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Cropping system effects on soil quality in the Great Plains: Synthesis from a regional project
- Soils perform a number of essential functions affecting management goals. Soil functions were assessed by measuring physical, chemical, and biological properties in a regional assessment of conventional (CON) and alternative (ALT) management practices at eight sites within the Great Plains. The results, reported in accompanying papers, provide excellent data for assessing how management practices collectively affect agronomic and environmental soil functions that benefit both farmers and society. Our objective was to use the regional data as an input for two new assessment tools to evaluate their potential and sensitivity for detecting differences (aggradation or degradation) in management systems. The soil management assessment framework (SMAF) and the agro-ecosystem performance assessment tool (AEPAT) were used to score individual soil properties at each location relative to expected conditions based on inherent soil-forming factors and to compute index values that provide an overall assessment of the agronomic and environmental impact of the CON and ALT practices. SMAF index values were positively correlated with grain yield (an agronomic function) and total organic matter (an agronomic and environmental function). They were negatively correlated with soil nitrate concentration at harvest (an indicator of environmental function). There was general agreement between the two assessment tools when used to compare management practices. Users can measure a small number of soil properties and use one of these tools to easily assess the effectiveness of soil management practices. A higher score in either tool identifies more environmentally and agronomically sustainable management. Temporal variability in measured indicators makes dynamic assessments of management practices essential. Water-filled pore space, aggregate stability, particulate organic matter, and microbial biomass were sensitive to management and should be included in studies aimed at improving soil management. Reductions in both tillage and fallow combined with crop rotation has resulted in improved soil function (e.g., nutrient cycling, organic C content, and productivity) throughout the Great Plains.
Wienhold, B.J. , Pikul, J.L. Jr. , Liebig, M.A. , Mikha, M.M. , Varvel, G.E. , Doran, J.W. , Andrews, S.S.
soil quality , soil properties , conservation tillage , conventional tillage , soil analysis , nitrates , soil nutrients , soil organic carbon , soil nutrient dynamics , Great Plains region
- Includes references
- Renewable agriculture and food systems 2006 Mar., v. 21, issue 1
Journal Articles, USDA Authors, Peer-Reviewed
- Works produced by employees of the U.S. Government as part of their official duties are not copyrighted within the U.S. The content of this document is not copyrighted.