Carbon sequestration in dryland soils and plant residue as influenced by tillage and crop rotation

Upendra M Sainju, Andrew Lenssen, Thecan Caesar-Thonthat, Jed Waddell
Journal of Environmental Quality 2006, 35 (4): 1341-7
Long-term use of conventional tillage and wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)-fallow systems in the northern Great Plains have resulted in low soil organic carbon (SOC) levels. We examined the effects of two tillage practices [conventional till (CT) and no-till (NT)], five crop rotations [continuous spring wheat (CW), spring wheat-fallow (W-F), spring wheat-lentil (Lens culinaris Medic.) (W-L), spring wheat-spring wheat-fallow (W-W-F), and spring wheat-pea (Pisum sativum L.)-fallow (W-P-F)], and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) planting on plant C input, SOC, and particulate organic carbon (POC). A field experiment was conducted in a mixture of Scobey clay loam (fine-loamy, mixed, Aridic Argiborolls) and Kevin clay loam (fine, montmorillonitic, Aridic Argiborolls) from 1998 to 2003 in Havre, MT. Total plant biomass returned to the soil from 1998 to 2003 was greater in CW (15.5 Mg ha(-1)) than in other rotations. Residue cover, amount, and C content in 2004 were 33 to 86% greater in NT than in CT and greater in CRP than in crop rotations. Residue amount (2.47 Mg ha(-1)) and C content (0.96 Mg ha(-1)) were greater in NT with CW than in other treatments, except in CT with CRP and W-F and in NT with CRP and W-W-F. The SOC at the 0- to 5-cm depth was 23% greater in NT (6.4 Mg ha(-1)) than in CT. The POC was not influenced by tillage and crop rotation, but POC to SOC ratio at the 0- to 20-cm depth was greater in NT with W-L (369 g kg(-1) SOC) than in CT with CW, W-F, and W-L. From 1998 to 2003, SOC at the 0- to 20-cm depth decreased by 4% in CT but increased by 3% in NT. Carbon can be sequestered in dryland soils and plant residue in areas previously under CRP using reduced tillage and increased cropping intensity, such as NT with CW, compared with traditional practice, such as CT with W-F system, and the content can be similar to that in CRP planting.

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