Potential Long-Term Benefits of No-Tillage and Organic Cropping Systems for Grain Production and Soil Improvement
- John R. Teasdale *,
- Charles B. Coffman and
- Ruth W. Mangum
There have been few comparisons of the performance of no-tillage cropping systems vs. organic farming systems, particularly on erodible, droughty soils where reduced-tillage systems are recommended. In particular, there is skepticism whether organic farming can improve soils as well as conventional no-tillage systems because of the requirement for tillage associated with many organic farming operations. A 9-yr comparison of selected minimum-tillage strategies for grain production of corn (Zea mays L.), soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.], and wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) was conducted on a sloping, droughty site in Beltsville, MD, from 1994 to 2002. Four systems were compared: (i) a standard mid-Atlantic no-tillage system (NT) with recommended herbicide and N inputs, (ii) a cover crop-based no-tillage system (CC) including hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth) before corn, and rye (Secale cereale L.) before soybean, with reduced herbicide and N inputs, (iii) a no-tillage crownvetch (Coronilla varia L.) living mulch system (CV) with recommended herbicide and N inputs, and (iv) a chisel-plow based organic system (OR) with cover crops and manure for nutrients and postplanting cultivation for weed control. After 9 yr, competition with corn by weeds in OR and by the crownvetch living mulch in CV was unacceptable, particularly in dry years. On average, corn yields were 28 and 12% lower in OR and CV, respectively, than in the standard NT, whereas corn yields in CC and NT were similar. Despite the use of tillage, soil combustible C and N concentrations were higher at all depth intervals to 30 cm in OR compared with that in all other systems. A uniformity trial was conducted from 2003 to 2005 with corn grown according to the NT system on all plots. Yield of corn grown on plots with a 9-yr history of OR and CV were 18 and 19% higher, respectively, than those with a history of NT whereas there was no difference between corn yield of plots with a history of NT and CC. Three tests of N availability (corn yield loss in subplots with no N applied in 2003–2005, presidedress soil nitrate test, and corn ear leaf N) all confirmed that there was more N available to corn in OR and CV than in NT. These results suggest that OR can provide greater long-term soil benefits than conventional NT, despite the use of tillage in OR. However, these benefits may not be realized because of difficulty controlling weeds in OR.Please view the pdf by using the Full Text (PDF) link under 'View' to the left.
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