Direct seeding [Switzerland]

Direktsaat (German)

technologies_1007 - Switzerland

Completeness: 82%

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:

Wyler Roman

Center for Development and Environment, University of Berne


land user:

Streit Thomas


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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:


1.5 Reference to Questionnaire(s) on SLM Approaches (documented using WOCAT)


Direktzahlungssystem [Switzerland]

Finanzielle Leistungen des Bundes um den Ertragsverlust, den eine Kultur für den Bauern bringt, auszugleichen. Das Direktzahlungssystem führt gewissermassen zu einer 'Vergünstigung des Produkts' für den Konsumenten.

  • Compiler: Deborah Niggli
Förderprogramm Boden

Förderprogramm Boden [Switzerland]

Mit dem Förderprogramm Boden des Kantons Bern erhalten beteiligte Landnutzer Direktzahlungen für die Anwendung von bodenkonservierenden Anbauverfahren auf ihren landwirtschaftlichen Feldern. Das Projekt hat eine Dauer von 6 Jahren.

  • Compiler: Deborah Niggli

2. Description of the SLM Technology

2.1 Short description of the Technology

Definition of the Technology:

A cropping system which allows to plant the seeds directly into the soil without ploughing. The soil is covered with plant remainders.

2.2 Detailed description of the Technology


The farm portaited is located in a hilly area near Bern. It is cooperating with an other farm of the village so that in total 32 ha of arable land are cultivated. All crops except for potatoes and sugar beets are produced within the no-tillage system. So the area cultivated with the no-tillage system is about 26 ha. The farm is producing mainly fodder (maize, wheat) for pigs. Beside this potatoes and sugar beets are produced to be sold. A typical crop rotation consists of a root crop, followed by a winter grain and a green manure. There are major meadows, too.

No-tillage characterizes a cultivation system without ploughing or any other reworking of the soil. After the previous crop (Maize, grain) has been harvested, a total herbicide is applied and the seeds are brought directly into the soil with a special machine. A metal disk carves a narrow slit into the surface. Then the seeds are brought into the soil pneumatically. Finally, the slit is closed again by two wheels pressing on the surface.

The no-tillage system is used to reduce soil degradation, especially erosion. It enables a permanent cover of the soil surface, which reduces sealing and crusting. Since they are not disturbed by ploughing anymore, there are more earthworms in the soil. Their activity can slowly reduce compaction and improve the soil structure. This leads to better infiltration rates and also to a higher water storage capacity. Less water remains on the soil surface, so soil loss can be reduced.

The no-tillage system requires a special direct seeding machine. This machine is very expensive, so most farmers don’t buy it on their own but task a contractor with the seeding. On the other hand, certain machines from conventional agriculture are not needed anymore (plough, harrow, rotary tiller etc.). Furthermore, working hours and fuel can be saved. In some cantons of switzerland no-tillage agriculture is also subsidised. For this reason, the method holds economic advantages, too.

In the beginning crop yield may be reduced by up to 10%. The rebuilding of the soil structure requires a certain time, depending on the state of the soil at the time of transition. However, this was not the case for the farm portaited here: Already in the first year there were very good crop yields, although the probability for crop loss is higher in the no-tillage system. Competition between the crops and weeds can be too strong if the total herbicide is applied under wet conditions. In addition drying of the soil in spring is often delayed. Thus the plants may face too wet conditions.

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:

Gemeinde Wald

Further specification of location:

Kanton Bern


The farm owns 0.27 km2. For reasons of rationalization it is working together with another farm. Together they have 0.32 km2. On 0.26 km2 direct seeding is applied.
Total area covered by the SLM Technology is 0.26 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:
  • during experiments/ research
Comments (type of project, etc.):

modern direct seeding was developed since the 1950s after the development of modern herbicides.

3. Classification of the SLM Technology

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



  • Annual cropping
Annual cropping - Specify crops:
  • fodder crops - grasses
Number of growing seasons per year:
  • 2

Longest growing period in days: 230Longest growing period from month to month: Mar - OctSecond longest growing period in days: 300Second longest growing period from month to month: Nov - Aug


Major land use problems (land users’ perception): Soil erosion, soil compaction at different dephts

Future (final) land use (after implementation of SLM Technology): Cropland: Ca: Annual cropping

3.4 Water supply

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

3.5 SLM group to which the Technology belongs

  • minimal soil disturbance

3.6 SLM measures comprising the Technology

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
physical soil deterioration

physical soil deterioration

  • Pc: compaction
biological degradation

biological degradation

  • Bc: reduction of vegetation cover
  • Bl: loss of soil life

Main type of degradation addressed: Wt: loss of topsoil / surface erosion, Bc: reduction of vegetation cover, Bl: loss of soil life

Secondary types of degradation addressed: Pc: compaction

Main causes of degradation: crop management (annual, perennial, tree/shrub) (unprotected soil surface in conventional agriculture), Heavy / extreme rainfall (intensity/amounts), education, access to knowledge and support services (Tradition. In general ploughing is not questioned.)

