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Four years of conservation agriculture affects topsoil aggregate-associated 15nitrogen but not the 15nitrogen use efficiency by wheat in a semi-arid climate

Bhattacharyya, Ranjan, Das, T.K., Das, S., Dey, Abir, Patra, A.K., Agnihotri, R., Ghosh, Avijit, Sharma, A.R.
Geoderma 2019 v.337 pp. 333-340
Gossypium hirsutum, Triticum aestivum, Zea mays, agricultural conservation practice, agroecosystems, clay, corn, cotton, cropping systems, crops, fertilizers, mineralization, nitrogen, no-tillage, sandy loam soils, semiarid zones, silt, soil aggregation, stable isotopes, topsoil, urea, wheat, Indo-Gangetic Plain
Available results on the evaluation of nitrogen (N) use efficiency in conservation agriculture (CA) are inconsistent and studies that cover all three components of CA are sparse, especially in tropical agro-ecosystems. Hence, CA effects on variations in total soil N (TSN) and aggregate-associated 15N on a sandy loam soil were evaluated after 15N urea (~5% atom excess) application at 120 kg ha−1 to wheat in the fourth year of an experiment in the Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP). The cropping system during 2008–2011 was cotton (Gossypium hirsutum)-wheat (Triticum aestivum), that was changed to maize (Zea mays)-wheat in 2011–2012. Results revealed that plots under zero tillage with residue retention of both crops (ZT + R) had better topsoil (0–5 cm layer) aggregation and higher residual 15N in soils than conventionally tilled (CT) plots. The ZT + R plots also had higher macro-aggregates (0.25–8 mm) with less silt + clay sized particles than the CT plots in the 5–15 cm soil layer. Furthermore, both tillage and residue management had significant effects on TSN and aggregate-associated N stocks. The plots under ZT + R had ~9% higher TSN in topsoil than the CT plots and the ZT and ZT + R plots had about 48 and 34% higher large macro-aggregate associated N stocks than CT and CT + R plots, respectively. However, the potential N-mineralization data of the macro-aggregates of ZT + R (CA) and CT plots were similar. In addition, the fertilizer 15N use efficiency, the residual fertilizer 15N in soil (0–45 cm layer) and the calculated unaccounted fertilizer 15N data of both CA and CT plots were also similar after the fourth year of cultivation. In summary, although CA (ZT + R) adoption had better soil aggregation and with more TSN accumulation within macro-aggregates, it could not affect the fertilizer 15N use efficiency within a short period (4 years). Thus, with a short-term adoption of CA, fertilizer-N dose may not be reduced in a sandy loam soil of the IGP and similar agro-ecosystems.