Plant and Soil

, Volume 283, Issue 1, pp 367-379

First online:

Acidification of Soil in a Dry Land Winter Wheat-sorghum/corn-fallow Rotation in the Semiarid U.S. Great Plains

  • David D. TarkalsonAffiliated withAgronomy and Horticulture Department, West Central Research and Extension Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Email author 
  • , José O. PayeroAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Systems Engineering, West Central Research and Extension Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • , Gary W. HergertAffiliated withAgronomy and Horticulture Department, Panhandle Research and Extension Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • , Kenneth G. CassmanAffiliated withAgronomy and Horticulture Department, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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Soil pH is decreasing in many soils in the semiarid Great Plains of the United States under dry land no-till (NT) cropping systems. This study was conducted to determine the rate of acidification and the causes of the acidification of a soil cropped to a winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)-grain sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench]/corn (Zea mays L.)-fallow rotation (W-S/C-F) under NT. The study was conducted from 1989 to 2003 on soil with a long-term history of either continuous NT management [NT(LT)] (1962–2003) or conventional tillage (CT) (1962–1988) then converted to NT [NT(C)] (1989–2003). Nitrogen was applied as ammonium nitrate (AN) at a rate of 23 kg N ha−1 in 1989 and as urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) at an average annual rate of 50 kg N ha−1 from 1990 to 2003 for both NT treatments. Soil samples were collected at depth increments of 0–5, 5–10, 10–15, and 15–30 cm in the spring of 1989 and 2003. Acidification rates for the NT(LT) and NT(C) treatments were 1.13 and 1.48 kmol H+ ha−1 yr−1 in the 0–30 cm depth, respectively. The amount of CaCO3 needed to neutralize the acidification is 57 and 74 kg ha−1 yr−1 for the NT(LT) and NT(C) treatments, respectively. A proton budget estimated by the Helyar and Porter [1989, Soil Acidity and Plant Growth, Academic Press] method indicated that NO 3 leaching from the 30 cm depth was a primary cause of long-term acidification in this soil. Nitrate leaching accounted for 59 and 66% of the H+ from the acid causing factors for NT(LT) and NT(C) treatments, respectively. The addition of crop residues to the soil neutralized 62 and 47% of the acidity produced from the leaching of NO 3 , and 37 and 31% of the acid resulting from NO 3 leaching and the other acid-causing constituents for the NT(LT) and NT(C) treatments, respectively. These results document that surface soils in dry land W-S/C-F rotations under NT are acidifying under current management practices. Improved management to increase nitrogen uptake efficiency from applied fertilizer would help reduce the rate of acidification. The addition of lime materials to prevent negative impacts on grain yields may be necessary in the future under current management practices.


acidification dryland nitrogen fertilizers organic anions proton budget