
  • mixed rainfed-irrigated

3.5 SLM group to which the Technology belongs

  • minimal soil disturbance
  • integrated pest and disease management (incl. organic agriculture)

3.6 SLM measures comprising the Technology

agronomic measures

agronomic measures

  • A3: Soil surface treatment
  • A4: Subsurface treatment

Main measures: agronomic measures

Type of agronomic measures: retaining more vegetation cover, mulching, mineral (inorganic) fertilizers, zero tillage / no-till, minimum tillage

3.7 Main types of land degradation addressed by the Technology

soil erosion by water

soil erosion by water

  • Wt: loss of topsoil/ surface erosion
chemical soil deterioration

chemical soil deterioration

  • Cp: soil pollution
water degradation

water degradation

  • Hp: decline of surface water quality

Main type of degradation addressed: Cp: soil pollution, Hp: decline of surface water quality

Secondary types of degradation addressed: Wt: loss of topsoil / surface erosion

Main causes of degradation: soil management (Use of herbicides in the past that are forbidden today have polluted soil and the environment substantially.), discharges (point contamination of water) (discharges of herbicides from agricultural fields into water bodies)

Secondary causes of degradation: Heavy / extreme rainfall (intensity/amounts) (not a main cause because the busy season of pesticides is in spring and heavy rainfalls mainly occur in autumn)

3.8 Prevention, reduction, or restoration of land degradation

Specify the goal of the Technology with regard to land degradation:
  • prevent land degradation

Main goals: prevention of land degradation

4. Technical specifications, implementation activities, inputs, and costs

4.1 Technical drawing of the Technology

Technical specifications (related to technical drawing):

Technical knowledge required for field staff / advisors: high (Vital role of agricultural advisor, who must be neutral and not a salesman.)

Technical knowledge required for land users: high (The land user always needs to have the best knowledge which must also be up to date. Therefore, he depends on a competent agricultural advisor. The knowledge he gained is transferred to his employees.)

Main technical functions: improvement of surface structure (crusting, sealing), improvement of topsoil structure (compaction), improvement of subsoil structure (hardpan), increase of groundcover

Retaining more vegetation cover
Material/ species: mulch of previous crop remains

Material/ species: previous crop remains

Mineral (inorganic) fertilizers
Material/ species: different types of herbicide

Zero tillage / no-till
Material/ species: machine with pesticide machine
Remarks: technological requirements such as individual nozzle switching, inside cleaning and wash

4.2 General information regarding the calculation of inputs and costs

other/ national currency (specify):

Swiss Franc

If relevant, indicate exchange rate from USD to local currency (e.g. 1 USD = 79.9 Brazilian Real): 1 USD =:


4.3 Establishment activities

Activity Timing (season)
1. Establishment of a washing area
2. Buying a special nozzle machine

4.4 Costs and inputs needed for establishment

Specify input Unit Quantity Costs per Unit Total costs per input % of costs borne by land users
Labour Labour ha 1.0 15.0 15.0 100.0
Equipment Tools ha 1.0 3500.0 3500.0 100.0
Equipment Infrastructure: Washing area ha 1.0 1000.0 1000.0 100.0
Total costs for establishment of the Technology 4515.0
Total costs for establishment of the Technology in USD 4515.0

Life span of product (washing area): Lifetime

4.5 Maintenance/ recurrent activities

Activity Timing/ frequency
1. begin of herbicide application (not including market gardening) start of vegetation period/ March - end of May
2. after first harvest stubble treatment with total herbicide August/September
3. after second harvest again application of herbicides until 10th of October (end of herbicide application) September/October

4.6 Costs and inputs needed for maintenance/ recurrent activities (per year)

Specify input Unit Quantity Costs per Unit Total costs per input % of costs borne by land users
Labour Labour ha 1.0 90.0 90.0 100.0
Equipment Machine use ha 1.0 90.0 90.0 100.0
Equipment Tools ha 1.0 60.0 60.0 100.0
Fertilizers and biocides Biocides ha 1.0 540.0 540.0 100.0
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology 780.0
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology in USD 780.0

Machinery/ tools: tractor and special nozzle machine

Costs are calculated for a land user applying herbicides on his fields of a size of total 5-15 ha. Maintenance costs are calculated for one year, establishment costs for the implementation of the technology.

