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Long-term cropping systems management influences soil strength and nutrient cycling

Ashworth, A.J., Owens, P.R., Allen, F.L.
Geoderma 2020 v.361 pp. 114062
Glycine max, Gossypium hirsutum, Pisum sativum subsp. sativum var. arvense, Triticum aestivum, Vicia villosa, Zea mays, biogeochemical cycles, carbon nitrogen ratio, corn, cotton, cover crops, crop production, crop residues, crop rotation, cropping sequence, fallow, no-tillage, physicochemical properties, planting, poultry manure, silt loam soils, soil biota, soil carbon, soil chemical properties, soil compaction, soil conservation, soil physical properties, soil productivity, soil quality, soil strength, soybeans, spraying, traffic, winter wheat
Elucidating complex interactions of cover crops and crop residues on soil physicochemical properties is critical to sustaining soil productivity long-term. Our objective was to compare soil strength and chemistry (physiochemical), cover crop residue composition, and soil compaction following 15-years of cropping system implementation under non-tillage. Main effects were cropping sequences of soybean (Glycine max L.), corn (Zea mays L.), and cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.), grown on a Loring silt loam, and sequences of corn and soybean on a Maury silt loam. Split-block treatments consisted of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), Austrian winter pea (Pisum sativum L. sativum var. arvense) and hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth) cover crops, as well as poultry litter, and a fallow control. Soil physicochemical characteristics were evaluated at surface (0–15 cm) and sub-surface (15–30 cm) depths. Overall, soil physicochemical parameters were more affected by long-term cover crops and poultry litter in surface layers, whereas crop rotations impacted soil chemistry at sub-surface layers. High-nitrogen (N) containing cover crops had more desirable composition for soil biota (less recalcitrant), whereas corn had the highest soil carbon (C), N, and C:N ratio, likely owing to the greatest amount of residue being produced under this cropping sequence. Whole profile (0–1.2 m) assessment of soil compaction indicates: continuous cotton > continuous soybean > corn-soybean > continuous corn > corn-cotton, likely owing to greater planting and spraying traffic throughout the cotton production cycle. Study results help identify cropping system management effects on soil physicochemical properties under no-tillage and such data are needed for quantifying soil quality per soil conservation management.