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Short-term effects of cover crops and tillage methods on soil physical properties and maize growth in a sandy loam soil

Ren, Lidong, Nest, Thijs Vanden, Ruysschaert, Greet, D’Hose, Tommy, Cornelis, Wim M.
Soil & tillage research 2019 v.192 pp. 76-86
Secale, Sinapis alba subsp. alba, Zea mays, adverse effects, agricultural mechanization, compacted soils, conventional tillage, corn, cover crops, growing season, pioneer species, plowing, rooting, rye, sandy loam soils, soil compaction, soil physical properties, spring, strip tillage, winter
Soil compaction is a serious threat to agricultural production because of an expanding agricultural mechanization. Conservation tillage and use of pioneer plants can be an environmentally solution to alleviate the adverse effects of soil compaction. Root penetration into compacted soil of two winter cover crops with different rooting patterns, i.e. tap-rooted white mustard (Sinapis alba L.), and fibrous-rooted winter rye (Secale cereal L.), and of maize (Zea mays L.) in the consecutive growing season was assessed. Additionally, the effects of two spring tillage methods were evaluated, i.e. strip tillage and intensive tillage (by mouldboard ploughing). Winter rye showed significantly higher root penetration than white mustard in the top 15 cm, while an opposite trend was observed at 20–45 cm depth. After one season, maize root penetration was significantly greater following white mustard than winter rye at 30–40 cm depth. Strip tillage, like intensive tillage, could sufficiently loosen soil for adequate maize growth even though maize root distribution was restricted to tilled rows in contrast with intensive tillage. In conclusion, white mustard already showed positive short-term effects on maize growth, whereas strip tillage did not negatively affect it. Combining both is a viable option to reduce the negative impact of soil compaction on maize growth.