4.7 Most important factors affecting the costs

Describe the most determinate factors affecting the costs:

The area size of the agricultural fields is the most determinate factor affecting the costs. The smaller the application area of herbicides is the higher the costs get. To cut costs a land user needs to have a bigger area to apply herbicides on.

5. Natural and human environment

5.1 Climate

Annual rainfall
  • < 250 mm
  • 251-500 mm
  • 501-750 mm
  • 751-1,000 mm
  • 1,001-1,500 mm
  • 1,501-2,000 mm
  • 2,001-3,000 mm
  • 3,001-4,000 mm
  • > 4,000 mm
Agro-climatic zone
  • sub-humid

Thermal climate class: temperate

5.2 Topography

Slopes on average:
  • flat (0-2%)
  • gentle (3-5%)
  • moderate (6-10%)
  • rolling (11-15%)
  • hilly (16-30%)
  • steep (31-60%)
  • very steep (>60%)
  • plateau/plains
  • ridges
  • mountain slopes
  • hill slopes
  • footslopes
  • valley floors
Altitudinal zone:
  • 0-100 m a.s.l.
  • 101-500 m a.s.l.
  • 501-1,000 m a.s.l.
  • 1,001-1,500 m a.s.l.
  • 1,501-2,000 m a.s.l.
  • 2,001-2,500 m a.s.l.
  • 2,501-3,000 m a.s.l.
  • 3,001-4,000 m a.s.l.
  • > 4,000 m a.s.l.
Indicate if the Technology is specifically applied in:
  • not relevant
Comments and further specifications on topography:

Altitudinal zone: 501-1000 m a.s.l. ( 550-650 m a.s.l. )

5.3 Soils

Soil depth on average:
  • very shallow (0-20 cm)
  • shallow (21-50 cm)
  • moderately deep (51-80 cm)
  • deep (81-120 cm)
  • very deep (> 120 cm)
Soil texture (topsoil):
  • medium (loamy, silty)
  • fine/ heavy (clay)
Topsoil organic matter:
  • medium (1-3%)
If available, attach full soil description or specify the available information, e.g. soil type, soil PH/ acidity, Cation Exchange Capacity, nitrogen, salinity etc.

Soil texture is medium (sandy loam, good for conservational agriculture and the application of herbicides) to fine (loamy clay poses problems for no-till farming)
Soil fertility is ver high-high
Soil drainage/infiltration is good (frost and floods as only problems for infiltration in this area but not frequently)
Soil water storage capacity is high

5.4 Water availability and quality

Ground water table:

5-50 m

Availability of surface water:


Water quality (untreated):

good drinking water

5.5 Biodiversity

Species diversity:
  • high

5.6 Characteristics of land users applying the Technology

Market orientation of production system:
  • commercial/ market
Off-farm income:
  • 10-50% of all income
Relative level of wealth:
  • rich
Individuals or groups:
  • individual/ household
Level of mechanization:
  • mechanized/ motorized
  • men
Indicate other relevant characteristics of the land users:

Land users applying the Technology are mainly common / average land users

Population density: 100-200 persons/km2

Annual population growth: 1% - 2%

5.7 Average area of land used by land users applying the Technology

  • < 0.5 ha
  • 0.5-1 ha
  • 1-2 ha
  • 2-5 ha
  • 5-15 ha
  • 15-50 ha
  • 50-100 ha
  • 100-500 ha
  • 500-1,000 ha
  • 1,000-10,000 ha
  • > 10,000 ha
Is this considered small-, medium- or large-scale (referring to local context)?
  • medium-scale

Average area of land owned or leased by land users applying the Technology: 5-15 ha, 15-50 ha, 50-100 ha

5.8 Land ownership, land use rights, and water use rights

Land ownership:
  • individual, titled
Land use rights:
  • individual
  • local government
Water use rights:
  • communal (organized)
  • local government

5.9 Access to services and infrastructure

  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
technical assistance:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
employment (e.g. off-farm):
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
roads and transport:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
drinking water and sanitation:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
financial services:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good

6. Impacts and concluding statements

6.1 On-site impacts the Technology has shown

Socio-economic impacts


crop production

Comments/ specify:

Because of elimination of undesired crops. However risk that herbicide affects crop production itself

risk of production failure

Income and costs

farm income

Comments/ specify:

Because of increased crop yield

Socio-cultural impacts

conflict mitigation


Improved livelihoods and human well-being

Comments/ specify:

The fact that the consequences of herbicides e.g. glyphosate for human health are not yet known disturbs the public. Also land users do not agree on the benefit or damage to natural environment because of herbicides. Therefore, minimizing the amount of herbicides applied as much as possible is an important step. An overthinking of the current situation but also much more knowledge and research on this topic must be provided in order to improve livelihoods and human well-being even more.

