Cusser, S., C. A. Bahlai, S. M. Swinton, G. P. Robertson, and N. M. Haddad. 2020. Long-term research needed to avoid spurious and misleading trends in sustainability attributes of no-till. Global Change Biology 26:3715-3725.
Agricultural management recommendations based on short‐term studies can produce findings inconsistent with long‐term reality. Here, we test the long‐term environmental sustainability and profitability of continuous no‐till agriculture on yield, soil water availability, and N2O fluxes. Using a moving window approach, we investigate the development and stability of several attributes of continuous no‐till as compared to conventional till agriculture over a 29‐year period at a site in the upper Midwest, US. Over a decade is needed to detect the consistent effects of no‐till. Both crop yield and soil water availability required 15 years or longer to generate patterns consistent with 29‐year trends. Only marginal trends for N2O fluxes appeared in this period. Relative profitability analysis suggests that after initial implementation, 86% of periods between 10 and 29 years recuperated the initial expense of no‐till implementation, with the probability of higher relative profit increasing with longevity. Importantly, statistically significant but misleading short‐term trends appeared in more than 20% of the periods examined. Results underscore the importance of decadal and longer studies for revealing consistent dynamics and emergent outcomes of no‐till agriculture, shown to be beneficial in the long term.
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