Climate change enhances economics of conservation tillage

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

Farmers have traditionally used intensive tillage to prepare the ground for the next year’s harvest and for weed control. Intensive tillage, however, adversely affects the soil in a field and it leads to sediment and nutrient runoff resulting in pollution of surface water and increased emissions of greenhouse gases. Changing weather patterns associated with climate change will worsen some of these issues. Conservation tillage, an alternative crop management practice, can mitigate some fo the adverse effects of intensive tillage, but there are barriers to adoption of conservation practices, including potential loss of productivity or profitability.

Using data from a 39-year field experiment in Indiana, researchers from the Department of Agricultural Economics (graduate student Whitney Hoode, and Professors Juan Sesmero and Otto Doering) and Agronomy (Professor Tony Vyn), and the University of Illinois, evaluated the economics of conservation tillage under current and projected climates. The researchers find that under current weather patterns and a corn-soybean rotation, a farmer would already have the economic incentive to adopt some form of conservation tillage. Projected climate change enhances the economics of conservation tillage, further reducing the economic hurdle required to induce its adoption. The results of the study might not generalize to areas with dissimilar soil types and agroclimatic conditions; however, the analytical method developed by the research team can be applied to different settings to examine if these insights change across different regions.The long-term experiment that provided the crop yield data for this study was conducted on Mollisol soils, the dominant soil type in the Corn Belt region.

Hodde, W., J. Sesmero, B. Gramig, T. Vyn, O Doering (2019). The Predicted Effect of Projected Climate Change on the Economics of Conservation Tillage. Agronomy Journal, 111,6.

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