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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: SOIL AND GAS FLUX RESPONSE TO IMPROVED MANAGEMENT IN COLD, SEMIARID AGROECOSYSTEMS

Location: Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory

Title: Comparison of soil quality and productivity at two sites differing in profile structure and topsoil properties

Authors
item Merrill, Stephen -
item Liebig, Mark
item Tanaka, Donald -
item Krupinsky, Joseph -
item Hanson, Jonathan -

Submitted to: Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: July 25, 2013
Publication Date: August 26, 2013
Repository URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/58403
Citation: Merrill, S.D., Liebig, M.A., Tanaka, D.L., Krupinsky, J.M., Hanson, J.D. 2013. Comparison of soil quality and productivity at two sites differing in profile structure and topsoil properties. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 179:53-61.

Interpretive Summary: Application of ecologically-based management practices for improving soil and land resources require enhanced means for assessing the impact of management on soil quality. A study was conducted near Mandan, ND to assess soil quality of two soils with similar taxonomy but different soil profile characteristics, and compare soil quality outcomes with the yield of three crops (dry pea, spring wheat, and corn) on both soils. Soils evaluated in the study included an alluvial-derived sandy loam (AD) and a glacial-till derived loam/clay loam (GTD). Soil quality index values within the 0 to 12 inch depth of both soils were nearly identical. Crop yields, however, differed dramatically between soils, with spring wheat yields on the GTD soil 15 to 29% greater than on the AD soil. Dry pea and corn forage yields were generally the same between soils. In one year with lower soil water, corn yields on the GTD soil were 28 to 54% lower than on the AD soil. Lower corn yields on the GTD soil were associated with greater soil water depletion, lower abundance of deep (>2 ft) roots, and lower subsoil hydraulic conductivity compared to the AD soil. Although GTD soil had greater overall productivity than AD soil, their equality in soil quality index values indicates an increased relative improvement in soil quality within the AD soils’ range of potential. Our results suggest the need for soil profile and subsoil information be integrated with near-surface soil quality assessments on working farms.

Technical Abstract: This study sought to assess soil quality (SQ) of two soils with similar taxonomy but dissimilar soil profile attributes, and compare SQ outcomes with aboveground biomass productivity of three crops: dry pea (Pisum sativum L.), spring wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), and maize (Zea mays L.). Soils evaluated included an alluvial-derived (AD) sandy loam and a glacial-till derived (GTD) loam/clay loam in central North Dakota. Application of the Soil Management Assessment Framework (SMAF) showed the soils had nearly identical SQ index (SQI) values for the 0 to 10 and 0 to 30 cm depths. Spring wheat seed yields on GTD soil in 2003 through 2005 ranged between 15 to 29% greater than on AD soil. Dry pea and maize forage yields were generally equivalent between soils, but 2004 maize yields on GTD soil following dry pea, spring wheat, and maize were 28%, 30%, and 54% lower, respectively, than on AD soil. Lower maize yields on GTD soil in 2004 were associated with greater soil water depletion, lower abundance of deep (>0.6 m) roots, and lower subsoil hydraulic conductivity compared to the AD soil. Although GTD soil had greater overall productivity than AD soil, their equality in SQI values indicates an increased relative improvement in SQ within the AD soils’ range of potential. Our results suggest the need for soil profile and subsoil information to be integrated with near-surface SQ assessments across agricultural landscapes.

Last Modified: 9/20/2014
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