Submitted to: Advances in Agronomy
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/1/2011
Publication Date: 1/15/2012
Citation: Anderson, R.L. 2012. Synergism: a rotation effect of improved growth efficiency. Advances in Agronomy. 112:205-226.
Interpretive Summary: No-till has transformed crop production in rain-fed agriculture. Preserving crop residue on the soil surface improves precipitation conversion into crop product such that producers have not only increased land productivity and net returns, but also initiated a cycle of soil regeneration and restoration. This change in water relations has stimulated producers to diversify their crop rotations. One benefit of crop diversity is that some crop sequences are synergistic and improve growth efficiency of the following crop, thus crop yield can increase without needing to increase resource inputs such as fertilizer or water. An additional benefit is that tolerance to weed interference is greater with synergistic sequences, thus possibly reducing the need for herbicides.
Technical Abstract: Cropping systems in the Great Plains are changing because of no-till. Rotations now include a diversity of crops in contrast with rotations in tilled systems that grow only one or two crops. This diversity of crops often leads to yield increases because of the rotation effect. We have observed that crop response to the rotation effect can be categorized as either improving resource-use-efficiency or increasing the plant capacity to grow. An example of the efficiency response, which we term synergism, is that some crops improve water-use-efficiency of following crops. Crops produce more grain with the same water use in synergistic sequences; in contrast, crops that increase plant capacity consume more water to produce more grain. Furthermore, synergism among crops increases tolerance of weed interference because of improved resource-use-efficiency. Synergism is more prominent in low-yielding environments due to stresses such as drought, and appears to be rare among crop sequences. The cause of synergism among crops is likely related to a multitude of interacting factors such as microbial changes, growth-promoting substances, and altered nutrient cycling. Quantifying water-use-efficiency as affected by preceding crop may provide a method to identify synergism among crops. No-till rotations that include synergistic crop sequences are improving land productivity, farm economics, soil health, and resource-use-efficiency in the semiarid Great Plains.