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Effects of input level and crop diversity on soil nitrate-N, extractable P, aggregation, organic C and N, and nutrient balance in the Canadian Prairie

Malhi, S.S., Brandt, S.A., Lemke, R., Moulin, A.P., Zentner, R.P. (2009). Effects of input level and crop diversity on soil nitrate-N, extractable P, aggregation, organic C and N, and nutrient balance in the Canadian Prairie, 84(1), 1-22. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10705-008-9220-0

Abstract

A field experiment was conducted from 1995 to 2006 on a Dark Brown Chernozem (Typic Boroll) loam soil at Scott, Saskatchewan, Canada to determine the influence of input level and crop diversity on accumulation and distribution of nitrate-N and extractable P in the soil profile, and soil pH, dry aggregation, organic C and N, and nutrient balance sheets in the second 6-year rotation cycle (2001-2006). Treatments were combinations of three input levels (organic input under conventional tillage-ORG; reduced input under no-till-RED; and high input under conventional tillage-HIGH), three crop diversities (fallow-based rotations with low crop diversity-LOW; diversified rotations using annual cereal, oilseed and pulse grain crops-DAG; and diversified rotations using annual grain and perennial forage crops-DAP), and six crop phases including green manure (GM), chem-fallow or tilled-fallow (F). Amount of nitrate-N in 0-240 cm soil was usually highest under the HIGH input-LOW crop diversity treatment and lowest under the ORG input-DAP crop diversity treatment. The distribution of nitrate-N in various soil depths suggested downward movement of nitrate-N up to 240 cm depth, especially with LOW crop diversity compared to DAP crop diversity, and with HIGH input. In some years, the ORG input systems had higher nitrate-N than the RED or HIGH input systems, which was attributed to low extractable P in soil for optimum crop growth and reduced nutrient uptake with ORG input management. Extractable P in soil was higher by a small margin for HIGH or RED input relative to ORG input in the 0-15 cm layer, suggesting little downward movement of P. Crop diversity did not affect extractable soil P due to the low baseline levels of P in this soil. The proportion of fine dry aggregates (<1.3 mm, erodible fraction) in 0-5 cm soil was highest with LOW crop diversity-HIGH input system, and lowest with DAG diversity-RED input system. The opposite was true for large aggregates (>12.7 mm). Wet aggregate stability was higher for RED input compared to ORG and HIGH input, which was attributed to the increase in the concentration of organic C in aggregates in the RED input system. Amount of light fraction organic matter (LFOM), light fraction organic C (LFOC) and light fraction organic N (LFON) in 0-15 cm soil was higher for RED input compared to ORG and HIGH inputs, and higher for DAG and DAP crop diversities than for LOW crop diversity. Soil N and P were usually deficient under ORG input management, but large amounts of N and P were unaccounted for, or in surplus, under RED and HIGH inputs, despite a marked increase in plant N and P uptake and crop yield compared to ORG input. Overall, our findings suggest that soil quality can be improved and nutrient accumulation in the soil profile can be minimized by increasing cropping frequency, reducing/eliminating tillage, and using appropriate combinations of fertilizer input and diversified cropping. © 2008 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.

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