Digging into Conservation Agriculture Websites and Publications

What is Conservation Agriculture (CA)?

CA is a set of soil management practices that minimize the disruption of the soil’s structure, composition and natural biodiversity. Despite high variability in the types of crops grown and specific management regimes, all forms of conservation agriculture share three core principles. These include:

  • maintenance of permanent or semi-permanent soil cover (using either a previous crop residue or specifically growing a cover crop for this purpose);
  • minimum soil disturbance through tillage (just enough to get the seed into the ground) ;
  • regular crop rotations to help combat the various biotic constraints;
  • supports soil health and the rich natural ecosystem

CA also uses or promotes where possible or needed various management practices listed below:

  • utilization of green manures/cover crops (GMCC’s) to produce the residue cover;
  • no burning of crop residues;
  • integrated disease and pest management;
  • controlled/limited human and mechanical traffic over agricultural soils.

When these CA practices are used by farmers one of the major environmental benefits is reduction in fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But they also reduce the power/energy needs of farmers who use manual or animal powered systems.

From the Conservation Agriculture Knowledge Portal at Cornell University


Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations ‪David R. Montgomery, 2012dirt

This is where many people begin their experience with CA

Dirt, soil, call it what you want—it’s everywhere we go. It is the root of our existence, supporting our feet, our farms, our cities. This fascinating yet disquieting book finds, however, that we are running out of dirt, and it’s no laughing matter. An engaging natural and cultural history of soil that sweeps from ancient civilizations to modern times, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations explores the compelling idea that we are—and have long been—using up Earth’s soil. Once bare of protective vegetation and exposed to wind and rain, cultivated soils erode bit by bit, slowly enough to be ignored in a single lifetime but fast enough over centuries to limit the lifespan of civilizations. A rich mix of history, archaeology and geology, Dirt traces the role of soil use and abuse in the history of Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, China, European colonialism, Central America, and the American push westward. We see how soil has shaped us and we have shaped soil—as society after society has risen, prospered, and plowed through a natural endowment of fertile dirt. David R. Montgomery sees in the recent rise of organic and no-till farming the hope for a new agricultural revolution that might help us avoid the fate of previous civilizations. From the Preface

The Conservation Agriculture Group at Cornell University

This site maintains a very diverse international resource for CA.  Academic articles, international groups, monthly news, upcoming conferences, the Two-wheel Tractor Newsletter and much more is available at this knowledge portal/website.  It is an excellent first stop for up to date CA resources and news.


This organization and their website has excellent information, including videos, equipment, conference information and presentations as well as links to a very large number of regional CA groups.

Dirt First, a renegade soil scientist is transforming American agriculture,  Kristin Ohlson, in Orion Magazine, 2016

In a very accessible way this Orion magazine article by Kristion Ohlson tells the story of the critical importance of soil health,.

Thousands of years of poor farming and ranching practices―and, especially, modern industrial agriculture―have led to the loss of up to 80 percent of carbon from the world’s soils. That carbon is now floating in the atmosphere, and even if we stopped using fossil fuels today, it would continue warming the planet. In The Soil Will Save Us, journalist and bestselling author Kristin Ohlson makes an elegantly argued, passionate case for “our great green hope”―a way in which we can not only heal the land but also turn atmospheric carbon into beneficial soil carbon―and potentially reverse global warming. From the Amazon review:  The Soil Will Save Us


Landscapes Transformed: The History of Conservation Tillage and Direct Seeding, edited by C. Wayne Lindwall and Berie Sonntag


Jeff Esdaile’s Two-Wheel Tractor Newsletter
There is a wealth of very creative mechanization for farmers who have access to two wheel drive tractors.  The site is hosted by the Cornell Conservation Agriculture website.

  • http://conservationagriculture.mannlib.cornell.edu/pages/resources/twowheel.html

Roller/Crimper Designs for Cover Crops Management on Different Farm Scales Using Conservation Practices, Ted S. Kornecki, Agricultural Engineer, USDA, 2014

This is good example of much needed CA equipment being scaled down in size and weight. Test results are presented very clearly.


Here is a fun example of citizen science and a good measure of soil health that children can dig into. One of Earth Link’s first projects was an environmental group for high school students and as one of our activities we sold worms.

Three images of the “Jua Kali Planter” from Earth Links’ coming open source equipment database

Earth Links is working on a database and website for small-holder farmers who need well designed, tested, and very inexpensive tools that can be be construct by local blacksmiths or manufactured regionally. Designs will be available as CAD files, PDFs, photos and videos.

Planter-JuaKali-170123-copy-2-3 Planter-JuaKali-170123-copy-2-1 Planter-JuaKali-170123-copy-2-2

Six Publications that tell the stories and possibilities of SRI

SRI is a set of sustainable rice farming technologies that can help small farmers to significantly increase their rice yields. It is a low-input technology, which can be flexibly applied based on the local factors and farm conditions.

