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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Impacts of soil organic carbon on soil physical behavior

item Blanco-canqui, Humberto
item Benjamin, Joseph

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/22/2012
Publication Date: 12/12/2012
Citation: Blanco-Canqui, H., Benjamin, J.G. 2012. Impacts of soil organic carbon on soil physical behavior. In: Logsdon, S.D., Berli, M., and Horn, R., editors. Advances in Agricultural Systems Modeling 3. Madison, WI:Soil Science Society of America. p. 11-40.

Interpretive Summary: Proposed uses for crop residues include feed or bedding for livestock, fiber production, or uses for bioenergy. Removal of crop residues may decrease soil organic matter. This review lists some of the effects on soil physical properties that may occur if crop residues are removed from soil and soil organic matter decreases. These effects include less resilience to soil compaction, decreased soil structural stability, and decreased aggregate water repellency. Concurrent changes in other soil physical properties such as soil water holding capacity, bulk density, soil strength, and hydraulic conductivity will occur if soil organic matter changes. The numerous effects of soil organic matter on various soil physical properties support the need for maintaining optimum levels of organic matter through additions of crop residue. Care must be taken so that sufficient crop residues are returned to the soil to maintain soil organic matter levels. Crop management such as continuous cropping and no-till planting systems are able to increase the net organic matter returned to the soil and help improve soil structural, compaction, and hydraulic properties. Excessive crop residue removal for off-farm uses is discouraged.

Technical Abstract: Management-induced changes in soil organic carbon (SOC) concentration can affect soil physical behavior. Specifically, removal of crop residues as biofuel may thus adversely affect soil attributes by reducing SOC concentration as crop residues are the main source of SOC. Implications of crop residue management for soil erosion control, water conservation, nutrient cycling, and global C cycle have been discussed, but the potential impacts of residue removal-induced depletion of SOC on soil physical properties have not been widely studied. We reviewed published information on the relationships of SOC concentration with soil structural stability, consistency, compaction,soil water repellency, and hydraulic properties with emphasis on crop residue management. Our review indicates that studies specifically assessingrelationships between crop residue management-induced changes in SOC concentration and soil physical properties are few. These studies indicate, however, that crop removal or addition can alter SOC concentration and concomitantly affect soil physical attributes with a magnitude depending on the amount of residue removed or returned, constituents of residue-derived SOC, tillage and cropping system, soil type, and climate. Our review also indicates that, in general, management practices that effect SOC concentration can directly influence soil physical properties. Decrease in SOC concentration reduces subcritical water repellency and aggregate stability and strength, increases soil’s susceptibility to excessive compaction, and reduces macroporosity, hydraulic conductivity, and water retention. Soil organic matter improves soil physical properties by providing organic binding agents, inducing slight water repellency, lowering soil bulk density, and improving the elasticity and resilience of the whole soil. The numerous benefits of SOC on soil physical attributes suggest that crop residues should be returned to soil to maintain or increase SOC concentration. Indiscriminate residue removal for off-farm uses reduces SOC pools and can adversely affect soil and environment. Crop residues not only protect the soil surface from erosive forces but also maintain SOC concentration, which is essential to improve soil physical behavior and sustain soil productivity. Management practices including no-till with residue return, continuous cropping systems, cover crops, and grass-based rotations should be promoted to further increase SOC concentration and thus improve soil physical behavior.

Last Modified: 10/20/2017
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