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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Ames, Iowa » National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment » Agroecosystems Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #364604

Research Project: Agroecosystem Benefits from the Development and Application of New Management Technologies in Agricultural Watersheds

Location: Agroecosystems Management Research

Title: How does tillage intensity affect soil health in the USA?

item NUNES, MARCIO - Orise Fellow
item Moorman, Thomas
item Cambardella, Cynthia

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/10/2019
Publication Date: 11/10/2019
Citation: Nunes, M.R., Moorman, T.B., Cambardella, C.A. 2019. How does tillage intensity affect soil health in the USA? Meeting Abstract. In: Proceedings of ASA-SSSA-CSA Annual Meeting, Nov 10-13,2019, San Antonio, Texas.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Tillage intensity may affect soil health, depending on the soil depth and site-specific condition. A meta-analysis of 456 studies was performed to assess the effect of chisel plow (CP), no-till (NT) and perennial systems (PER) on biological, physical and chemical soil health indicators, relative to moldboard plow (MP), within four soil depths. Our results indicated that CP has minimal effect on soil health compared with MP, increasing only organic C content and microbial biomass C within the topsoil (upper 15-cm). In contrast, converting from MP to NT can tremendously improve soil biological indicators (organic C, microbial biomass C and N, respiration, protein, active C and b-glucosidase), soil chemical indicators (total N, P and K) and soil aggregate stability in the topsoil. Within soils deeper than 15-cm, however, soil health response to NT was minimal. Perennial systems also improved soil health compared with MP. The changes were more remarkable for biological indicators, soil structure and soil total N. Different from NT system, the positive responses of soil health indicators to PER systems relative to MP were observed not only in the topsoil, but also within deeper soil layers. In addition, the positive effect of reducing tillage intensity on soil health is affected by increased duration in low intensity tillage, cropping system diversity and crop residue management. In general, the largest positive effect of reducing tillage was found under long-term management (>10-years), under more diversified cropping systems (i.e., presence of cover crop) and where crop residues were kept on the soil surface. Therefore, we conclude that reducing tillage intensity from MP to NT or PER systems, along with others conservation practices (i.e., cropping system diversification and permanent soil cover), can dramatically increase soil health in the USA, offering farms opportunity to increase sustainability in intense crop production system.