Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Mandan, North Dakota » Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #305405

Research Project: Sustainable Agricultural Systems for the Northern Great Plains

Location: Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory

Title: A meta-analysis of maize and wheat yields in low-input vs. conventional and organic systems

Author
item HOSSARD, LAURE - Institut National De La Recherche Agronomique (INRA)
item Archer, David
item BERTRAND, MICHEL - Institut National De La Recherche Agronomique (INRA)
item COLNENNE-DAVID, CAROL - Institut National De La Recherche Agronomique (INRA)
item DEBAEKE, PHILIPPE - Institut National De La Recherche Agronomique (INRA)
item ERNFORS, MARIA - Swedish University Of Agricultural Sciences
item JEUFFROY, MARIE-HELENE - Institut National De La Recherche Agronomique (INRA)
item MUNIER-JOLAIN, NICOLAS - Institut National De La Recherche Agronomique (INRA)
item NILSSON, CHRIS - Swedish University Of Agricultural Sciences
item SANFORD, GREGG - University Of Wisconsin
item SNAPP, SIEGLINDE - Michigan State University
item JENSEN, ERIK - Swedish University Of Agricultural Sciences
item MAKOWSKI, DAVID - Institut National De La Recherche Agronomique (INRA)

Submitted to: Agronomy Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/6/2016
Publication Date: 4/22/2016
Publication URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/62513
Citation: Hossard, L., Archer, D.W., Bertrand, M., Colnenne-David, C., Debaeke, P., Ernfors, M., Jeuffroy, M., Munier-Jolain, N., Nilsson, C., Sanford, G.R., Snapp, S.S., Jensen, E.S., Makowski, D. 2016. A meta-analysis of maize and wheat yields in low-input vs. conventional and organic systems. Agronomy Journal. 108:1155-1167. doi:10.2134/agronj2015.0512

Interpretive Summary: A challenge facing agriculture is to meet the food needs of a growing population while protecting the environment. Organic and low-input systems have both been proposed as solutions to this challenge. This paper compares results from multiple experiments conducted in Europe and North America to compare low-input cropping systems to conventional and organic systems. Corn yields in low-input systems were almost equal to those of conventional systems and higher than in organic systems. Wheat yields of low-input systems were lower than in conventional systems but higher than in organic systems. Results show that replacing conventional systems with low input systems could reduce pesticide use by half and reduce nitrogen fertilizer applications by 20 to 80% with little impact on crop yield. The results are useful to farmers and field researchers to identify practices that have been tested and how these practices have performed in other areas. This will help farmers and field researchers develop systems for their own areas that will increase production while improving environmental sustainability.

Technical Abstract: Organic and low-input systems are proposed as ways to reduce the environmental impacts of agriculture. Previous studies have shown that yields of organic systems can be ~19-25% lower than conventional systems. An intermediary, low-input system could be less damaging for the environment than conventional systems, while reducing yield losses in comparison with organic systems. In this study, we carried out a meta-analysis to compare low-input systems to both conventional and organic systems. Our analysis is based on data of cropping system experiments conducted in Europe and North America, and focuses on two important crops, maize and soft winter wheat. Pesticide use was greatly reduced for low-input systems as compared with conventional for the two crops (-50% for maize, -70% for wheat on average). Mean mineral nitrogen use was also reduced (-36% for maize, -28% for wheat) in low input relative to conventional. Maize yields in low-input systems were not different from those in conventional systems, and were higher than yields in organic systems (yield ratio of low input vs. organic = 1.24). Wheat yields in low-input systems were lower than yields in conventional systems (yield ratio of low input vs. conventional = 0.88), but were substantially higher than yields in organic systems (yield ratio of low input vs. organic = 1.45). This is one of the first meta-analysis to assess performance in terms of pesticide intensity of use, and yields, with clear evidence emerging that low-input systems can markedly reduce pesticide application, without strongly reducing crop yields, relative to conventional.