Tillage, cropping systems, and nitrogen fertilizer source effects on soil carbon sequestration and fractions

Upendra M Sainju, Zachary N Senwo, Ermson Z Nyakatawa, Irenus A Tazisong, K Chandra Reddy
Journal of Environmental Quality 2008, 37 (3): 880-8
Quantification of soil carbon (C) cycling as influenced by management practices is needed for C sequestration and soil quality improvement. We evaluated the 10-yr effects of tillage, cropping system, and N source on crop residue and soil C fractions at 0- to 20-cm depth in Decatur silt loam (clayey, kaolinitic, thermic, Typic Paleudults) in northern Alabama, USA. Treatments were incomplete factorial combinations of three tillage practices (no-till [NT], mulch till [MT], and conventional till [CT]), two cropping systems (cotton [Gossypium hirsutum L.]-cotton-corn [Zea mays L.] and rye [Secale cereale L.]/cotton-rye/cotton-corn), and two N fertilization sources and rates (0 and 100 kg N ha(-1) from NH(4)NO(3) and 100 and 200 kg N ha(-1) from poultry litter). Carbon fractions were soil organic C (SOC), particulate organic C (POC), microbial biomass C (MBC), and potential C mineralization (PCM). Crop residue varied among treatments and years and total residue from 1997 to 2005 was greater in rye/cotton-rye/cotton-corn than in cotton-cotton-corn and greater with NH(4)NO(3) than with poultry litter at 100 kg N ha(-1). The SOC content at 0 to 20 cm after 10 yr was greater with poultry litter than with NH(4)NO(3) in NT and CT, resulting in a C sequestration rate of 510 kg C ha(-1) yr(-1) with poultry litter compared with -120 to 147 kg C ha(-1) yr(-1) with NH(4)NO(3). Poultry litter also increased PCM and MBC compared with NH(4)NO(3). Cropping increased SOC, POC, and PCM compared with fallow in NT. Long-term poultry litter application or continuous cropping increased soil C storage and microbial biomass and activity compared with inorganic N fertilization or fallow, indicating that these management practices can sequester C, offset atmospheric CO(2) levels, and improve soil and environmental quality.

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