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No-till agriculture may not bring hoped-for boost in global crop yields, study finds

Published October 22, 2014

URBANA, Ill. - No-till farming, a key conservation agriculture strategy that avoids conventional plowing and otherwise disturbing the soil, may not bring a hoped-for boost in crop yields in much of the world, according to an extensive new meta-analysis by an international team that included a University of Illinois crop sciences researcher and was led by the University of California, Davis.

As the core principle of conservation agriculture, no-till has been promoted worldwide in an effort to sustainably meet global food demand. But after examining results from 610 peer-reviewed studies, the researchers found that no-till often leads to yield declines compared to conventional tillage systems, except it still shows promise for yield gains in dryland areas.

The landmark findings from their review were published Oct. 22 in the journal Nature.

“The big challenge for agriculture is that we need to further increase yields but greatly reduce our environmental impacts,” said Cameron Pittelkow, who co-authored the study as a postdoctoral scholar at UC Davis and is now on the faculty at U of I. “The common assumption that no-till is going to play a large role in the sustainable intensification of agriculture doesn’t necessarily hold true, according to our research findings.”

Conservation agriculture is currently practiced on 125 million hectares of land globally, an area nearly as big as the total U.S. cropland. Three key principles guide the concept: minimizing soil disturbance (also called no-till farming), protecting the soil with cover crops or leftover crop residue, and rotating the crops.

The goals of conservation agriculture are to improve long-term productivity, profits, and food security, particularly under the threat of climate change. Because conservation agriculture avoids tillage, it is less time-consuming and can be more cost-effective than conventional farming methods.

In recent years, however, there has been some disagreement about the impact of no-till farming practices on yield.

“This review was a tremendous undertaking and is probably the largest meta-analysis done in agriculture,” said co-author Bruce Linquist, a Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Davis.

After assessing more than 5,000 side-by-side observations, the researchers concluded that on average no-till negatively impacts yields at the global scale, yet several opportunities exist for more closely matching or even exceeding conventional tillage yields.

For example, yield reductions were minimized when the principles of crop rotation and residue retention were also practiced, highlighting the importance of implementing all three conservation agriculture principles as part of an integrated management system rather than no-till alone.

Moreover, when adopted in dry climates in combination with the other two principles of conservation agriculture, no-till farming performed significantly better than conventional tillage, likely due to the higher retention of soil moisture.

Dryland ecosystems are home to 38 percent of the world’s population, and millions of acres of land in arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have been identified as suitable for sustainable intensification. Yet the authors also caution that practicing no-till in dryland areas without the implementation of the other two principles of conservation agriculture decreases yields.

In regions with moist climates and sufficient precipitation, no-till farming actually resulted in yields that were on average 6 to 9 percent lower than with conventional tillage methods.

“No one has ever stated that there would be a significant decline like this,” said Chris van Kessel, a professor of plant sciences at UC Davis and co-author of the study. “Our findings suggest that broad implementation of conservation agriculture may not be warranted in all areas, particularly where residue retention and crop rotation practices are hard to implement.”

“Productivity limits and potentials of the principles of conservation agriculture,” was recently published online in Nature, and can be accessed at

Co-authors are Cameron M. Pittelkow of University of Illinois, Xinqiang Liang of Zhejiang University, China; Mark E. Lundy of the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences; Kees Jan van Groenigen and Natasja van Gestel, both of Northern Arizona University; Johan Six and Juhwan Lee, both of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Switzerland; and Rodney T. Venterea of the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service.

This article was adapted from a press release from the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences News and Media Relations office.

Attachment + parenting: Building an emotional foundation that endures

Published October 21, 2014

URBANA, Ill. - Child development professionals call it secure attachment—a young child’s deep sense of knowing her parents are there for her. That bond gives a secure base from which to explore the environment, protection in times of uncertainty, and a source of joy in everyday interactions, according to University of Illinois attachment experts Nancy McElwain and Kelly Bost.

As a result of that security, children come to believe that they are competent in managing challenging situations, are worthy of care and attention, and can trust others in close relationships. And that sense of well-being can endure throughout a child’s lifetime.

So how do kids develop a secure attachment? “It depends on how a parent responds when the child is distressed or upset and needs emotional support,” says Bost, professor of human development and family studies.

Parents have a key role in helping kids learn how to regulate and express their emotions. Secure attachment gives young kids an emotional foundation as they learn how to handle powerful feelings like sadness, frustration, social fearfulness, and anger, says McElwain, professor of human development and family studies.