Ecological impacts

Water cycle/ runoff

water quality

Comments/ specify:

Because of water pollution of washed out herbicides


Comments/ specify:

Especially if no-tillage is practiced


soil cover

Comments/ specify:

Especially if no-tillage is practised

soil loss


soil crusting/ sealing


soil compaction


soil organic matter/ below ground C

Biodiversity: vegetation, animals

invasive alien species

Comments/ specify:

Because of the herbicide

Other ecological impacts

Biodiversity / crop diversity


6.3 Exposure and sensitivity of the Technology to gradual climate change and climate-related extremes/ disasters (as perceived by land users)


The technology to minimize the amount of herbicides applied to agricultural fields must be understood as a sort of overthinking effect which does not consist of precautionary methods. Therefore this question can not be answered.

6.4 Cost-benefit analysis

How do the benefits compare with the establishment costs (from land users’ perspective)?
Short-term returns:

neutral/ balanced

Long-term returns:


How do the benefits compare with the maintenance/ recurrent costs (from land users' perspective)?
Short-term returns:


Long-term returns:

very positive


If agriculture wants to do fully without application of herbicides, changes in the payment and costs of labour must be lowered significantly. As labour is more and more replaced by machines, human labour is still too high when it comes to the costs.

6.5 Adoption of the Technology


75% of land user families have adopted the Technology with external material support

Comments on acceptance with external material support: 75% of land user families in the region of Bern applied the SLM Technology because they saw the positive economical effect that minimization of herbicides gave them.

There is a strong trend towards spontaneous adoption of the Technology

Comments on adoption trend: There is also a trend against the adoption of the technology: current young land users need a too low profile of qualification for economical subsidies. This can lead to "bad land users" in the future. The profile of qualification should be lifted up for getting subsidies and thereby the appropriate use of subsidies would be learned.

6.7 Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities of the Technology

Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the land user’s view
The application of herbicide ensures the crop production against alien crops. Therefore, to ensure this production the right application of herbicide is needed. Minimal amounts can lead to exact the same output of production.

How can they be sustained / enhanced? To ensure the crop production or even increase it through elimination of alien crops the right application of herbicide is needed.
Once the land user has the knowledge he needs to minimize the amount of herbicide it is simple to apply the technology on agricultural fields. Using this knowledge not only safes time for the land user but also money. There can be saved up to 50.-$/ha for herbicide.

How can they be sustained / enhanced? The spreading of knowledge on amounts of herbicide and the right application is highly important for the success of the technology. This must be guaranteed by government, local institutions or agricultural advisors and research.
Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view
The minimization of herbicides is important because it provides a solution to the last main problem in conservation agriculture, especially no-tillage. If there is no or less skepticism against the application of glyphosate or other herbicides the implementation of no-tillage in agriculture could be enhanced even more.

How can they be sustained / enhanced? It is important to minimize amounts of herbicides even further and to look for probable alternatives to these pesticides. This would lead to a far more sustainable land management in Swiss agriculture and to more land users adopting no-tillage.

6.8 Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks of the Technology and ways of overcoming them

Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the land user’s view How can they be overcome?
The acceptance of the system of herbicides is one great problem of the technology. Even after reducing the amounts of herbicides, there will be critical voices on the application of herbicides. Acceptance in public should be received for this technology. However, the technology itself provides no solution to this problem.
Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view How can they be overcome?
The aim of reducing the application of herbicides is formulated quickly. However, the transfer of knowledge needed and its application into the daily program of a land user is very difficult. Furthermore, the knowledge provided by agricultural schools is not yet up to date. The knowledge provided for land users, agricultural advisors and even students and teachers must be up to date in order to provide the latest results from research and to help implementing the technology of reducing herbicides even further among swiss land users.

7. References and links

7.1 Methods/ sources of information

Links and modules

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