Context or Problem: High commodity prices reflecting increased global demand have encouraged the development of high-input management systems for soybean production in the US. Such systems are promoted as high-yield low-risk that can secure food production and enhance farmers’ income. Objective or Research Question: The objective of this work was to assess the performance and downside yield risk of high- and low-input soybean management systems across the US. Methods: The high-input cropping system included fungicide, insecticide and biological seed treatments, soil and foliar fertilizer and foliar fungicide and insecticide applications. None of these inputs were applied in the low input system. Data were analyzed using a moment-based approach by evaluating the mean, variance, skewness, and kurtosis of soybean yield conditional on state (average of all locations in a state) and cropping system. Results: We found that the field-level yield effect of high-input systems was inconsistent (−4.9 to 12.7% of average yield) and state-specific. Although high-input management may increase mean soybean yield across the US, it likely increases the variance (risk) of soybean yields as well. Our analysis shows that the average cost of yield risk decreased minimally (<3% of average yield) in each state when switching from a low-input system to a high-input system. Conclusions: We conclude that high-input systems do not consistently and significantly protect soybean yield from downside yield risk or risk of extreme yields at the field level and should not necessarily be considered a broad-scale profitable and sustainable food-securing practice. Implications or Significance: These results further support the use of integrated pest management (IPM) for making input decisions instead of relying on prophylactic input applications as insurance against yield-limiting factors. We argue that future studies of food security and crop production should be region-specific and focus on identifying management practices with the greatest yield potential based on IPM practices rather than recommending broad-scale intensive management systems as insurance practice.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Agronomy and Crop Science
- Soil Science