Soil structural disturbance effects on crop yields and soil properties in a no-till production system

M. Díaz-Zorita, J. H. Grove, L. Murdock, J. Herbeck, E. Perfect

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82 Scopus citations


The development of well-structured soils is a goal for achieving sustainable and productive agricultural systems. Nevertheless, the maintenance of soil structure in continuous no-till (NT) soils has sometimes been thought to induce soil conditions that are detrimental to crop yields. The objectives of this research were to characterize the effects of periodic tillage disruption in otherwise NT systems on soil properties and the yields of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), double-cropped soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.], and maize (Zea mays L.) in rotation and to determine if soil structural changes occurring in tilled soils are independent of changes in other soil properties. A field experiment was established in 1992 on a Huntington silt loam soil (Fluventic Hapludoll) at the University of Kentucky Research and Education Center in Princeton (KY) under a NT crop sequence with two seedbed preparation methods for winter wheat, (a) NT or (b) chisel plus disk tillage (Till). In fall 2000, similar soil chemical properties were observed between disrupted and continuous NT systems over the 0- to 20-cm layer. The geometric mean diameter of dry fragments and the soil water content retained between 0.0003 and 0.03 MPa water potential was greater in NT soils than in soils tilled for winter wheat. Tillage for winter wheat enhanced winter wheat yields (4.2% increase), mostly under low-yielding conditions, but it resulted in a reduction of subsequent summer crop yields (i.e., 3.7% for soybean and 7.0% for maize). The yields obtained in our study translate to an economic benefit for the continuous NT system. Net returns per hectare were estimated to be $73 higher for the winter wheat/double-crop soybean-maize rotation under NT than under Till treatments. The differences in maize yields between NT and tilled treatments were attributed to a better water supply in NT soil due to the maintenance of a larger number of mesopores and a great hydraulic conductivity. In the absence of significant changes in other physicochemical properties, periodic tillage appears to disrupt soil structure, which negatively affects crop productivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1651-1659
Number of pages9
JournalAgronomy Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2004

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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