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When does no-till yield more? A global meta-analysis

Cameron M. Pittelkow, Bruce A. Linquist, Mark E. Lundy, Xinqiang Liang, Kees Jan van Groenigen, Juhwan Lee, Natasja van Gestel, Johan Six, Rodney T. Venterea, Chris van Kessel
Field crops research 2015 v.183 pp. 156-168
Gossypium hirsutum, Oryza sativa, Triticum aestivum, conventional tillage, corn, cotton, crop management, crop yield, crops, dry environmental conditions, environmental quality, fertilizer application, food production, humid zones, input costs, latitude, legumes, meta-analysis, nitrogen fertilizers, no-tillage, oilseeds, rice, soil erosion, temperate zones, tropics, wheat
No-till agriculture represents a relatively widely adopted management system that aims to reduce soil erosion, decrease input costs, and sustain long-term crop productivity. However, its impacts on crop yields are variable, and an improved understanding of the factors limiting productivity is needed to support evidence-based management decisions. We conducted a global meta-analysis to evaluate the influence of various crop and environmental variables on no-till relative to conventional tillage yields using data obtained from peer-reviewed publications (678 studies with 6005 paired observations, representing 50 crops and 63 countries). Side-by-side yield comparisons were restricted to studies comparing conventional tillage to no-till practices in the absence of other cropping system modifications. Crop category was the most important factor influencing the overall yield response to no-till followed by aridity index, residue management, no-till duration, and N rate. No-till yields matched conventional tillage yields for oilseed, cotton, and legume crop categories. Among cereals, the negative impacts of no-till were smallest for wheat (−2.6%) and largest for rice (−7.5%) and maize (−7.6%). No-till performed best under rainfed conditions in dry climates, with yields often being equal to or higher than conventional tillage practices. Yields in the first 1–2 years following no-till implementation declined for all crops except oilseeds and cotton, but matched conventional tillage yields after 3–10 years except for maize and wheat in humid climates. Overall, no-till yields were reduced by 12% without N fertilizer addition and 4% with inorganic N addition. Our study highlights factors contributing to and/or decreasing no-till yield gaps and suggests that improved targeting and adaptation, possibly including additional system modifications, are necessary to optimize no-till performance and contribute to food production goals. In addition, our results provide a basis for conducting trade-off analyses to support the development of no-till crop management and international development strategies based on available scientific evidence.