Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 84, Issue 1, pp 1–22 | Cite as

Effects of input level and crop diversity on soil nitrate-N, extractable P, aggregation, organic C and N, and nutrient balance in the Canadian Prairie

  • S. S. Malhi
  • S. A. Brandt
  • R. Lemke
  • A. P. Moulin
  • R. P. Zentner
Original Article


A field experiment was conducted from 1995 to 2006 on a Dark Brown Chernozem (Typic Boroll) loam soil at Scott, Saskatchewan, Canada to determine the influence of input level and crop diversity on accumulation and distribution of nitrate-N and extractable P in the soil profile, and soil pH, dry aggregation, organic C and N, and nutrient balance sheets in the second 6-year rotation cycle (2001–2006). Treatments were combinations of three input levels (organic input under conventional tillage—ORG; reduced input under no-till—RED; and high input under conventional tillage—HIGH), three crop diversities (fallow-based rotations with low crop diversity—LOW; diversified rotations using annual cereal, oilseed and pulse grain crops—DAG; and diversified rotations using annual grain and perennial forage crops—DAP), and six crop phases including green manure (GM), chem-fallow or tilled-fallow (F). Amount of nitrate-N in 0-240 cm soil was usually highest under the HIGH input-LOW crop diversity treatment and lowest under the ORG input-DAP crop diversity treatment. The distribution of nitrate-N in various soil depths suggested downward movement of nitrate-N up to 240 cm depth, especially with LOW crop diversity compared to DAP crop diversity, and with HIGH input. In some years, the ORG input systems had higher nitrate-N than the RED or HIGH input systems, which was attributed to low extractable P in soil for optimum crop growth and reduced nutrient uptake with ORG input management. Extractable P in soil was higher by a small margin for HIGH or RED input relative to ORG input in the 0–15 cm layer, suggesting little downward movement of P. Crop diversity did not affect extractable soil P due to the low baseline levels of P in this soil. The proportion of fine dry aggregates (<1.3 mm, erodible fraction) in 0–5 cm soil was highest with LOW crop diversity-HIGH input system, and lowest with DAG diversity-RED input system. The opposite was true for large aggregates (>12.7 mm). Wet aggregate stability was higher for RED input compared to ORG and HIGH input, which was attributed to the increase in the concentration of organic C in aggregates in the RED input system. Amount of light fraction organic matter (LFOM), light fraction organic C (LFOC) and light fraction organic N (LFON) in 0–15 cm soil was higher for RED input compared to ORG and HIGH inputs, and higher for DAG and DAP crop diversities than for LOW crop diversity. Soil N and P were usually deficient under ORG input management, but large amounts of N and P were unaccounted for, or in surplus, under RED and HIGH inputs, despite a marked increase in plant N and P uptake and crop yield compared to ORG input. Overall, our findings suggest that soil quality can be improved and nutrient accumulation in the soil profile can be minimized by increasing cropping frequency, reducing/eliminating tillage, and using appropriate combinations of fertilizer input and diversified cropping.


Aggregation Crop diversity Extractable P Input level Nitrate-N Nutrient balance Organic C and N Soil 



The authors thank Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food, Agriculture Development Fund, and The Canada-Saskatchewan Green Plan for financial assistance, and L. Sproule, D. Gerein, R. Ljunggren and D. Leach for technical assistance.


