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Crop residue removal and fertilizer N: Effects on soil organic carbon in a long-term crop rotation experiment on a Udic Boroll

Lemke, R.L., VandenBygaart, A.J., Campbell, C.A., Lafond, G.P., Grant, B. (2010). Crop residue removal and fertilizer N: Effects on soil organic carbon in a long-term crop rotation experiment on a Udic Boroll, 135(1-2), 42-51. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2009.08.010

Abstract

Biofuels can be produced by converting cellulose in crop residues to ethanol. This has recently been viewed as a potential supplement to non-renewable energy sources, especially in the Americas. A 50-yr field experiment was analyzed to determine the influence of (i) removing approximately 22% of the above-ground wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) residue each crop year, and (ii) N and P fertilization on soil carbon (C) in the top 15 cm depth of a fallow-wheat-wheat (F-W-W) rotation. The study was conducted from 1958 to 2007 on a clay soil, at Indian Head in sub-humid southeast Saskatchewan, Canada. Soil C concentrations and bulk densities were measured in the 0-7.5 and 7.5-15 cm depths in 1987, 1996 and 2007 and soil C changes were related to C inputs estimated from straw and root yields calculated from regressions relating these to grain yields. Two soil organic matter models [the Campbell model and the Introductory Carbon Balance Model (ICBM)] were also used to simulate and predict the effects of the treatments on soil C change over time, and to estimate likely soil C change if 50% or 95% of above-ground residues were harvested each crop year. Crop residue removal reduced cumulative C inputs from straw and roots over the 50-yr experiment by only 13%, and this did not significantly (P > 0.05) reduce soil C throughout the experiment duration. However, after 50 yr of applying N fertilizer at recommended rates, soil C increased significantly by about 3 Mg ha-1 compared to the non-fertilized treatment. The simulated effect of removing 50% and 95% of the above-ground residues suggested that removing 50% of the straw would likely have a detectable effect on the soil C, while removing 95% of the straw certainly would. Measurements and model simulations suggest that adoption of no-tillage without proper fertilization will not increase soil C. Although it appears that a modest amount of residue may be safely removed from these Udic Borolls (Black Chernozems) without a measurable effect on soil C, this would only be feasible if accompanied by appropriate fertility management. Crown Copyright © 2009.

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