Submitted to: Agronomy for Sustainable Development
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/26/2010
Publication Date: 2/25/2011
Citation: Stavi, I., Lal, R., Owens, L.B. 2011. On-farm effects of no-till versus occasional tillage on soil quality and crop yields in eastern Ohio. Agronomy for Sustainable Development. 31(3):475-482. Interpretive Summary: Interest in conservation tillage continues to increase because conventional tillage adversely affects numerous soil properties. Sometimes tillage is used in rotation with no-till or in some years as a weed or insect control. Even without continuous conventional tillage, the occasional tillage year can greatly diminish the soil properties developed during the no-till years. This study was to document differences in soil properties between continuous no-till systems and systems where conventional tillage was included in the crop rotation. One system had 10 years that included hay followed by no-till corn and soybeans. The other system had 5 years of hay followed by corn, oats, alfalfa, and 2 years of corn. The first and last years of corn were conventionally tilled. Some of the soil properties studied were soil penetration resistance, field moisture capacity, water stable aggregates, and infiltration as well as total nitrogen and soil organic carbon. The system with conventional tillage caused degradation of these properties and lower nitrogen and soil organic carbon. This resulted in lower corn yields in 2008 with conventional tillage. In general, the impacts of tillage on soil properties decreased with increased soil depth. This information is important to producers, university extension and NRCS personnel, and agricultural consultants, as well as other scientists.
Technical Abstract: Worldwide interest in conservation tillage is increasing, because conventional tillage adversely impacts the long-term fertility of the soil and its vulnerability to erosion. No-till (NT) agriculture minimizes adverse impacts of an intensive arable land use. In some cases, rotational till-NT practice (RO) is used as a means of weed- or pathogen-control. Therefore, the study was conducted in New Bedford, eastern OH to compare key physical-, ecological and hydrological-characteristics of the soil (Aquultic Hapludalfs) and some vegetational indices among continuous NT and RO fields, both under corn (Zea mays L.) at the time of the study. Soil properties were studied for 3 depths (0-6, 6-12 and 12-18 cm). Compared with NT, RO had a higher soil penetration resistance (1.56 vs. 1.77 MPa) and bulk density (1.31 vs. 1.45 g cm-3), and lower soil organic carbon (19.2 vs. 16.0 g kg-1), total nitrogen (1.93 vs. 1.57 g kg-1), total water stable aggregate (834 vs. 475 g kg-1), mean weight diameter (3.4 vs. 1.4 mm), field moisture capacity (360 vs. 293 g kg-1), soil water sorptivity (36.5 vs. 16.3 mm minute -0.5) and transmissivity (4.9 vs. 2.1 mm minute-1),equilibrium infiltration rate (6.7 vs. 2.0 mm minute-1) and cumulative infiltration (1211.8 vs. 353.4 mm). Compared with NT, RO had also lower wet stover biomass (20.2 vs. 14.6 Mg ha-1), wet corn ear yield (11.4 vs. 10.0 MG ha-1), dry grain yield (9.4 vs. 8.2 MG ha-1) and field grain moisture content (282 vs. 224 g kg-1). Despite the modifications in soil properties induced by tillage, RO had no effect on soil shear strength in relation to formation of mechanical crust on the soil surface of the RO field. Soil crust influences soil loss through erosion and raindrop splash. Thus, RO caused degradation of soil physical-, ecological- and hydrological- characteristics, and reduced crop production, but did not increase soil erosion risks. Soil depth considerably affected most of the soil properties. In general, the effect of tillage on soil properties decreased with increase in soil depth.