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Title: Crop productivity and economics during the transition to alternative cropping systems

item Archer, David
item Jaradat, Abdullah
item Johnson, Jane
item Weyers, Sharon
item Gesch, Russell - Russ
item Forcella, Frank
item Kludze, Hillarius

Submitted to: Agronomy Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/3/2007
Publication Date: 11/1/2007
Citation: Archer, D.W., Jaradat, A.A., Johnson, J.M., Lachnicht Weyers, S.L., Gesch, R.W., Forcella, F., Kludze, H.K. 2007. Crop Productivity and Economics during the Transition to Alternative Cropping Systems. Agronomy Journal. 99:1538-1547.

Interpretive Summary: The environmental benefits of reducing tillage and increasing crop diversity are well-known. However, economic forces may prevent use of these management systems. This paper examined crop yields and economic returns during the transition to a wide range of cropping systems in the northern Corn Belt. Treatments included both organic and conventional systems with different tillage, rotation, and fertility combinations. Results showed complex interactions among treatments. Crop yields were often lower in the organic systems than in conventional systems. Crop yields were also often lower when no fertilizer or manure was applied. Profits were as high in organic systems as in conventional systems when organic price premiums were paid. Results also showed that timing the transition to the best crop rotation starting point was important for profitability. This research is useful to producers who are making decisions about switching cropping practices and to policy makers in determining economic incentives that may be needed to encourage producers to adopt these practices.

Technical Abstract: Increasing economic pressures and continued environmental concerns in agricultural production have heightened the need for more sustainable cropping systems. Research is needed to identify systems that simultaneously improve the economic and social viability of farms and rural communities while protecting the environment and improving or maintaining our natural resource base. The environmental benefits of reducing tillage and increasing diversity are well-recognized; however, economic obstacles may exist to adopting these alternative management systems. This paper examined crop productivity and economic returns during the transition to a wide range of cropping system alternatives in the northern Corn Belt, including different system (organic, conventional), tillage (conventional, strip-tillage), rotation (corn-soybean, corn-soybean-wheat/alfalfa-alfalfa), and fertility (no fertilizer/manure, fertilizer/manure applied at recommended rates) treatments. Average organic corn yields were generally lower than conventional corn yields and showed a downward yield trend during the transition. While organic soybean yields were often lower than their conventional counterparts, no significant soybean yield differences were detected among any of the conventional system treatments and two organic system treatments. Soybean yields showed a significant upward yield trend for the conventional system with a corn-soybean-wheat/alfalfa-alfalfa rotation. Organic wheat yields were also generally lower than conventional yields. Treatments receiving fertilizer or manure generally had higher wheat and alfalfa yields than treatments that did not receive fertilizer or manure. Without organic price premiums, net returns for the organic systems were generally lower than for the conventional systems; however, when organic price premiums were included, most organic treatments had net returns comparable to or exceeding the conventional treatments. Results showed that rotation entry point also affected net returns with the highest net returns obtained for the organic system under conventional tillage with manure applied at the recommended rate and a soybean entry point into a corn-soybean rotation.