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No-Till a Solution to Climate Change

Reducing tillage for some Great
Plains crops could help conserve water and reduce losses caused by climate
change, according to USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) investigations.

ARS Researcher Laj Ahuja superimposed climate projections onto 15 to 17 years of field data to see how future crop yields might be affected. The field data was collected at the ARS Central Great Plains Research Station in Akron, Colorado. Ahuja's research team employed a computer models to study crop rotations that included wheat-fallow, wheat-corn-fallow, and wheat-corn-millet to
see how yields might be affected in the future.

They simulated different
combinations of three climate change projections that included rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, rising
temperatures, and a shift in precipitation from late spring and summer to fall
and winter. When the researchers used all three
climate factors to generate yield projections from 2005 to 2100, the yield
estimates for the three cropping systems dropped over time. Declines in corn
and millet yields were more significant than declines in wheat yields.

The ARS team also simulated earlier planting
dates and no-till management to see if either change reduced yield losses, but
only the no-till option helped. In the wheat-fallow rotation with no tillage,
wheat yields were higher than with conventional tillage through 2075. But by
2100, when summer temperatures had increased by 8° F., even the no-till
yield advantage was lost.

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