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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 #367994

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 chemical soil health indicators? A United States meta-analysis

Author
item NUNES, MARCIO - Orise Fellow
item KARLEN, DOUGLAS - Former ARS Employee
item Moorman, Thomas - Tom
item Cambardella, Cynthia - Cindy

Submitted to: Agrosystems, Geosciences & Environment
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/13/2020
Publication Date: 9/17/2020
Citation: Nunes, M.R., Karlen, D.L., Moorman, T.B., Cambardella, C.A. 2020. How does tillage intensity affect chemical soil health indicators? A United States meta-analysis. Agrosystems, Geosciences & Environment. 3(1). https://doi.org/10.1002/agg2.20083.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/agg2.20083

Interpretive Summary: Tillage can affect soil health either positively or negatively depending on inherent soil properties, processes, and management practices. Soil health indicators (total N, P, K, Ca, Mg, and pH) data within 302 published studies were compiled and subjected to a meta-analysis comparing chisel plow (CP), no-till (NT), and perennial systems (PER) with moldboard plowing (MP). Overall, CP did not affect the soil health indicators when compared to MP, but converting from MP to no-till significantly increased total N, P, and K concentrations within the top 15-cm of soil. Below that depth, Ca and Mg concentrations were lower under NT than MP, but total N, P, and K were not significantly different. Topsoil increases in total N in NT was affected by soil order and cropping system, with the largest increase in total N found in Ultisols, Inceptisols, Alfisols, and Mollisols under more diversified cropping systems including those with cover crops. The greatest topsoil P increase in response to NT was found under long-term experiments (>5-yr) on fine-textured soils. Phosphorus changes in studies on coarse-textured soils, with short-term duration, and manure applications were generally neutral. Perennial systems had lower soil P and K content but higher total N content in the surface layer as compared to MP. The positive response to perennial systems (PER) was most notable in Alfisols, Mollisols, and Ultisols and under long-term PER management. Finally, we demonstrate that these chemical indicators respond to tillage and cropping systems over a wide range of conditions, showing utility for soil health assessment. The research informs soil conservationists, scientists, and producers about the effects of tillage on soil health.

Technical Abstract: Tillage intensity can affect soil health indicators either positively or negatively depending on inherent soil properties, processes, and management practices. Soil chemical data (total N, P, K, Ca, Mg, and pH) from four depth increments within 302 published studies were compiled and subjected to a meta-analysis comparing chisel plow (CP), no-till (NT), and perennial systems (PER) with moldboard plowing (MP). Two meta-analysis techniques (classic pairwise and multi-treatment networks) were used. Overall, CP did not affect soil chemical indicators when compared to MP, but converting from MP to NT significantly increased total N, P, and K concentrations within the top 15-cm. Below that depth, Ca and Mg concentrations were lower under NT than MP but total N, P, and K were not significantly different. Topsoil total N response to NT was moderated by soil order and cropping system, with the largest increase in total N found in Ultisols, Inceptisols, Alfisols, and Mollisols under more diversified cropping systems including those with cover crops. The greatest topsoil P increase in response to NT was found under long-term experiments (>5-yr) and on fine-textured soils. Phosphorus changes in studies on coarse-textured soils, with short-term duration, and manure applications were generally neutral. Perennial systems had lower soil P and K content but higher total N content in the surface layer as compared to MP. The positive response to PER systems most notable in Alfisols, Mollisols, and Ultisols and under long-term PER management. Finally, we demonstrate that these chemical indicators respond to tillage and cropping systems was over a wide range of conditions, showing utility for soil health assessment.