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How to Change with the Climate to Maintain No-Till Yields, Productivity

More erratic precipitation patterns and shifting seasons are reinforcing the value of a comprehensive no-till plan for improving soil health.

For Jerry Hatfield, laboratory director at the USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, climate change isn’t something that’s coming — it’s already here. 

Rain and temperature data over the last 50 years show that there has already been a significant shift in weather patterns, which have influenced no-tillers’ cropping systems. While scientists are far from understanding the phenomenon and what it means, Hatfield offers some interesting how-to advice on managing the evolving weather patterns.

He says it will require some unconventional thinking and with it, controversy. 

“These are very wicked, complex problems,” he says. “It will take a combination of factoring nutrient, water and light-capture efficiencies and how they come together to address changing weather patterns and how they affect soil, water, yield and profitability.” 

 What’s Happening?

Fifty-year weather data shows some interesting, if not alarming trends. USDA’s  National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) data indicates that state yield levels are slowly increasing, but from year-to-year, variances show up that primarily come from wild swings in the weather.

“Corn, soybeans, sweet corn and potato yields across the upper Midwest show bumps and wiggles on yield charts, primarily due to the weather, “Hatfield says. 

Those variations in the weather fall into 2 categories: 

  1. A change in precipitation patterns. “It is not consistent, but generally, the upper Midwest is getting wetter over time vs. the southwest, which is getting dryer,” he says. 
    In addition, precipitation is coming in heavier amounts. “In the last 40 years, there has been a trend to…
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