  1. Adetunji MT (1994) Phosphorus requirement of a maize-cow peas sequential cropping on a Paleudult. Fert Res 39:161–166. doi: 10.1007/BF00750243 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bailey LD, Spratt ED, Read DWL, Warder FG, Fergusan WS (1977) Residual effects of phosphorus fertilizer. II. For wheat and flax grown on chernozemic soils in Manitoba. Can J Soil Sci 57:263–270Google Scholar
  3. Beckie HJ, Moulin AP, Campbell CA, Brandt SA (1995) Testing effectiveness of four simulation models for estimating nitrates and water in two soils. Can J Soil Sci 75:135–143Google Scholar
  4. Benbi DK, Biswas CR (1999) Nutrient budgeting for phosphorus and potassium in a long-term fertilizer trial. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 54:125–132. doi: 10.1023/A:1009720103190 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bolinder MA, Angers DA, Gregorich EG, Carter MR (1999) The response of soil quality indicators to conservation management. Can J Soil Sci 79:37–45Google Scholar
  6. Bowman RA, Halvorson AD (1997) Crop rotation and tillage effects on phosphorus distribution in the Central Great Plains. Soil Sci Soc Am J 61:1418–1422Google Scholar
  7. Bowman RA, Reeder JD, Laber WR (1990) Changes in soil properties in a central plains rangeland soil after 3, 20 and 60 years of cultivation. Soil Sci 150:851–857. doi: 10.1097/00010694-199012000-00004 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bowren KE, Biederbeck VO, Bjorge HA, Brandt SA, Goplen BP, Henry JL, Wright T, McLean LA (1986) Soil improvement with legumes. Saskatchewan Agriculture Bulletin M10-86-02, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, 24 ppGoogle Scholar
  9. Brandt SA (1996) Alternatives to summerfallow and subsequent wheat and barley yield on a dark Brown soil. Can J Plant Sci 76:223–228Google Scholar
  10. Brar SPS, Singh B, Benbi DK (1993) Effects of long-term application of fertilizer and crop sequences on phosphorus in an Ustochrept in Punjab. Trop Agri (Trinidad and Tobago) 70:315–319Google Scholar
  11. Braunack MV, Dexter AR (1989) Soil aggregation in the seedbed: a review. II. Effect of aggregate sizes on plant growth. Soil Tillage Res 11:133–145. doi: 10.1016/0167-1987(88)90021-9 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Campbell CA, Zentner RP (1984) Effect of fertilizer on soil pH after seventeen years of continuous cropping in southwestern Saskatchewan. Can J Soil Sci 64:750–710Google Scholar
  13. Campbell CA, De Jong R, Zentner RP (1984a) Effect of cropping, summerfallow and fertilizer nitrogen on nitrate-nitrogen lost by leaching on a Brown Chernozemic soil. Can J Soil Sci 64:61–74Google Scholar
  14. Campbell CA, Read DWL, Winkleman GE, McAndrew DW (1984b) First 12 years of a long-term crop rotation study in south western Saskatchewan–bicarbonate-P distribution in soil and P uptake by the plant. Can J Soil Sci 64:125–137Google Scholar
  15. Campbell CA, Lafond G, Zentner RP, Biederbeck VO (1991) Influence of fertilizer and straw baling on soil organic matter in a thin Black Chernozem in western Canada. Soil Biol Biochem 23:443–446. doi: 10.1016/0038-0717(91)90007-7 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Campbell CA, Zentner RP, Selles F, Akrinemi OO (1993) Nitrate leaching as influenced by fertilization in the Brown soil zone. Can J Soil Sci 73:387–397Google Scholar
  17. Campbell CA, Lafond GP, Zentner RP, Jame YW (1994) Nitrate leaching in a Udic Haploboroll as influenced by fertilization and legumes. J Environ Qual 23:195–201Google Scholar
  18. Campbell CA, Selles F, De Jong R, Zentner RP, Hamel C, Lemke R, Jefferson PG, McConkey BG (2006a) Effect of crop rotation on NO3 leached over 17 years in a medium-textured Brown Chernozem. Can J Soil Sci 86:109–118Google Scholar
  19. Campbell CA, Selles F, Zentner RP, De Jong R, Lemke R, Hamel C (2006b) Nitrate leaching in the semiarid prairie: effect of cropping frequency, crop type, and fertilizer after 37 years. Can J Soil Sci 86:701–710Google Scholar
