Alexander G Park, Crop Sciences, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Rising wheat consumption and recurring climate extremes threaten food security in the Eastern Indo-Gangetic Plain, a global ‘hot spot’ for rural poverty where opportunities for expanding the cultivated area are limited. Closing staple crop yield gaps in this region through agronomic practices currently available to farmers can contribute to a more secure future in this region and beyond, especially since declining water resource availability in the Western Indo-Gangetic Plain threatens the sustainability of the intensified wheat production systems that provide the foundation for food security in South Asia. Yield gap assessments from centralized field trials are difficult to generalize as they don’t capture the range of variability inherent in farm management and site characteristics in the region. In contrast, on-farm production practice and yield estimation surveys implemented across broad environmental and socio-economic gradients provide an opportunity to robustly diagnose causes of yield gaps. In this analysis we use such data on wheat from Bihar, India and the Terai region of Nepal (N = 1020 farms). High, stable wheat yields were strongly associated with two factors: 1) investment in adequate soil fertility, particularly nitrogen and potassium, and 2) timely establishment of longer-duration wheat cultivars. Agricultural development support programs that prioritize these dimensions of sustainable intensification will likely provide a stable base for enhancing wheat production in the Eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains. If they are de-prioritized in favor of other technologies or management interventions, food security objectives will remain unrealized.