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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Bowling Green, Kentucky » Food Animal Environmental Systems Research » Research » Research Project #436344

Research Project: Soil Health Assessment: Comparative Studies of Cover Crop and Biochar on Soil Organic Carbon

Location: Food Animal Environmental Systems Research

Project Number: 5040-12630-007-029-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Sep 1, 2020
End Date: Aug 31, 2022

1) To examine the benefits of innovative soil conservation practices, including reduced tillage, use of cover crops, crop rotation, and the use of manure and biochar, on SOC and other soil health indicators under Kentucky's climate and soil conditions. 2) To examine the link between manure, biochar, and SOC and other key soil physical properties. 3) To evaluate and compare crop yields in relation to SOC levels and how they are influenced by tillage, cover cropping, and use of manure and biochar.

Under no-till soil management, corn seeds will be planted below the soil surface (under any pre-existing crop residue) using a no-till planter. For this study, a lightweight tractor equipped with a double-disk colter will be used to slice the surface soil and place seeds into the seedbed. To ensure good seed-to-soil contact, wheels mounted at the rear of the tractor will press the soil back into place after seeding. Every year a mix of cover crop grass species and legumes will be planted following the corn harvest. Experimental design and statistical analysis: The experimental site comprises three complete blocks, separated by 3.5-m border zones. We will use a split-plot design consisting of two main plots comprised of two tillage types (tilled vs. no-till), replicated in four complete blocks. The subplots are the amendments treatments as follows: cover crop, biochar, animal manure, cover crop + biochar, cover crop + manure, and control replicated three times for a total of 48 experimental units. The biochar used in this study will be provided by a commercial producer. The cover crops plots will be seeded with a mix of grasses and legumes (cereal rye, Austrian winter pea, and crimson clover) at NRCS-recommended planting rates. While all treatments will be considered fixed effects (i.e., tillage and soil amendments, cropping treatments), the blocks are random effects. Treatment effects of the corresponding whole-plot, sub-plot, and interaction (whole-plot x sub-plot) factors will be evaluated using one-way ANOVA and LSD will be used to separate means (a = 0.05; SPSS version 22.0; SPSS, 2016).