“When parents punish their children for being sad, angry, or scared, kids learn to hide their emotions instead of showing them. These children become increasingly anxious when they experience these feelings because they know they’ll face negative consequences,” she adds.

Here are some everyday examples of how parents can replace negative responses with more effective ones when challenges arise:

Say a young child returns from a birthday party crying because her friend neglected her, choosing to play with another child instead.

  • Rather than dismiss her sadness (“Just forget about it, honey. Don’t be sad”), support your child as she experiences this difficult emotion: “I’m sorry you’re upset. Let me give you a hug.”
  • Instead of minimizing the emotional reaction (“Don’t be a baby. You’re making a big deal out of nothing”), help your child identify and understand her feelings: “I know that you feel sad and hurt that Betsy played with Estela more than she played with you. Tell me how you feel about that.”
  • Rather than punish her (“Go to your room until you can control yourself”), help her problem-solve: “Let’s think of something you can say or do if this happens again.”

In recent research, the two experts have discovered some really good reasons for nurturing attachment in young children.

Bost has discovered that a parent’s attachment style, which is thought to stem from the mom’s or dad’s own attachment-related experiences, may influence parenting behaviors that have been implicated in childhood obesity.

In a recent study, insecure parents were significantly more likely to respond to their children’s distress by becoming distressed themselves or dismissing their child’s emotion.

A child who doesn’t learn how to properly handle sadness or frustration is more likely to engage in comfort eating, using food for self-soothing, she says.

McElwain’s research has taken her in a different direction. “Because a child’s early attachments are close and emotionally intense, those first relationships may be important in guiding the way children think about and function in other close relationships in later life,” she says.

She has learned that children who are securely attached develop stronger early friendships, “probably because they enter relationships with positive expectations. If they’ve had a secure, emotionally open parent–child relationship, they’re more responsive to their peers, and that promotes more positive interactions with friends during the early school years.”

In another benefit, McElwain says, a securely attached child who encounters a peer who doesn’t interact well can adapt to the situation and be assertive, by either making suggestions or giving directions.

McElwain’s research has shown that little boys, especially those who are prone to feeling anger, fear, or frustration intensely, may need extra support when their emotions threaten to overwhelm them.

“In our culture, boys are discouraged from expressing their emotions. If you add parental punishment to these cultural expectations, the outcome may be especially detrimental for boys who often experience negative emotions intensely,” she says.

Bost says that parents shouldn’t confuse a difficult temperament with an insecure attachment. “You may have a fussy infant, but if you respond to him sensitively and consistently, he will develop a strong bond with his parents and will likely go on to develop close relationships with others.”

Registration open for 2014 AGMasters Conference

Published October 21, 2014

URBANA, Ill. – Online registration is now open for the 2014 AGMasters Conference scheduled for Dec. 15 and 16 at the iHotel and Conference Center, Chamapign, Ill.

The 6th annual conference, hosted by University of Illinois Extension, will begin with a general session that features speakers covering a variety of topics including: potential water protection rules and standards, implications of the new Farm Bill, agrichemical/agribusiness/industry education initiatives, and the practical implications of evolutionary principles regarding resistance development by insects, plant pathogens, and weeds.

Following the general session, attendees can choose 8 out of 16 specialized sessions. Topics offered include:

  • Cover crops
  • Managing big data
  • Refining herbicide application techniques
  • Palmer amaranth biology/ecology
  • Western corn rootworm resistance to Bt
  • Understanding and managing Pythium
  • Methods to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus losses
  • White mold and soybean production
  • Fusarium head blight of wheat
  • Use of drones for aerial scouting
  • Advance in corn genetics
  • Management of insects in stored grain
  • Soybean management with pollinator considerations

Leading the workshops will be speakers from Iowa State University, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Purdue University, University of Guelph, University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska, and the University of Wisconsin.

According to Mike Gray, a U of I professor of crop sciences, space in the breakout sessions is limited, and those with interest in this conference are strongly encouraged to register early to help ensure the availability of specialized classes of most interest.

The registration fee for this event is $250 through Dec. 5. Enrollment in the specialized sessions is on a first-come, first-served basis.

“One of the most popular features of this two-day event is the opportunity to interact with instructors from many universities in small classroom-style sessions” Gray said.  “The instructors have been encouraged to solicit input and questions from the participants. So please come loaded up with questions for these researchers to address.”

Register online at For more information about registration,  contact Sandy Osterbur at

Continuing education credits (CCA) are offered in the following categories: professional development (1.5), crop management (4.0), IPM (10.5), nutrient management (1.5), and soil and water management (3.5).