3.8 Prevention, reduction, or restoration of land degradation

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

Main goals: prevention of land degradation

Secondary goals: mitigation / reduction of land degradation

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

4.1 Technical drawing of the Technology

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Technical specifications (related to technical drawing):

Technical knowledge required for field staff / advisors: high (the correct timing of activities is difficult to achieve. The current weather situation has a great influence.)

Technical knowledge required for land users: high (crop rotation needs to be adjusted)

Main technical functions: control of raindrop splash, improvement of ground cover, improvement of surface structure (crusting, sealing)

Secondary technical functions: improvement of topsoil structure (compaction), improvement of subsoil structure (hardpan), stabilisation of soil (eg by tree roots against land slides), increase in organic matter, increase of infiltration, increase / maintain water stored in soil

Better crop cover
Remarks: precedent crop remains on the soil

Retaining more vegetation cover
Remarks: precedent crop remains on the soilprecedent crop remains on the soil

Green manure
Remarks: no change compared to conventional agriculture

Manure / compost / residues
Material/ species: liquid pig manure
Remarks: no change compared to conventional agriculture

Mineral (inorganic) fertilizers
Remarks: no change compared to conventional agriculture

Rotations / fallows
Remarks: new crop rotation is needed

Zero tillage / no-till
Remarks: all crops except potatoes and sugar beets, where mulching is applied

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. Buy a direct seeding 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
Equipment Direct seeding machine Machine 1.0 278000.0 278000.0 100.0
Total costs for establishment of the Technology 278000.0
Total costs for establishment of the Technology in USD 257407.41

Duration of establishment phase: 0 month(s)

4.5 Maintenance/ recurrent activities

Activity Timing/ frequency
1. Appliance of total herbicide (glyphosat) 1 per growing period
2. Seeding 1 per growing period
3. spreading of snail poison 1-3 per growing period

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 Seeding ha 1.0 185.0 185.0 100.0
Labour Spreading of snail poison ha 1.0 46.0 46.0 100.0
Fertilizers and biocides Biocides ha 1.0 56.0 56.0 100.0
Other Appliance of herbicide ha 1.0 93.0 93.0 100.0
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology 380.0
Total costs for maintenance of the Technology in USD 351.85

New direct seeding machines usually cost $45'000. The farmer portraited bought a second hand machine for $27800. To calculate the costs it was assumed that all work is outsorced to a contracter (which is not usually the case). One growing period per year was assumed, in reality it 1-2. Worksteps which are the same in direct seeding and conventional agriculture were not included. The following worksteps are additional to conventional agriculture (working hours, costs): Appliance of total herbicide ((0.75h, $149), direct seeding (0.5h, $185), spreading of snail poison (0.5h, $83). The following steps are not needed anymore: ploughing (2.5h, $260), harrowing (1.25h, $185), conventional seeding (1h, $102). So in total about 3.75h and $130 can be saved per ha and growing period. Besides this, direct seeding is subsidised in the Canton Bern. The subsidies sum up to $250-$500 per ha and year for a period of 5 years. These subsidies are an important reason for the growing popularity of conservation agriculture in Switzerland. The most important income source for Swiss farmers are direct subsidies, which are about $1400 per ha and year. To get these subsidies, farmers have to fulfill ecological criteria.

4.7 Most important factors affecting the costs

Describe the most determinate factors affecting the costs:

The most important factor is whether a direct seeding machine can be rented in locally, because this represents a major investment.

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
Specifications/ comments on rainfall:

precipitation during the whole year. The maximum lies in summer.

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.

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)
Topsoil organic matter:
  • high (>3%)
  • 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 (loamy/silty and sandy)
Soil fertility is high
Soil drainage/infiltration is good
Soil water storage capacity is high

5.4 Water availability and quality

Ground water table:

5-50 m

Water quality (untreated):

good drinking water

Comments and further specifications on water quality and quantity:

Availability of surface water: good, medium

5.5 Biodiversity

Species diversity:
  • medium

5.6 Characteristics of land users applying the Technology

Market orientation of production system:
  • commercial/ market
Off-farm income:
  • less than 10% of all income
Relative level of wealth:
  • average
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

Difference in the involvement of women and men: In Switzerland there are mostly men who apply the technology. However, the decision making usually takes place at the household level, including both men and women.

