, Volume 173, Issue 1, pp 55-65

Sorghum, wheat and soybean production as affected by long-term tillage, crop sequence and N fertilization

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Yield decline of cereals grown in monoculture may be alleviated with alternative crop management strategies. Crop rotation and optimized tillage and fertilizer management can contribute to more sustainable food and fiber production in the long-term by increasing diversity, maintaining soil organic matter (SOM), and reducing adverse effects of excessive N application on water quality. We investigated the effects of crop sequence, tillage, and N fertilization on long-term grain production on an alluvial, silty clay loam soil in southcentral Texas. Crop sequences consisted of monoculture sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench,) wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), and soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr), wheat/soybean double-crop, and rotation of sorghum with wheat/soybean. Grain yields tended to be lower with no tillage (NT) than with conventional tillage (CT) early in the study and became more similar after 11 years. Nitrogen fertilizer required to produce 95% to maximum sorghum yield was similar for monoculture and rotation upon initiation of the experiment and averaged 16 and 11 mg N g-1 grain with NT and CT, respectively. After 11 years, however, the N fertilizer requirement became similar for both tillage regimes, but was greater in monoculture (17 mg N g-1 grain) than in rotation (12 mg N g-1 grain). Crop sequences with double-cropping resulted in greater land use efficiency because similar or lower amounts of N fertilizer were required to produce equivalent grain than with less intensive monoculture systems. These more intensive crop sequences produced more stover with higher N quality primarily due to the inclusion of soybean in the rotation. Large quantities of stover that remained on the soil surface with NT led to greater SOM content, which increased the internal cycling of nutrients in this soil. In southcentral Texas, where rainfall averages nearly 1000 mm yr-1, more intensive cropping of sorghum, wheat, and soybean with moderate N fertilization using reduced tillage can increase grain production and potentially decrease N losses to the environment by cycling more N into the crop-SOM system.