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Twenty years of conservation tillage research in subarctic Alaska: II. Impact on soil hydraulic properties

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Soil management practices are needed in the subarctic that stabilize the soil against the forces of wind and water as well as conserve soil water for crop production. There is a paucity of information, however, regarding the long-term effects of conservation tillage on soil hydraulic properties in subarctic Alaska. The objective of this study was therefore to characterize infiltration, water retention, and saturated hydraulic conductivity of a soil 20 years after establishing tillage and straw management treatments in interior Alaska. The strip plot experimental design, established on a silt loam and maintained in continuous barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), included tillage as the main treatment and straw management as the secondary treatment. Tillage treatments included no tillage, autumn chisel plow, spring disk, and intensive tillage (autumn and spring disk) while straw treatments included retaining or removing stubble and loose straw from the soil surface after harvest. Soil properties were measured after sowing in spring 2004; saturated hydraulic conductivity was measured by the falling-head method, infiltration was measured using a double-ring infiltrometer, and water retention was assessed by measuring the temporal variation in in-situ soil water content. No tillage resulted in greater saturated hydraulic conductivity and generally retained more water against gravitational and matric forces than other tillage treatments. Infiltration was greater in autumn chisel plow than other tillage treatments and was presumably suppressed in no tillage by an organic layer overlying mineral soil. Infiltration was also enhanced by retaining straw on rather than removing straw from the soil surface after harvest. No tillage is not yet a sustainable management practice in this region due to lack of weed control strategies. In addition, the formation of an organic layer in no tillage has important ramifications for the soil hydrological and thermal environment. Therefore, minimum tillage (i.e., autumn chisel plow or spring disk) appears to be a viable management option for maximizing infiltration in interior Alaska.
Sharratt, B. , Zhang, M. , Sparrow, S.
Second in a series.
Soil & tillage research 2006 Dec., v. 91, issue 1-2
Journal Articles, USDA Authors, Peer-Reviewed
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