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ARS Home » Plains Area » Brookings, South Dakota » Integrated Cropping Systems Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #343037

Research Project: Productive Cropping Systems Based on Ecological Principles of Pest Management

Location: Integrated Cropping Systems Research

Title: Tracking microbial impact on crop production

item Anderson, Randal

Submitted to: Internet Web Page
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/15/2017
Publication Date: 4/27/2017
Citation: Anderson, R.L. 2017. Tracking microbial impact on crop production. No-Till Farmer (online). Available:

Interpretive Summary: Systems that integrate no-till, crop diversity, and cover crops are increasing microbial activity and diversity, and consequently, improving crop yields. In this paper, we discuss research showing that this approach could help producers increase crop yields 15 to 30% without increasing inputs or in some situations, reducing inputs such as N and P. One trend is that water-use-efficiency can be improved by greater microbial activity, which will be especially favorable in regions where water supply is often low. Furthermore, greater microbial activity will accelerate the restoration of soil health due to its involvement with several biological processes in soil.

Technical Abstract: One of the benefits of no-till systems is that activity of the soil microbial community increases. Producers gain an array of improvements in their production systems due to enhanced microbial functioning. For example, corn yield can increase approximately 25% with the same inputs with more microbial activity. The reason for this yield gain is that N and P concentration in the corn plant is higher because enhanced microbial functioning increases nutrient uptake by the plant. Water-use-efficiency of crops is also higher when the microbial community is functioning at a greater level. Several studies have shown that crop growth and yield can improve 15 to 30% with greater microbial functioning, even when the resource supply (such as water, N, or P) is the same.