Long-Term Evidence Shows that Crop-Rotation Diversification Increases Agricultural Resilience to Adverse Growing Conditions in North America

Elsevier, One Earth, VOLUME 2, ISSUE 3, P284-293, MARCH 20, 2020
Timothy M. Bowles, Maria Mooshammer, Yvonne Socolar, Francisco Calderon, Michel A. Cavigelli, Steve W. Culman, William Deen, Craig F. Drury, Axel Garcia y Garcia, Amelie C.M. Gaudin, W. Scott Harkcom, R. Michael Lehman, Shannon L. Osborne, G. Philip Robertson, Jonathan Salerno, Marty R. Schmer, Jeffrey Strock, and A. Stuart Grandy

A grand challenge facing humanity is how to produce food for a growing population in the face of a changing climate and environmental degradation. Although empirical evidence remains sparse, management strategies that increase environmental sustainability, such as increasing agroecosystem diversity through crop rotations, may also increase resilience to weather extremes without sacrificing yields. We used multilevel regression analyses of long-term crop yield datasets across a continental precipitation gradient to assess how temporal crop diversification affects maize yields in intensively managed grain systems. More diverse rotations increased maize yields over time and across all growing conditions (28.1% on average), including in favorable conditions (22.6%). Notably, more diverse rotations also showed positive effects on yield under unfavorable conditions, whereby yield losses were reduced by 14.0%–89.9% in drought years. Systems approaches to environmental sustainability and yield resilience, such as crop-rotation diversification, are a central component of risk-reduction strategies and should inform the enablement of policies.