SOIL CHEMICAL CHANGES AFTER NINE YEARS OF DIFFERENTIAL N FERTILIZATION IN A NO-TILL DRYLAND WHEAT-CORN-FALLOW ROTATION

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Abstract

Intensively cropped dryland systems in the central Great Plains require adequate N fertilization for optimum residue and grain production. However, this N fertilization could be slowly changing the chemistry of the surface soil because of a decrease in soil pH and an increase in soil organic matter (SOM) and basic cations, even in previously well buffered calcareous soil systems. We investigated the effects of five increasing ammonium-N fertilizer rates in a Platner loam, on physical and chemical changes at the 0 to 5, and 0 to 15-cm depths after three cycles of no-till wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)-corn (Zea mays L.)-fallow rotation. We measured soil pH, texture, bulk density, cation exchange capacity (CEC), total P, soluble and total soil organic carbon (SOC), nitrate-N to a depth of 60 cm, and grain yields. No significant changes were found with soil texture, bulk densities, CEC, and total P. The data showed a significant reduction in surface (0-5 cm) soil pH (6.5 to 5.1) with the highest N rate (112 kg/ha), but this was accompanied by a 40% increase in SOC. Although there were significant increases in Al and Mn and decreases in Ca concentrations in the surface 0 to 5 cm at the highest N rate, no reduction in grain yields occurred relative to lower N levels with near neutral pHs. Because only a shallow depth of the soil was affected, residue, SOM, and rapid root growth could be compensating for surface acidity. Over the longer term, we need to monitor the effects of ammoniacal-N on downward soil acidity and yield trends under these new intensive cropping systems.

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