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Examining Changes in Soil Organic Carbon with Oat and Rye Cover Crops Using Terrain Covariates

Kaspar, T.C., Parkin, T.B., Jaynes, D.B., Cambardella, C.A., Meek, D.W., Jung, Y.S.
Soil Science Society of America journal 2006 v.70 no.4 pp. 1168-1177
soil organic carbon, spatial distribution, cover crops, winter, Secale cereale, Avena sativa, topography, slope, altitude, no-tillage, crop rotation, carbon sequestration, soil-atmosphere interactions, agricultural soils, geographic information systems, soil water content, Iowa
Winter cover crops have the potential to increase soil organic C in the corn (Zea mays L.)-soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] rotation in the upper Midwest. Management effects on soil C, however, are often difficult to measure because of the spatial variation of soil C across the landscape. The objective of this study was to determine the effect of oat (Avena sativa L.), rye (Secale cereale L.), and a mixture of oat and rye used as winter cover crops following soybean on soil C levels over 3 yr and both phases of a corn-soybean rotation using terrain attributes as covariates to account for the spatial variability in soil C. A field experiment was initiated in 1996 with cover crop treatments, both phases of a corn-soybean rotation, and a controlled-traffic no-till system. Oat, rye, and oat-rye mixture cover crop treatments were overseeded into the soybean phase of the rotation in late August each year. Cover crop treatments were not planted into or after the corn phase of the rotation. Soil C concentration was measured on 450 samples taken across both rotation phases in a 7.62-m grid pattern in the late spring of 2000, 2001, and 2002. Slope, relative elevation, and wetness index (WI) were used as covariates in the analysis of variance to remove 77% of the variation of soil C caused by landscape driven patterns of soil C. Soil C concentrations were 0.0023 g C g soil⁻¹ higher in 2001 and 0.0016 g C g soil⁻¹ higher in 2002 than in 2000. The main effects of cover crops were not significant, but the interaction of cover crops and rotation phase was significant. The rye cover crop treatment had 0.0010 g C g soil⁻¹ higher soil C concentration than the no-cover-crop control in the soybean phase of the rotation, which included cover crops, but had 0.0016 g C g soil⁻¹ lower C concentrations than the control in the corn phase of the rotation, which did not have cover crops. Using terrain covariates allowed us to remove most of the spatial variability of soil C, but oat and rye cover crops planted every other year after soybean did not increase soil C concentrations averaged over years and rotation phases.