  20. Carter MR, Angers DA, Gregorich EG (1994) Approaches to evaluate organic matter quality in soil management and tillage studies. In: Proceedings of 13th International Soil Tillage Research Organization (ISTRO) conference, Aalborg, Denmark, vol 1, pp 111–116Google Scholar
  21. Chepil WS (1962) A compact rotary sieve and the importance of dry sieving in physical soil analysis. Soil Sci Soc Am Proc 26:4–6Google Scholar
  22. Cowie BA, Hastie M, Hunt SB, Asghar M, Lack DW, Mohammad-Asghar (1996) Surface soil nutrient distribution following zero tillage and traditional tillage management. In: Proc. 8th Aust. Agron. conf., Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, pp 160–163Google Scholar
  23. Culley JLB (1993) Density and compressibility. In: Carter MR (ed) Soil sampling and methods of analysis. Lewis Publishers, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  24. Edwards JH, Wood CF, Thurlow DL, Ruf ME (1992) Tillage and crop rotation effects on fertility status of a Hapludult soil. Soil Sci Soc Am J 56:1577–1582Google Scholar
  25. Entz MH, Bullied WJ, Foster DA, Gulden R, Vessey K (2001) Extraction of subsoil nitrogen by alfalfa, alfalfa-wheat, and perennial grass systems. Agron J 93:495–503Google Scholar
  26. GenStat (2007) GenStat® for Windows TM 10th Edition Introduction [GenStat]. Payne, Roger; Murray, Darren; Harding, Simon; Baird, David, and Soutar, Duncan. GenStat® for Windows TM 9th Edition Introduction. Version 9.1. VSN International, Hempstead; 2006; c2006Google Scholar
  27. Grant CA, Lafond GP (1994) The effects of tillage system and crop rotations on soil chemical properties of a Black Chernozemic soil. Can J Soil Sci 74:301–306Google Scholar
  28. Guillard K, Griffin GF, Allinson DW, Yamartino WR, Rafey MM, Pietryzk SW (1995) Nitrogen utilization of selected cropping systems in the U.S. northeast. II. Soil profile nitrate distribution and accumulation. Agron J 87:199–207Google Scholar
  29. Henry L (1980) Available phosphorus in relation to soil classification. In: Proceedings of Alberta soil science workshop, Western Canada phosphate symposium, March 11–12, 1980, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, pp. 256–275Google Scholar
  30. Hoyt PB, Hennig AM (1982) Soil acidification by fertilizers and longevity of lime applications in the Peace River region. Can J Soil Sci 62:155–163Google Scholar
  31. Hussain IK, Olson R, Ebelhar SA (1999) Long-term tillage effects on soil chemical properties and organic matter fractions. Soil Sci Soc Am J 63:1335–1341Google Scholar
  32. Izaurralde RC, Feng Y, Robertson JA, McGill WB, Juma NG, Olsen BM (1995) Long-term influence of cropping systems, tillage methods and N sources on nitrate leaching. Can J Soil Sci 75:497–505Google Scholar
  33. Izaurralde RC, Nyborg M, Solberg ED, Janzen HH, Arshad MA, Malhi SS, Molina-Ayala M (1998) Carbon storage in eroded soils after five years of reclamation techniques. In: Lal R, Kimble JM, Follett RF, Stewart BA (eds) Management of carbon sequestration in soil. Adv. Soil Sci. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, USA, pp 369–385Google Scholar
  34. Janzen HH (1987) Effect of fertilizer on soil productivity in long-term wheat rotations. Can J Soil Sci 67:165–174Google Scholar
  35. Janzen HH, Campbell CA, Brandt SA, Lafond GP, Townley-Smith L (1992) Light-fraction organic matter in soil from long term rotations. Soil Sci Soc Am J 56:1799–1806Google Scholar
  36. Katupitiya A, Eisenhauer DE, Furguson RB, Spalding RF, Rueth FW, Bobier MW (1997) Long-term tillage and crop rotation effects on residual nitrate in the crop root zone and nitrate accumulation in the intermediate vadose zone. Trans ASAE 40:1321–1327. Am. Soc. Agric. Eng., St. Joseph, Michigan, USAGoogle Scholar
  37. Kolbe M, Jaechel U, Schuster M (1999) Development of the nutrient contents and pH-value in the soil depth profile during conversion to organic agriculture. Zeitschhrift-fuer-kulturtechnik-und-Landent Wicklung 40:145–151Google Scholar
