Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES FOR IMPROVING ORGANIC FARMING IN THE MID-ATLANTIC REGION

Location: Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory

Title: Long-term assessment of the productivity, profitability, and environmental impact of two mid-Atlantic no-tillage cropping systems

Author
item Teasdale, John

Submitted to: Meeting Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: July 8, 2009
Publication Date: August 23, 2009
Citation: Teasdale, J.R. 2009. Long-term assessment of the productivity, profitability, and environmental impact of two mid-Atlantic no-tillage cropping systems. Farming Systems Design 2009 Proceedings, an International Symposium on Methodologies for Integrated Analysis of Farm Production Systems. p. 271-272.

Interpretive Summary: Future farming systems need to simultaneously 1) meet the demand for feeding a growing world population, 2) adjust to the developing scarcity of energy, nutrients, and water resources, and 3) mitigate environmental hazards. Development of cropping systems that maximize ecological processes for providing crop growth resources and minimize the use of external inputs can contribute to the success of future farming systems. However, most ecologically based cropping systems require the diversion of additional land or time within a rotation to grow soil-building species rather than growing food crops. Thus, a tradeoff may develop between farming systems that rely on intensive production of food crops to feed a growing population and farming systems that rely on ecological principles of building soil fertility and pest management through rotational diversification. Results from the Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Project at Beltsville, Maryland, provide an instructive example of this tradeoff. A typical mid-Atlantic no-tillage system with recommended inputs was compared to a cover crop based no-tillage system with reduced inputs. The substitution of cover crops for grain and fallow rotational time in the cover crop system resulted in lower total production but with the benefit of reducing overall environmental hazard and increasing soil C than the typical no-tillage system. In addition, if variable costs can be considered an overall reflection of the energy and resource requirements for production, then the efficiency of production as measured by the ratio of grain yield per variable cost was higher in the cover crop than no-tillage system (10.8 versus 10.1 kg/$, respectively). This research will be useful for researchers and agricultural professionals interested in developing improved systems that balance the need for productivity with the need for efficient use of resources and the minimization of environmental hazard.

Technical Abstract: Future farming systems need to simultaneously 1) meet the demand for feeding a growing world population, 2) adjust to the developing scarcity of energy, nutrients, and water resources, and 3) mitigate environmental hazards. Development of cropping systems that maximize ecological processes for providing crop growth resources and minimize the use of external inputs can contribute to the success of future farming systems. However, most ecologically based cropping systems require the diversion of additional land or time within a rotation to grow soil-building species rather than growing food crops. Thus, a tradeoff may develop between farming systems that rely on intensive production of food crops to feed a growing population and farming systems that rely on ecological principles of building soil fertility and pest management through rotational diversification. Results from the Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Project at Beltsville, Maryland, provide an instructive example of this tradeoff. A typical mid-Atlantic no-tillage system with recommended inputs was compared to a cover crop based no-tillage system with reduced inputs. The substitution of cover crops for grain and fallow rotational time in the cover crop system resulted in lower total production but with the benefit of reducing overall environmental hazard and increasing soil C than the typical no-tillage system. In addition, if variable costs can be considered an overall reflection of the energy and resource requirements for production, then the efficiency of production as measured by the ratio of grain yield per variable cost was higher in the cover crop than no-tillage system (10.8 versus 10.1 kg/$, respectively). More research is required to refine production systems to balance the need for productivity with the efficient use of resources and the minimization of environmental hazard.

Last Modified: 4/20/2014
Footer Content Back to Top of Page