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ARS Home » Plains Area » Temple, Texas » Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #385511

Research Project: Contributions of Climate, Soils, Species Diversity, and Management to Sustainable Crop, Grassland, and Livestock Production Systems

Location: Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory

Title: Cropping management in a livestock-pasture-crop integration modifies microbial communities, activity and soil health score

item Menefee, Dorothy
item Collins, Harold
item Smith, Douglas
item Haney, Richard
item Fay, Philip
item Polley, Herbert

Submitted to: Journal of Environmental Quality
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/22/2021
Publication Date: 1/6/2022
Citation: Menefee, D.S., Collins, H.P., Smith, D.R., Haney, R.L., Fay, P.A., Polley, H.W. 2022. Cropping management in a livestock-pasture-crop integration modifies microbial communities, activity and soil health score. Journal of Environmental Quality. 1-14.

Interpretive Summary: Soil health was investigated using the soil health tool, soil carbon analysis, and soil microbial community analysis across multiple crop-livestock systems in Riesel, Texas and was compared to a remnant native prairie ecosystem. The perennial grazing systems most closely mimicked the native prairie system. Soil indicators were the lowest in the no-input tilled maize system. No-till maize soil indicators were slightly better than the conventional till system.

Technical Abstract: Understanding indicators of soil health is crucial for developing agricultural systems that are sustainable and climate resilient. Labile soil carbon, microbial properties, and nutrient status are all incorporated into the Haney Soil Health Tool with the goal of summarizing several indicators into one index. Monthly soil samples from an integrated crop-livestock system in Central Texas were collected over 2017, 2018, and 2019. The system included a diversity of management practices, including cover crops, no-till, rotational grazing, and a native prairie remnant. Soil samples were analyzed for total carbon, water soluble carbon, macro- and micro- nutrient content and bioavailability, and phospholipid and fatty acids (PLFAs). A 24-hour CO2 incubation was performed to determine microbial activity. Of all agricultural systems, the perennial grazing system most closely matched the soil indicators of the native prairie, having high soil carbon stocks and a large and diverse microbial community. Of the row cropping systems, the no-till with winter cover crop approached the soil health status of the perennial systems better than the other row-cropping systems (conventional till with no winter cover crop, and conventional till with no fertilizer). This study highlights the value of incorporating perennial grassland into agricultural systems and of selecting appropriate best management practices.