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This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 72 No. 5, p. 1357-1362
    Received: Nov 1, 2007

    * Corresponding author(s): Joseph.Benjamin@ars.usda.gov
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Organic Carbon Effects on Soil Physical and Hydraulic Properties in a Semiarid Climate

  1. Joseph G. Benjamin *,
  2. Maysoon M. Mikha and
  3. Merle F. Vigil
  1. USDA-ARS, Central Great Plains Research Station, Akron, CO 80720


Increasing cropping intensity in the central Great Plains of the United States has the potential to increase organic carbon (OC) stored in the soil and lead to improved soil physical properties. A cropping systems study was started in 1990 at the Central Great Plains Research Station near Akron, CO. In 2005 soil samples were taken in six 95-mm increments to a depth of 370 mm to measure OC, water stable macroaggregates (water stable aggregates > 250 μm), bulk density (ρb), total porosity (ϕtotal), water storage porosity (ϕws), and saturated hydraulic conductivity (k sat). Samples were collected from permanent grass plots {45% smooth brome [Bromus inermis (Leyss.)], 40% pubescent wheat grass [Agropyrons trichophorum (Link) Richt.], and 15% alfalfa [Medicago sativa (L.)]}, plots in a wheat {[Triticum aestivum (L.)]–corn [Zea mays (L.)]–millet [Panicum miliaceum (L.)]} rotation, and plots in a wheat–fallow rotation. Increased cropping intensity significantly increased OC, water stable macroaggregates, and k sat, but had no significant effect on ρb, ϕtotal, or ϕws Permanent grass increased OC compared with the annually cropped rotations, particularly deeper in the soil. Plots in permanent grass had greater k sat and this may indicate greater pore continuity and stability under saturated conditions. Organic carbon and water stable macroaggregates were poorly correlated. Water stable macroaggregates was negatively correlated with ρb and positively correlated with k sat Increasing soil OC may not immediately lead to changes in soil aggregation in a semiarid climate. Increased time and biological activity may be needed to convert the crop residues into organic compounds that stabilize aggregates and soil pore systems.

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