Cropping System and Nitrogen Effects on Mollisol Organic Carbon
- C. A. Robinson ,
- R. M. Cruse and
- M. Ghaffarzadeh
Time, fertilizer, tillage, and cropping systems may alter soil organic carbon (SOC) levels. Our objective was to determine the effect of long-term cropping systems and fertility treatments on SOC. Five rotations and two N fertility levels at three Iowa sites (Kanawha, Nashua, and Sutherland) maintained for 12 to 36 yr were evaluated. A 75-yr continuous corn (Zea mays L.) site (Ames) with a 40-yr N-P-K rate study also was evaluated. Soils were Typic and Aquic Hapludolls and Typic Haplaquolls. Four-year rotations consisting of corn, oat (Avena sativa L.), and meadow (alfalfa [Medicago sativa L.], or alfalfa and red clover [Trifolium pratense L.]) had the highest SOC (Kanawha, 32.1 g/kg; Nashua, 21.9 g/kg; Sutherland, 27.9 g/kg). Corn silage treatments (Nashua, ≤ 18.9 g/kg; Sutherland, ≤23.2 g/kg) and no-fertilizer treatments (Kanawha, 25.3 g/kg; Nashua, ≤20.9 g/kg; Sutherland, ≤23.5 g/kg) had the lowest SOC. A corn-oat-meadow-meadow rotation maintained initial SOC (27.9 g/kg) after 34 yr at Sutherland. Continuous corn resulted in loss of 30% of SOC during 35 yr of manure and lime treatments. SOC increased 22% when N-P-K treatments were imposed. Fertilizer N, initial SOC levels, and previous management affected current SOC levels. Residue additions were linearly related to SOC (Ames, r2 = 0.40; Nashua, r2 = 0.82; Sutherland, r2 = 0.89). All systems had 22 to 49% less SOC than adjacent fence rows. Changing cropping systems to those that conserve SOC could sequester as much as 30% of C released since cropping began, thereby increasing SOC.
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