SRI methodology is based on four main principles that interact with each other:

  • Early, quick and healthy plant establishment
  • Reduced plant density
  • Improved soil conditions through enrichment with organic matter
  • Reduced and controlled water application

Based on these principles, farmers can adapt recommended SRI practices to respond to their agroecological and socioeconomic conditions. Adaptations are often done to accommodate changing weather patterns, soil conditions, labor availability, water control, access to organic inputs, and the decision whether to practice fully organic agriculture or not.

sri-cover1. From The System of Rice Intensification (SRI), Responses to Frequently Asked Questions, Norman Uphoff  Norman Uphoff has lead the worldwide movement to understand and promote SRI,  a work for which he has won numerous awards. His SRI FAQs is just one of an extraordinary number of publications he has produced.


2. SRI has been successfully adapted to many cultures andmore-rice environments. Here is a link to an excellent joint publication which highlights the successes that Oxfam, WWF and AfricaRice have all had with SRI.




3. Here is a link to the worldwide Leisa issue on SRI. This is an excellent introduction to SRI and how it has been adapted to local conditions by farmers, researchers, governmental organizations and NGOs.

4. Here is the SRI-Rice website at Cornell which is the most comprehensive resource in the world. There are academic articles, reports on conferences as well as how SRI has appeared in both the popular and business press worldwide. The site is media rich and it is possible to search for resources by country as well as language.  Monthly updates are provided in several forms.

  • http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu

5. This Handbook for the Peace Corps was done to provide an Introduction to SRI for West Africans.  It was part of a very successful, multi-year project that expanded SRI in 13 West African countries using groups familiar with SRI as the trainers or “Champions”.  It is an excellent example of how training materials have been used to successfully adapt SRI for countries around the middle of our planet.

feed-the-future6. Here is a link to a major West African SRI project. SRI-RICE at Cornell was a major consultant on the SRI-WAAPP project, which will hopefully have a second phase/expansion. Thanks to Devon Jenkins, returned Peace Corps volunteer, and and Erica Styger for their work on this publication.


Coming Publications

Equipment for small scale farmers that can be built at the village level, for less than 50 USD, by metal workers and blacksmiths is a critical element of the successful adoption and spread of  SRI.  Here is an example of a weeder, called the “Mandava” Weeder that has been successfully used in many countries in flooded rice fields.  Earth Links produced these CAD drawings as part of our work to make these well tested designs available worldwide without cost. Earth Links also contributed some of these early weeder plans to the West Africa project above as well as to Latin American demonstration projects with IICA..

The NGO (SRI Global Inc) which Earth Link helped start, in turn helped to start the NGO, 3ASahel, that was a Champion promoter for Mali.  The first phase of the WAAPP project has successfully ended.


SRI has many benefits such as climate change adaptation and mitigation which is described in the publications above.  An emerging issue and critical health problem is the high levels of Arsenic in some rice. The real reduction in arsenic that appears to be produced by SRI growing techniques (from significant reductions in water use) is an area of research that needs to be done and shared worldwide. Here is a link to the study that should have published results soon.

Stephen Leinau
Executive Director
Earth Links Inc




Agritechnica 2017

Agritechnica 2015

We are looking forward to Agritechnica 2017 and appreciate the invitation we received to speak at their Worldwide Forum 2015. We are grateful for all their support and the venue was excellent with great staff, presentation equipment, meeting and poster areas as well as monitors to show videos to the passing crowds.  Agritechnica is an extraordinary opportunity to see the fullest possible range of agricultural equipment and professionals. Attendance at the event is approximately 450,000 people over 8 days! https://www.agritechnica.com/en/innovations/innovations-2015/


At Agritechnica 2015 I had the pleasure to spend time with Amir Kassam, a champion and eloquent spokesperson for Conservation Agriculture (CA) worldwide.  We are very grateful for his guidance and encouragement in moving SRI closer to Conservation Agriculture and in the process developing tools for SRI rice farming that will decrease the need for tilling/disturbing the soil and increase the use of cover crops and plant residue to build soil health and discourage weed growth.  For those interested in NO-till Farming/CA good places to start are the book “DIRT” and the Conservation Agriculture newsletter; http://conservationagriculture.mannlib.cornell.edu/index.html and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations website covering CA, http://www.fao.org/ag/ca/

An excellent source for equipment is at the Conservation Agriculture Technology Link of the FAO; http://www.fao.org/ag/catd/en/


Josef Kienzle, who developed this technology database, was also presenting at Agritechnica and we would like to thank him for sharing so much equipment  information with us and especially the new publication; Mechanization for Rural Development; A review of patterns and progress from around the world; http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3259e/i3259e.pdf


Small SRI Rice Farmers Can Reap Big Benefits with Affordable Tools

500,000,000 Rice farmers worldwide need high-quality, effective tools for transplanting, weeding and harvesting their crops. Earth Links is continuing our collecting and evaluating of well-tested equipment designs that we began in 2014.  We share these tools with NGOs as photos, PDFs, videos and and CAD files. These tools will also be part of our upcoming Open Source Tool Library that will help to meet the needs of small farmers around the world.

