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Soil profile carbon and nitrogen in prairie, perennial grass–legume mixture and wheat-fallow production in the central High Plains, USA

Hurisso, Tunsisa T., Norton, Jay B., Norton, Urszula
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2013 v.181 pp. 179-187
Conservation Reserve Program, Triticum aestivum, agricultural land, carbon, conservation practices, dissolved organic carbon, disturbed soils, herbicides, land management, nitrogen, nitrogen content, plowing, soil fertility, soil organic carbon, soil quality, soil sampling, sustainable development, weed control, wheat, United States
Conversion of native prairie land for agricultural production has resulted in significant loss and redistribution of soil organic matter (SOM) in the soil profile ultimately leading to declining soil fertility in a low-productivity semiarid agroecosystem. Improved understanding of such losses can lead to development of sustainable land management practices that maintain soil fertility and enhance soil quality. This study was conducted to determine whether conservation practices impact soil profile carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) accumulation in central High Plains. Soil samples were taken at four-depth increments to 1.2m in July of 2011 from five unfertilized fields under long-term management with varying degrees of soil disturbance: (1) historic wheat (Triticum aestivum)-fallow (HT) – managed with tillage alone, (2) conventional wheat-fallow (CT) – input of herbicides for weed control and fewer tillage operation than historic wheat-fallow, (3) no-till wheat-fallow (NT) – not plowed since 2000 and herbicides used for weed control, (4) grass–legume mixture – established in 2005 as in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and (5) native mixed grass prairie (NP) – representing a relatively undisturbed reference location. Cumulative soil organic C (SOC) was not significantly different among the three wheat-fallow systems when the whole profile (0–120cm) was analyzed. However, SOC, dissolved organic C (DOC), and total soil N contents decreased in the direction NP>CRP≥NT>HT≥CT in the surface 0–30cm depth. In the surface 0–30cm depth, estimated annual SOC storage rate averaged 0.28Mg Cha−1year−1 since the cessation of tillage in 2000 and 0.58Mg Cha−1year−1 since the establishment of CRP grass–legume mixture in 2005. Cumulative soil inorganic C (SIC) accumulation ranged between 8.1 and 24.9Mgha−1and was greatest under wheat-fallow systems, particularly at deeper soil layers, relative to the perennial systems (NP and CRP). Results from this study suggest that repeated soil disturbance induced by cropping and fallow favored large accumulation of SIC which presence may result in decline in soil fertility and productivity; whereas conversion from tilled wheat-fallow to CRP grass–legume mixture offers great SOC storage potential relative to NT wheat-fallow practices.