Aggregate stability and glomalin in alternative crop rotations for the central Great Plains
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Land productivity, along with improvement or maintenance of soil health, must be evaluated together to achieve sustainable agricultural practices. Winter wheat-fallow (W-F) has been the prevalent cropping system in the central Great Plains for 60 years where moisture is a limitation to crop production. Alternative cropping systems show that producers can crop more frequently if residue management and minimum tillage are used. The impact of different crops, crop rotations and tillage management practices on soil quality was assessed by measuring aggregate stability and glomalin production by arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi in soil from cropping trials established in 1990. Crops were wheat (W), corn (C), proso millet (M), and sunflower (S). Rotations sampled were W-F, W-C-M, W-C-M-F, W-C-F, and W-S-F. In the same area as the cropping trials, soils were taken from a perennial grass (crested wheatgrass) and from a buffer area that had been planted to Triticale for the past 2 years but prior to that had been extensively plowed for weed control. We found that aggregate stability and glomalin were linearly correlated (r=0.73, n=54, P<0.001) across all treatments sampled. Highest and lowest aggregate stability and glomalin values were seen in perennial grass and Triticale soils, respectively. Aggregate stability in W-S-F was significantly lower than in the other crop rotations (P≤0.03), while W-C-M had significantly higher glomalin than the other rotations (P<0.05). Differences between crop rotations and the perennial grass indicate that selected comparisons should be studied in greater detail to determine ways to manage AM fungi to increase glomalin and aggregate stability in these soils.
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