As partners in a new grant from Cornell University there will be the opportunity to have key components printed with 3D printers from CAD files that will be shared with researchers and farmers in the field for their evaluation, suggested modifications and then retesting.  These improved equipment designs can then be shared widely with existing networks as well as be very valuable additions to our upcoming tool library.


Cono Weeder


Closeup of critical component.









Inexpensive farm tools fabricated from good, simple, field-tested designs can make a life changing difference to farmers worldwide.

  • Equipment that encourages deep roots, soil health, minimal soil disturbance and water conservation creates a Climate-smart Agriculture and promotes soil conservation.
  • Small, efficient engines can be added to equipment to allow farmers to respond to labor shortages and increase their income and food security.
  • Women-friendly versions of tools with lighter weight materials and smaller sizes will increase productivity and decrease serious injuries.
  • CAD software allows tools to be resized and modified for local conditions as well as helps to select the best materials and the accurate reproduction of equipment.

Mechanized rice harvester based on “brush cutter”.


Close up view.







Our Open-Source Library of Tools will help small rice farmers in many countries in their move to food security and sustainability. These equipment designs have been created over hundreds of thousands of hours by farmers as well as by agricultural engineers, equipment manufacturers and researchers.  When possible, these tools are best fabricated at the local level by blacksmiths and metal workers so that money remains in the community and the tools can be quickly repaired, tested, modified and improved.  Well tested tool designs, when made freely available, become vital elements in the successful introduction and use of agroecology techniques such as The System of Rice intensification (SRI), The System of Crop Intensification (SCI) and Conservation Agriculture (CA).

This is important work; Rice cultivation is the largest occupation in the world.  A well-managed acre of SRI rice and effective tools can produce over 5,000 pounds of food, while adapting to and mitigating climate change as well as using far less chemical inputs, water and seed than traditional farming techniques.


























Using Twitter to further our Mission and Fundraising

Although many people may not think of Twitter as a “search engine” this has been an extraordinarily helpful Twitter feature for Earth Links’ need to share information with small organizations in other countries doing work such as native forest protection. We have found these groups are often lost in google searches because of their small web presence but using the Twitter features that suggest other groups, “Who to Follow” or “Search Twitter”, has allowed us to find tens, if not hundreds, of such groups and individuals in a very short amount of time.

If Twitter works for you here are tools that allow you to do things that you may find yourself wishing you could do such as setting a time for your tweet to go out in the future.

10 Insanely Useful Free Twitter Tools for Nonprofits | Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog

We have only used twitter in a very simple ways but in the future we hope to use it more fully.  For ideas on how to use Twitter creatively we have been looking at these very popular nonprofit Twitter users.

Top Nonprofits on Twitter – Nonprofits With the Most Twitter Followers

SeaVibe at Pinto Lake: Water Quality Education

We’re excited to share here today a few public service announcements recently made by Watsonville teens who are working with our friends at SeaVibe Foundation.

This academic year, the SeaVibe Foundation has been collaborating with the Academic Vocational Charter Institute (AVCI), City of Watsonville, and University of California at Santa Cruz (and supported by the Audobon-Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowship and Earth Links), to provide these AVCI students with integrated training on water quality education in their own watershed. The results are inspiring!

As this article from the City of Watsonville explains,

Students receive community service credit for their work, but more importantly, the field work, research skills, art projects, and public presentations will help prepare the students for college and job opportunities.

You can read more about it here on Watsonville Patch.

SeaVibe at Pinto Lake

Water Contamination PSA

Ecofashion PSA

We want to congratulate all the students on the great video work and making a difference in their community. We’re glad the video cameras provided by Earth Links were used to such ardent, effective use!

You can read more and see photos of the Pinto Lake Community, Water & Art Project at SeaVibe’s Facebook page.

Pinto Lake suffers from toxic cyanobacteria pollution, caused partially by extensive agriculture and poor farming practices in the Pajaro River watershed in Watsonville, CA. The toxin is causing death in birds, fish, and other wildlife at the lake, and has traveled through the watershed to the Monterey Bay where it has been linked to a mass die-off in sea otters. SeaVibe Foundation is working with local students to help educate the community about pollution and to clean up the lake, thanks to funding from the Toyota/Audubon TogetherGreen Fellowship.