Population density: 50-100 persons/km2

Annual population growth: negative

Off-farm income specification: Many farmers in Switzerland have significant off farm income. But this seems to be independent of the technology applied.

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

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

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

Population growth in Switzerland is about 0.6% per year. In the commune discussed here it's about -0.6%.

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:

not in general, but can occur in the beginning

fodder production


risk of production failure

Comments/ specify:

reduced risk for production failure due to erosion but the technology is sensitive to wet conditions in spring. Risk of crop failure due to snails is enhanced

Water availability and quality

demand for irrigation water

Comments/ specify:

irrelevant in the area

Income and costs

expenses on agricultural inputs

Comments/ specify:

no reworking of the soil but major initial investment if no direct seeding machine is available for rent.

farm income

Comments/ specify:

due to reduced expenses


Comments/ specify:

no reworking of the soil

Socio-cultural impacts

cultural opportunities

Comments/ specify:

ploughing is a major part of rural identity. Farmer become more dependent on others if work is outsourced to contractors.

Ecological impacts

Water cycle/ runoff

surface runoff


soil moisture


soil cover


soil loss


soil crusting/ sealing


soil compaction


soil organic matter/ below ground C

Biodiversity: vegetation, animals

beneficial species

Other ecological impacts

Hazard towards adverse events

Comments/ specify:

better soil cover leads to higher tolerance against intense rain. Increased soil moisture leads to higher tolerance against droughts

6.2 Off-site impacts the Technology has shown

damage on neighbours' fields

Comments/ specify:

erosion is almost negligible

damage on public/ private infrastructure


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

Gradual climate change

Gradual climate change
Season increase or decrease How does the Technology cope with it?
annual temperature increase not known

Climate-related extremes (disasters)

Meteorological disasters
How does the Technology cope with it?
local rainstorm well
local windstorm not known
Climatological disasters
How does the Technology cope with it?
drought well
Hydrological disasters
How does the Technology cope with it?
general (river) flood not known

Other climate-related consequences

Other climate-related consequences
How does the Technology cope with it?
reduced growing period not well

6.4 Cost-benefit analysis

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


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



In this case study, the farmer bought a direct seeding machine on his own. This is why short-term returns are negative.

6.5 Adoption of the Technology

Of all those who have adopted the Technology, how many did so spontaneously, i.e. without receiving any material incentives/ payments?
  • 11-50%

80% of land user families have adopted the Technology with external material support

Comments on acceptance with external material support: There is the possibility to get subsidies during the first 5 years of appliance. But resources are limited and therefore not everybody gets them.

20% of land user families have adopted the Technology without any external material support

There is a moderate trend towards spontaneous adoption of the Technology

Comments on adoption trend: The total area of conservation agriculture is small in Switzerland. But growing rates are quite high.

6.7 Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities of the Technology

Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the land user’s view
Soil erosion is greatly reduced.

How can they be sustained / enhanced? For crops which are not tolerant to direct seeding, other soil conservation techniques should be applied.
The risk of soil compaction is reduced.

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Heavy machinery should only be used under dry conditions.
Soil structure is improved due to more earthworms.

How can they be sustained / enhanced? Enough organic material needs to be available.
Working hours and fuel consumption is highly reduced, since no reworking of the soil is needed anymore.

How can they be sustained / enhanced? The time saved should be used to enhance production.

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?
Direct seeding machines are very expensive and the second hand market is not well developed yet. Contractors can be tasked with the seeding or the investments can be shared.
The risk of crop failure is enhanced. Very good planning of crop rotation. The date of sowings should be chosen carefully. Crops should be checked for snails regularly.
Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view How can they be overcome?
Worldwide application of glyphosate could possibly lead to resistant weeds. With an adequate crop rotation and good timing of the worksteps glyphosate is not needed sometimes.
The public is very sensitive towards the application of chemical substances. In contrast, the broader public is not familiar with the advantages of conservation agriculture. Scientific knowledge should be adressed to a broader public.

7. References and links

7.1 Methods/ sources of information

7.2 References to available publications

Title, author, year, ISBN:

Wirz Handbuch. Betrieb und Familie. Für das landwirtschaftliche Unternehmen. LBL Lindau. 112 Jahrgang. Wirz Verlag Basel.2006.

Available from where? Costs?

Tel: +41 61 264 64 50CHF 22.-

7.3 Links to relevant online information

Title/ description:

Sturny et al. Direktsaat und Pflug im Systemvergleich – Eine Synthese. AGRARForschung 14 (8): 332-337. 2007.


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