Unravelling the effects of soil and crop management on maize productivity in smallholder agricultural systems of western Kenya : An application of classification and regression tree analysis
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To guide soil fertility investment programmes in sub-Saharan Africa, better understanding is needed of the relative importance of soil and crop management factors in determining smallholder crop yields and yield variability. Spatial variability in crop yields within farms is strongly influenced by variation in both current crop management (e.g. planting dates, fertilizer rates) and soil fertility. Variability in soil fertility is in turn strongly influenced by farmers past soil and crop management. The aim of this study was to investigate the relative importance of soil fertility and crop management factors in determining yield variability and the gap between farmers maize yields and potential yields in western Kenya. Soil fertility status was assessed on 522 farmers fields on 60 farms and paired with data on maize-yield and agronomic management for a sub-sample 159 fields. Soil samples were analysed by wet chemistry methods (1/3 of the samples) and also by near infrared diffuse reflectance spectroscopy (all samples). Spectral prediction models for different soil indicators were developed to estimate soil properties for the 2/3 of the samples not analysed by wet chemistry. Because of the complexity of the data set, classification and regression trees (CART) were used to relate crop yields to soil and management factors. Maize grain yields for fields of different soil fertility status as classified by farmers were: poor, 0.5 1.1; medium, 1.0 1.8; high, 1.4 2.5 t ha?1. The CART analysis showed resource use intensity, planting date, and time of planting were the principal variables determining yield, but at low resource intensity, total soil N and soil Olsen P became important yield-determining factors. Only a small group of plots with high average grain yields (2.5 t ha?1; n = 8) was associated with use of nutrient inputs and good plant stands, whereas the largest group with low average yields (1.2 t ha?1; n = 90) was associated with soil Olsen P values of less than 4 mg kg?1. This classification could be useful as a basis for targeting agronomic advice and inputs to farmers. The results suggest that soil fertility variability patterns on smallholder farms are reinforced by farmers investing more resources on already fertile fields than on infertile fields. CART proved a useful tool for simplifying analysis and providing robust models linking yield to heterogeneous crop management and soil variables.
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