News Source:

Mike Gray, 217- 333-4424

Annual Newsletter Available

Published October 20, 2014

The 2014 FSHN Newsletter is now available online! 

News Source:

Marla Todd

News Writer:

Marla J. Todd, 217-244-2875

Related Links:

2014 FSHN Newsletter

Crop storage issues may be less severe than anticipated

Published October 20, 2014

URBANA, Ill. – The large size of fall-harvested crops in the United States has raised very real concerns about the ability to readily store the record supply of crops available this year. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, supplies that exceed permanent storage capacity require the use of temporary storage facilities or may require delayed harvest in some circumstances. However, weather-related harvest delays to date and a rapid rate of consumption mean that overall storage issues may be less severe than feared this year.

“The supply of crops to be stored in the fall of the year consists of the inventory already in store as well as the newly harvested crops,” explained Darrel Good. “The USDA’s September Grain Stocks report showed the inventory of feed grains, wheat, and soybeans on Sept. 1, 2014, at 3.528 billion bushels, 422 million bushels larger than the inventory of the previous year.  The October Crop Production report estimated that the corn, sorghum, and soybean harvest would total 18.806 billion bushels, 1.134 billion bushels larger than last year’s harvest. The fall supply of feed grains, wheat, and soybeans is estimated to be 22.334 billion bushels, 1.556 billion bushels larger than the supply of a year earlier. The majority (62 percent) of the total year-over- year increase in supply comes from larger corn supplies.”

Each year, the USDA provides an estimate of on-farm and off-farm grain storage capacity based on surveys conducted in December. Total storage capacity as of Dec. 1, 2013, was estimated at 23.44 billion bushels. “Some additional capacity has been added in 2014, but the total fall crop supply this year likely represents about 95 percent of total storage capacity,” Good said. “While overall storage capacity appears to be fully adequate to handle the available crop supply, issues develop because some of that capacity is occupied by other crops and, more important, the location of available storage capacity does not always align with the location of fall-harvested crops. Still, not all of the supply has to be stored.  Harvest occurs over a relatively long period of time, and crops are continually consumed.”

Good said that harvest has proceeded more slowly this year than in the recent past due to wet weather in some major producing areas. As of October 12, the USDA estimated that only 24 percent of the corn acreage had been harvested, compared to the previous 5-year average of 43 percent. That average includes 2009 when only 13 percent of the acreage had been harvested as of the same date. Soybean harvest has been a little more timely but was estimated at only 40 percent complete as of October 12, compared to the previous 5-year average of 53 percent. The slower pace of harvest has allowed for more crops to be consumed as harvest progresses, reducing the overall requirement for storage space.

Based on USDA weekly export inspection estimates, Good said that the exports of feed grains, wheat, and soybeans from Sept. 1 through Oct. 16 totaled about 625 million bushels. Based on the USDA’s projection of feed and residual use of corn for the 2014-15 marketing year and the recent seasonal pattern of that use, about 1.225 billion bushels of corn were likely used in that category during that same time period. Similarly, about 800 million bushels of corn were likely used for domestic food and industrial products, mostly ethanol. Feed and residual use of other feed grains and wheat was likely near only 50 million bushels as residual use of wheat is often negative during the fall quarter. Based on the National Oilseed Processor Association (NOPA) estimate of the domestic soybean crush for September and assuming a normal seasonal increase in October, about 170 million bushels of soybeans were likely processed during that time period. Based on a typical seasonal pattern, seed, feed, and residual use of soybeans was likely near 150 million bushels. Food and industrial use of wheat and feed grains other than corn would have been near 180 million bushels if use followed a typical seasonal pattern.    

“In total, it is likely that consumption of feed grains, wheat, and soybeans during the period from Sept. 1 through Oct. 16 totaled about 3.2 billion bushels, or about 69.6 million bushels per day,” Good said. “That pace of use continues so that nearly 16 percent of the total fall crop supply has already been consumed. That magnitude of consumption has substantially reduced the requirement for crop storage capacity, resulting in a modest strengthening of the corn and soybean basis in many areas.”

Good concluded that while overall crop storage issues may be less severe than anticipated, regional issues persist. “In addition, a more rapid pace of harvest, particularly for corn, is expected to occur this week and beyond as weather conditions remain favorable over much of the production area,” Good said. “A rapid pace of harvest would be expected to keep basis levels for corn and soybeans seasonally weak. A typical post-harvest recovery in basis levels, however, is expected.”