[Report written by M.B. Kirkham, courtesy of IUSS meeting reports]


The Seventeenth Triennial Conference of the International Soil Tillage Research Organization (ISTRO) was held August 28 – September 2, 2006, on the campus of the Christian Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany, the capital city of Schleswig Holstein. Professor Dr. Rainer Horn, ISTRO President 2003-2006, was the Conference Chairman. The theme of the meeting was Soil Management for Sustainability. Approximately 300 participants from all continents except Antarctica attended. There were 160 oral presentations and 157 posters divided among 13 symposia. Separately, a partners program was held that took guests on tours around Kiel and surroundings areas.

According to the bylaws of ISTRO, its goals are (1) to promote contacts among scientists undertaking research in soil tillage and related subjects, (2) to initiate conferences at which topics of soil tillage and related subjects are discussed, (3) to organize relevant workshops and demonstrations, and (4) to establish contacts and cooperation with organizations in other fields of science with similar purposes. The first international soil tillage conference was held in 1955, at Uppsala, Sweden (Dick, 1996). Early meetings of ISTRO often were held in conjunction with the World Ploughing Contest (Prof. Dr. Inge Hokansson, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, personal communication, August 29, 2006). At the 1973 conference, to ensure continued interaction among tillage workers, ISTRO was founded, and conferences have been held every three years (Table 1).

The ISTRO meeting in Kiel was well organized. Each day began with keynote lectures followed by the symposia. The thirteen symposia were: (1) Soil Dynamics and Traction. (2) Traffic, Tillage, and Soil Deformation. (3) Conservation Farming and Forestry. (4) Land-use Systems and Environmental Quality. (5) Soil Amendments. (6) Precision Agriculture. (7) Soil Erosion and Its Control. (8) Economical Aspects. (9) Soil Management Induced Global Change Effects. (10) Sustainable Land-use Management. (11) Soil Reclamation. (12) Soil Structure. (13) Soil Protection. The abstracts have been published (Horn et al., 2006a), and each abstract gives the names, addresses, and contact numbers of the authors. So the book of abstracts also serves as the list of participants. Full papers are published on a CD-ROM (ISTRO, 2006), and 59 of them have been published in a book (Horn et al., 2006b). The sponsors of the 17th Conference, who helped to defray the costs of the publications, were: Eijkelkamp (Agrisearch Equipment); Provinzial; UMS (Measure to Know); UGT (Umwelt, Gerate, Technik Gmbh); EcoTech Umwelt-Mesysteme Gmbh; UP Umweltanalytische Produkte Gmbh; Deutsche Bodenkundliche Gesellschaft; and Christian-Albrechts-Universitit zu Kiel.

Table 1. Conferences of the International Soil Tillage Research Organization ISTRO

Number Year Place
First 1955 Uppsala, Sweden
Second 1958 Stuttgart-Hohenheim, Germany
Third 1962 Doorwerth, The Netherlands
Fourth 1965 Os, Norway
Fifth 1970 Silsoe, United Kingdom
Sixth 1973 Wageningen, The Netherlands
Seventh 1976 Uppsala, Sweden
Eighth 1979 Stuttgart-Hohenheim, Germany
Ninth 1982 Osijek, Yugoslavia (now Croatia)
Tenth 1985 Guelph, Canada
Eleventh 1988 Edinburgh, Scotland
Twelfth 1991 Ibadan, Nigeria
Thirteenth 1994 Aalborg, Denmark
Fourteenth 1997 Lublin, Poland
Fifteenth 2000 Fort Worth, Texas, U.S.A.
Sixteenth 2003 Brisbane, Australia
Seventeenth 2006 Kiel, Germany
Eighteenth 2009 Izmir, Turkey


On the Tuesday evening of the Conference (August 29, 2006), a roundtable discussion was held concerning soil tillage, soil sustainability, global change, and arable and forest soil management strategies. Dr. Miroslav Kutalek, a soil physicist in Prague, Czech Republic, led the discussion. Others taking part in it were: W. Blum, D. Godwin, R. Hattl, F. Makeschin, L. Montanarella, S. Nortcliff, D. Sparks, F. Tijink, and H. Wiggering. In his introductory comments, Dr. Kutalek made four points: (1) We need interdisciplinary research. (2) Should all agriculture be focused on yields? We need to consider sustainability, not just yields. (3) We are on our knees to biodiversity, but we also should consider pedodiversity. We need to define the characteristics of naturally fertile soils. We need to answer the question: Where are the boundaries of different taxonomic names? (4) In our research to reduce global warming through use of soils, we may forget many factors are involved. We have forgotten our geological education. What about continental drift? How do we explain warm periods in the Holocene or The Little Ice Age that began in the 13th century? We need to be more critical in using our arguments.

On the Wednesday of the Conference, participants joined one of four excursions: (1) Soil forming processes and land management practices on light soils in the Northwest of Schleswig-Holstein. (2) Kiel — ecological farming research station. (3) Animal research station of the University, Kakendamm, and fruit production research station, Jork. (4) Conventional agricultural research station, Hohenschulen on the Westcoast (Northsea).

