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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Florence, South Carolina » Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #375651

Research Project: Improvement of Soil Management Practices and Manure Treatment/Handling Systems of the Southern Coastal Plain

Location: Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research

Title: Soil health assessment after 40 years of conservation and conventional tillage management in Southeastern coastal plain soils

Author
item YE, RONGZHONG - Clemson University
item PARAJULI, BINAYA - Clemson University
item Szogi, Ariel
item Sigua, Gilbert
item Ducey, Thomas

Submitted to: Soil Science Society of America Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/5/2021
Publication Date: 3/15/2021
Citation: Ye, R., Parajuli, B., Szogi, A.A., Sigua, G.C., Ducey, T.F. 2021. Soil Health Assessment after 40 Years of Conservation and Conventional Tillage Management in Southeastern Coastal Plain Soils . Soil Science Society of America Journal. https://doi.org/10.1002/saj2.20246.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/saj2.20246

Interpretive Summary: Conservation tillage and cover crops are important components of soil health management. In the present study, we applied two independent soil health assessment approaches to evaluate the impacts of 40-year conservation tillage and additional 4-year cover cropping on a range of soil health indicators and the overall soil health in typical southeastern Coastal Plain soils. Soils were collected at 0-15 centimeters and analyzed for physical, chemical, and biological indicators. The Soil Management Assessment Framework (SMAF) and the Cornell’s Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health (CASH) were used to calculate soil health indexes. When compared to conventional tillage, 40-year conservation tillage increased soil carbon and organic nitrogen mineralization while reducing soil electrical conductivity. No difference in soil aggregate stability, total carbon, extractable phosphorous and potassium, microbial biomass carbon, respiration, and glucosidase activities were observed between conventional and conservation tillage treatments. Cover cropping had no impacts on any measured variables, except that it increased soil total nitrogen. Regardless of tillage and cover cropping, both SMAF and CASH scoring functions suggested no changes in overall soil health. Soil organic C (SOC) was the only indicator positively correlated with both SAMF and CASH indexes, indicating its importance in maintaining the health of the tested soils.

Technical Abstract: Conservation tillage and cover crops are important components of soil health management. In the present study, we applied two independent soil health assessment approaches to evaluate the impacts of 40-year conservation tillage and additional 4-year cover cropping on a range of soil health indicators and the overall soil health in typical southeastern Coastal Plain soils. Soils were collected at 0-15 centimeters and analyzed for physical, chemical, and biological indicators. Soil Management Assessment Framework (SMAF) and Cornell’s Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health (CASH) were used to calculate soil health indexes. No interactive impacts of tillage and cover cropping were found in all the measured indicators. When compared to conventional tillage, 40-year conservation tillage increased active carbon from 300 to 420 milligrams per kilogram and organic nitrogen mineralization potentials from 0.78 to 0.91 milligrams per kilogram per day, but it reduced soil electrical conductivity from 133 to 100 micro-Siemens per centimeter. No difference in soil aggregate stability, total carbon, extractable phosphorous and potassium, microbial biomass carbon, respiration, and glucosidase activities were observed between the two tillage treatments. Cover cropping had no impacts on any measured variables, except that it increased soil total nitrogen. Regardless of tillage and cover cropping, both SMAF and CASH scoring functions suggested no changes in overall soil health. Soil organic C (SOC) was the only indicator positively correlated with both SAMF and CASH indexes, indicating its importance in maintaining the health of the tested soils. Moreover, the CASH index recommended improving soil structure and SOC as the management priority to maintain or improve the overall soil health. Increasing organic inputs along with conservation tillage is therefore seemingly the optimal management option. Nonetheless, the intrinsically low clay content in the surface soils may compromise the desired outcomes.