Global meta-analysis of the relationship between soil organic matter and crop yields

Emily E. Oldfield, Mark A. Bradford, Stephen A. Wood
2018 SOIL Discussions  
<p><strong>Abstract.</strong> Resilient, productive soils are necessary to sustainably intensify agriculture to increase yields while minimizing environmental harm. To conserve and regenerate productive soils, the need to build and maintain soil organic matter (SOM) has received considerable attention. Although SOM is considered key to soil health, its relationship with yield is contested because of local-scale differences in soils, climate, and farming systems. There is a need to quantify this
more » ... ed to quantify this relationship to set a general framework for how soil management could potentially contribute to the goals of sustainable intensification. We developed a quantitative model exploring how SOM relates to crop yield potential of maize and wheat in light of co-varying factors of management, soil type, and climate. We found that yields of these two crops are on average greater with higher concentrations of SOC. However, yield increases level off at ~<span class="thinspace"></span>2<span class="thinspace"></span>% SOC. Nevertheless, approximately two thirds of the world's cultivated maize and wheat lands currently have SOC contents of less than 2<span class="thinspace"></span>%. Using this regression relationship developed from published empirical data, we then estimated how an increase in SOC concentrations up to regionally-specific targets could potentially help reduce reliance on nitrogen (N) fertilizer and help close global yield gaps. Potential N fertilizer reductions associated with increasing SOC amount to 7<span class="thinspace"></span>% and 5<span class="thinspace"></span>% of global N fertilizer inputs across maize and wheat fields, respectively. Potential yield increases of 10<span class="thinspace"></span>±<span class="thinspace"></span>11<span class="thinspace"></span>% (mean<span class="thinspace"></span>±<span class="thinspace"></span>SD) for maize and 23<span class="thinspace"></span>±<span class="thinspace"></span>37<span class="thinspace"></span>% for wheat amount to 32<span class="thinspace"></span>% of the projected yield gap for maize and 60<span class="thinspace"></span>% of that for wheat. Our analysis provides a global-level prediction for relating SOC to crop yields. Further work employing similar approaches to regional and local data, coupled with experimental work to disentangle causative effects of SOC on yield and vice-versa, are needed to provide practical prescriptions to incentivize soil management for sustainable intensification.</p>
doi:10.5194/soil-2018-21 fatcat:tgwsvllvyzeshmj57b3thgilqm