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Soil health management practices and crop productivity

Grace L. Miner, Jorge A. Delgado, James A. Ippolito, Catherine E. Stewart
Agricultural & environmental letters 2020 v.5 no.1 pp. e20023
agricultural conservation practice, agricultural productivity, cover crops, crop quality, crop rotation, crop yield, environmental impact, no-tillage, soil quality
Globally, food systems face multiple challenges, including minimizing environmental impacts, adapting to a changing climate, increasing yields, and maintaining and/or increasing crop nutritional quality. Management techniques that focus on soil health (SH) are promising solutions to mitigate some environmental impacts and may increase economic returns. However, claims that SH increases will concurrently increase crop quality and productivity merit careful examination. Factors beyond SH metrics determine crop nutritional quality. Yield outcomes of SH management are of significance, as there are concerns that yield increases are insufficient to meet future food demands. While SH frameworks are comparatively recent initiatives, there are thousands of published conservation agriculture studies that examine yield outcomes with cover crops, no‐till, and rotation. This literature indicates that SH practices can also have neutral or negative yield impacts—only in select systems have consistent yield increases been realized, highlighting the need for language clarification and improvements in mechanistic understanding of regional‐scale yield impacts.