The Conference banquet was held Thursday evening (August 31, 2006) at the Drathenhof Molfsee, a beautiful old farm house on the outskirts of Kiel. The guests were serenaded by a mandolin orchestra that played songs from around the world. Dr. Brennan Soane, organizer of the 1988 ISTRO Conference in Edinburgh, gave the toast. He asked if anyone in the audience had attended the first official conference of ISTRO in Uppsala in 1976. Dr. Hokansson, a world expert on the effects of machinery traffic on soils and crops, raised his hand. He organized that conference. Of interest to tillage workers is the new book on compaction of soils by Dr. Hakansson (2005). Dr. Soane noted the revolution in the way we communicate since 1976. Our lives are now dominated by e-mail and cell phones. But the common interest in tillage among the participants remains constant. At the closing ceremony on Friday afternoon, September 1, 2006, Dr. Horn made a similar comment. He said science has been changed by expensive, new equipment, but the most important thing in research is still the human brainand that can be used with no cost.

At the business meeting on August 31, 2006, the new officers for 2006-2009 of ISTRO were announced: Secretary General: Jan van den Akker (The Netherlands); President: Engin Caker (Turkey); Treasurer: H. Allen Torbert (USA); President-Elect: Oswaldo Ernst (Uruguay); Assistant Secretary-General: Douglas L. Karlen (USA);

Past-President: Rainer Horn (Germany). The 18th ISTRO Conference will be held at Ege University in Izmir, Turkey, in 2009 (dates not yet set).

I have attended all ISTRO conferences since 1979 except the ones in Nigeria and Poland. Earlier conferences had exhibits, or were supported by, the equipment makers. For example, the 11th Conference in Edinburgh was financially supported by John Deere and Massey Ferguson. The 13th Conference in Aalborg, was sponsored by The Goodyear Tyre & Rubber Company. Commerical exhibitors at the 15th Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, included John Deere and Case-DMI, and a major sponsor was Rome Plow Company. The 16th Conference in Brisbane was supported by John Deere. The absence of the equipment makers at the 17th Conference documents the breach that has occurred in recent years between those who want to protect the soil and those who want to make the best economical use of equipment. With larger equipment, a farmer has less cost for labor. However, the soil is being physically degraded in Germany because of the heavy farm machinery that the farmers are using. Some scientists are urging the federal government to limit the weight of the equipment. The largest sugar-beet harvester in Germany weighs, when loaded, about 60 tons, just as much as the biggest U.S. battle tank. A truck of that weight is not allowed on the German interstate roads, but no weight limit exists on arable fields (Prof. Dr. Rienk van der Ploeg, University of Hannover, personal communication, February 16, 2004). The damage done to soils by heavy equipment (and subsequent poor crop growth) is outlined by Ehlers et al. (2005). They point out that subsoil compaction is of particular concern. It is long-lasting and sometimes irreversible. Equipment with high-axle loads has been only available since about 1992. So the problem of subsoil compaction is recent. Along with the absence of farm-machinery makers, some agricultural engineers did not attend the ISTRO meeting in Kiel. The 2009 Conference in Turkey should show the direction that is going to be taken i.e., whether governments will start to limit weight of equipment on soils for sustainability or if farmers will be allowed to continue to use heavy equipment.

M.B. Kirkham
Department of Agronomy
Kansas State University
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Dick, Warren A. 1996. Overview of ISTRO its history, development and activities. Soil & Tillage Research 38: 278-281.

Ehlers, Wilfried, Michael J. Goss, and Rainer Horn. 2005. Letter to the Editor. Comment on Effects of agricultural machinery with high-axle load on soil properties of normally managed fields [Authors L. Schafer-Landefeld, R. Brandhuber, S. Fenner, H.-J. Koch, N. Stockfisch. Soil Till. Res. 75 (2004) 75-86]. Soil & Tillage Research 80:251-254.

Hakansson, Inge. 2005. Machinery-Induced Compaction of Arable Soils. Incidence Consequences Counter-Measures. Reports from the Division of Soil Management No. 109. Department of Soil Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden, 153 pages (ISSN: 0348-0976). (Available from SLU, Department of Soil Sciences, Division of Soil Management, P.O. Box 7014, SE-750 07 Uppsala, Sweden; e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ; cost: 30 Euros).

Horn, R. (Conference Chairman) and B. Vogt, N. Fohrer, H. Fleige, S. Peth, I. Hoyer, and P. Luettich. (Organising Committee). 2006a. International Soil Tillage Research Organisation 17th Triennial Conference. Soil Management for Sustainability. Book of Abstracts. Christian-Albrechts-University, Kiel, Germany. 170 pages.

Horn, Rainer, Heiner Fleige, Stephan Peth, and Xinhau Peng (Editors). 2006b. Soil Management for Sustainability. Advances in Geoecology 38. Catena Verlag, Reiskirchen, Germany. 497 pages (ISBN: 3-923381-52-2; US ISBN: l-59326-246-9).

International Soil Tillage Research Organisation. 2006. 17th Triennial Conference. Proceedings of ISTRO 17. Christian-Albrechts-Universitot, Kiel, Germany. CD-ROM. (ISBN 3-9811134-0-3).