The energy balance of crops is an important criterion for the ecological evaluation of agricultural production. Reduction of tillage intensity reduces the energy input and hence modifies the parameters of the energy balance of agricultural cropping systems. The present investigation aimed at the effects of different tillage systems on the constituents of the energy balance of sugar beet and winter wheat crops. Four tillage treatments (ploughed = mouldboard ploughing 30 cm deep applied to the 3 main crops in the rotation, loosened = non inverting loosening 30 cm deep applied to all main crops, mulched = only shallow tillage 10 cm deep, direct drilled = no tillage except for sugar beets with 1-2 passes of shallow tillage) are compared. The crop rotation includes sugar beet followed by 2 times winter wheat. The energy balance was calculated for a single field which belongs to one of four 500 hectare farms each with a machinery adopted to one of the four tillage systems. For both crops (sugar beet, winter wheat) the primary energy input (PEI) decreased up to 1.5 GJ ha-1 a-1 by reducing tillage intensity, particularly due to the diminishing PEI for fuel and lubricants. Over the 3-year rotation the differences summed up to 4.4 GJ ha-1. Compared to the ploughed treatment the energy yield of both crops decreased in the loosened and mulched treatment about 3-5 GJ ha-1 a-1. This decrease was even greater with direct drilling, especially when applied to sugar beets. Differences in net energy gain due to tillage and crop species were very similar compared to energy yield. Opposite to this, energy intensity was lowest in the mulched treatment indicating the highest efficiency of energy use. Averaged on all crops efficiency increased up to 8 MJ CGU-1 (calculated ‘cereal grain unit’ (CGU) as a base for comparison of different crops) in this treatment.
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