Submitted to: Soil and Water Conservation Society
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/10/1996
Publication Date: N/A
Interpretive Summary: Evaluation of soil and water conservation, as well as offsite environmental effects, associated with crop-production agriculture are needed for public understanding of how the natural resources are being managed. Our examination of crop residue production (the silent partner of harvested food and fiber) and the farmer conversion to tillage systems that retain crop residues on or near the surface explains dramatic reductions of soil erosion, higher crop yields due to improved water conservation, and the likelihood that there is a net soil carbon storage instead of a net loss to atmospheric carbon dioxide. Non point source pollution from agrichemicals is problematic but can be reduced with improved controls on applications technology. This information should be useful to policy planning and evaluations of soil and water resource management. We are not aware of other national assessments that have focused on the long term history of tillage and crop residue management.
Technical Abstract: Adopted technology has transformed American agriculture from a resource-based to a science-oriented industry or from a traditional to a high technology sector in the last 50 years. Fortunately soil and water conservation advanced as a science along with the technology for production. Various sources of resource information were used to evaluate and characterize the progress of technology adoption, as well as soil and water conservation. Crop residue returns for soil conservation have increased as the silent partner of the harvested food and fiber. Conservation tillage systems adopted nationwide have maintained crop residue on or near the surface on 95 percent of the planted corn, soybean, and wheat. Soil erosion was dramatically reduced in the last 15 years and soil organic matter (soil carbon accretion) has been accumulated in an era when atmospheric carbon dioxide may contribute to global warming. Only some of the many mechanical, biological, and chemical technologies were discussed to demonstrate their change in the last 50 years and their need to be improved to: sustain production against pest damage, continue the recent advances in soil and water conservation, and develop applications technology for reducing non-point source pollution from a necessary and continued use of agrichemicals. The remarkable changes and improvements in each of these many technologies over the 50-year period foretell that improvements demand a continuing scientific activity. These technologies have also become system integrated in the last 10 years, a trend which will intensify multi-disciplinary and multi-faceted research.