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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: SOIL RESOURCES AND AIR QUALITY AFFECTED BY WIND EROSION AND FUGITIVE DUST EMISSIONS: PROCESSES, SIMULATION AND CONTROL Title: Replacing fallow with cover crops in a semiarid soil: effects on soil properties

Authors
item Blanco-Canqui, Humberto -
item Holman, Johnathon -
item Schlegel, Alan -
item Tatarko, John
item Shaver, Tim -

Submitted to: Soil Science Society of America Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: March 25, 2013
Publication Date: May 1, 2013
Repository URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.2136/sssaj2013.01.0006
Citation: Blanco-Canqui, H., Holman, J.D., Schlegel, A.J., Tatarko, J., Shaver, T.M. 2013. Replacing fallow with cover crops in a semiarid soil: effects on soil properties. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 77(3):1026-1034.

Interpretive Summary: Substituting cover crops for the fallow period in crop-fallow systems may improve soil properties. We assessed whether replacing fallow in no-till winter wheat-fallow with winter and spring cover crops for five years reduced wind and water erosion, increased soil organic carbon, and improved soil physical properties on a Ulysses silt loam in the semiarid central Great Plains. Winter triticale, winter lentil, spring lentil, spring pea, and spring triticale cover crops were compared with wheat-fallow and continuous wheat. We also studied the effect of triticale haying on soil properties. Results indicate that spring triticale and spring lentil increased soil aggregate size, while spring lentil reduced the wind erodible size aggregates by 1.6 times, indicating that cover crops reduced the soil’s susceptibility to wind erosion. Cover crops also increased wet aggregate stability and reduced runoff loss of sediment, total P, and Nitrate-N. Winter and spring triticale increased organic carbon in the soil by 500 pounds per acre per year and spring lentil increased soil organic carbon by 393 pounds per acre per year in the top 3 inches. Aggregate size increased and wind erodible size aggregates decreased with cover crop-induced increase in soil organic carbon content. Harvesting Triticale straw compared with no haying for five years did not affect soil properties. Nine months after the completion of the study, cover crops had, however, no effects on soil properties, suggesting that cover crop benefits are short lived in this climate. Overall, no-till cover crops, grown in each fallow phase, can reduce soil erosion and improve soil properties in this semiarid climate.

Technical Abstract: Replacement of fallow in crop-fallow systems with cover crops (CCs) may improve soil properties. We assessed whether replacing fallow in no-till winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)-fallow with winter and spring CCs for five years reduced wind and water erosion, increased soil organic carbon (SOC), and improved soil physical properties on a Ulysses silt loam in the semiarid central Great Plains. Winter triticale (×Triticosecale Wittm.), winter lentil (Lensculinaris Medik.)], spring lentil, spring pea (Pisum sativum L. ssp.), and spring triticale CCswere compared with wheat-fallow and continuous wheat. We also studied the effect of triticale haying on soil properties. Results indicate that spring triticale and spring lentil increased soil aggregate size distribution, while spring lentil reduced the wind erodible fraction by 1.6 times, indicating that CCs reduced the soil’s susceptibility to wind erosion. Cover crops also increased wet aggregate stability and reduced runoff loss of sediment, total P, and NO3-N. Winter and spring triticale increased SOC pool by 0.56 Mg ha-1 yr-1 and spring lentil increased SOC pool by 0.44 Mg ha-1 yr-1 in the 0- to 7.5-cm depth. Aggregate size increased and wind erodible fraction decreased with CC-induced increase in SOC concentration. Triticale haying compared with no haying for five years did not affect soil properties. Nine months after termination, CCs had, however, no effects on soil properties, suggesting that CC benefits are short lived in this climate. Overall, no-till CCs, grown in each fallow phase, can reduce soil erosion and improve soil properties in this semiarid climate.

Last Modified: 12/22/2014
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