Tillage and cropping effects on soil quality indicators in the northern Great Plains
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The extreme climate of the northern Great Plains of North America requires cropping systems to possess a resilient soil resource in order to be sustainable. This paper summarizes the interactive effects of tillage, crop sequence, and cropping intensity on soil quality indicators for two long-term cropping system experiments in the northern Great Plains. The experiments, located in central North Dakota, were established in 1984 and 1993 on a Wilton silt loam (FAO: Calcic Siltic Chernozem; USDA1: fine-silty, mixed, superactive frigid Pachic Haplustoll). Soil physical, chemical, and biological properties considered as indicators of soil quality were evaluated in spring 2001 in both experiments at depths of 0–7.5, 7.5–15, and 15–30 cm. Management effects on soil properties were largely limited to the surface 7.5 cm in both experiments. For the experiment established in 1984, differences in soil condition between a continuous crop, no-till system and a crop–fallow, conventional tillage system were substantial.Within the surface 7.5 cm, the continuous crop, no-till system possessed significantly more soil organic C (by 7.28 Mg ha-1), particulate organic matter C (POM-C) (by 4.98 Mg ha-1), potentially mineralizable N (PMN) (by 32.4 kg ha-1), and microbial biomass C (by 586 kg ha-1), as well as greater aggregate stability (by 33.4%) and faster infiltration rates (by 55.6 cm h-1) relative to the crop–fallow, conventional tillage system. Thus, soil from the continuous crop, no-till system was improved with respect to its ability to provide a source for plant nutrients, withstand erosion, and facilitate water transfer. Soil properties were affected less by management practices in the experiment established in 1993, although organic matter related properties tended to be greater under continuous cropping or minimum tillage than crop sequences with fallow or no-till. In particular, PMN and microbial biomass C were greatest in continuous spring wheat (with residue removed) (22.5 kg ha-1 for PMN; 792 kg ha-1 for microbial biomass C) as compared with sequences with fallow (SW–S–F and SW–F) (Average = 15.9 kg ha-1 for PMN; 577 kg ha-1 for microbial biomass C). Results from both experiments confirm that farmers in the northern Great Plains of North America can improve soil quality and agricultural sustainability by adopting production systems that employ intensive cropping practices with reduced tillage management.
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