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This article in AJ

  1. Vol. 98 No. 3, p. 484-495
    Received: Apr 4, 2005

    * Corresponding author(s): Karlen@nstl.gov
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Crop Rotation Effects on Soil Quality at Three Northern Corn/Soybean Belt Locations

  1. Douglas L. Karlen *a,
  2. Eric G. Hurleyb,
  3. Susan S. Andrewsc,
  4. Cynthia A. Cambardellaa,
  5. David W. Meeka,
  6. Michael D. Duffyd and
  7. Antonio P. Mallarinoe
  1. a USDA-ARS, Natl. Soil Tilth Lab., 2150 Pammel Dr., Ames, IA 50011-4420
    b North Central Tech. College, 1000 W. Campus Dr., Wausau, WI 54401
    c USDA-NRCS, 200 E. Northwood St. Suite 410, Greensboro, NC 27401
    d Dep. of Agric. Econ.
    e Dep. of Agron., Iowa State Univ., Ames, IA 50011-1070


Do extended crop rotations that include forages improve soil quality and are they profitable? Our objectives were to determine (i) how crop rotation affected soil quality indicators, (ii) if those indicator changes were reflected in soil quality index (SQI) ratings when scored and combined using the Soil Management Assessment Framework, and (iii) how SQI values compared with profitability. Soil samples were collected from three long-term studies in Iowa and one in Wisconsin. Bulk density (BD), soil pH, water-stable macroaggregation, total organic C, total N, microbial biomass C, extractable P and K, and penetration resistance were measured. The indicator data were scored using nonlinear curves reflecting performance of critical soil functions (e.g., nutrient cycling, water partitioning and storage, and plant root growth). Profit was calculated by subtracting costs of production from potential income based on actual crop yields and the 20-yr average nongovernment-supported commodity prices. Extended rotations had a positive effect on soil quality indicators. Total organic C was the most sensitive indicator, showing significant measured and scored differences at all locations, while BD showed significant differences at only one location (Kanawha). The lowest SQI values and 20-yr average profit were associated with continuous corn, while extended rotations that included at least 3 yr of forage crops had the highest SQI values. We suggest that future conservation policies and programs reward more diverse and extended crop rotations, as is being done through the Conservation Security Program.

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