  38. Kumar A, Yadav DS (2001) Long-term effects of fertilizers on the soil fertility and productivity of a rice-wheat system. J Agron Crop Sci 186:47–54. doi: 10.1046/j.1439-037x.2001.00452.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Leitch RH, McGill KS, Chauh H (1980) Soil test methods and trends in phosphorus studies of Western Canada soils. In: Western Canada phosphate symposium. Proc. Alta soil sci. workshop, Mar. 11–12, 1980, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, pp 24–64Google Scholar
  40. Lessard R, Rochette P, Gregorich EG, Patty E, Desjardins RL (1996) N2O fluxes from manure amended soil under maize. J Environ Qual 25:1371–1377CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Malhi SS, Kutcher HR (2007) Stubble burning and tillage effects on soil organic C, total N and aggregation in northeastern Saskatchewan. Soil Tillage Res 94:353–361. doi: 10.1016/j.still.2006.08.009 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Malhi SS, Harapiak JT, Nyborg M, Flore NA (1991a) Soil chemical properties after long-term fertilization of bromegrass: nitrogen rate. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal 22:1447–1458CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Malhi SS, Nyborg M, Harapiak JT, Flore N (1991b) Acidification of soil in Alberta by nitrogen fertilizers applied to bromegrass. In: R.J. Wright et al (eds) Plant–soil interactions at low pH. PLSO 61. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp 547–553Google Scholar
  44. Malhi SS, Brandt SA, Ulrich D, Lemke R, Gill KS (2002a) Accumulation and distribution of nitrate-nitrogen and extractable phosphorus in the soil profile under various alternative cropping systems. J Plant Nutr 25:2499–2520. doi: 10.1081/PLN-120014709 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Malhi SS, Zentner RP, Heier K (2002b) Effectiveness of alfalfa in reducing input of N fertilizer for optimum forage yield, protein yield and returns of bromegrass-alfalfa mixtures. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 62:219–227. doi: 10.1023/A:1021229824357 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Malhi SS, Nyborg M, Harapiak JT (2003) Distribution of acid extractable P and exchangeable K in a grassland soil as affected by long-term surface application of N, P and K fertilizers. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 67:265–272. doi: 10.1023/B:FRES.0000003622.36255.a6 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Malhi SS, Lemke R, Wang ZH, Chhabra BS (2006) Influence of tillage and crop residue management on crop yield, greenhouse gas emissions and soil quality. Soil Tillage Res 90:171–183. doi: 10.1016/j.still.2005.09.001 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Malhi SS, Schoenau JJ, Vera CL (2008) Feasibility of elemental S fertilizers for optimum seed yield and quality of canola in the Parkland region of the Canadian Great Plains. In: Khan NA, Singh S (eds) Sulfur assimilation and abiotic stress in plants. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, pp 21–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. McCollum RE (1991) Buildup and decline in soil phosphorus: 30 year trends on a typic Umprabult. Agron J 83:77–85Google Scholar
  50. Meek B, Graham L, Donovan T (1982) Long-term effects of manure on soil nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, organic matter and water infiltration rate. Soil Sci Soc Am J 6:1014–1019Google Scholar
  51. Mehlich A (1984) Melich-3 soil test extractant: a modification of Melich-2 extractant. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal 15:1409–1416CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Nikitishen V, Dmitrokova LK, Zaborin AV, Lichko VI (1990) Formation of nitrate maximum and long-term nitrogen fertilizer application. Pochvovedenie 2:241–252Google Scholar
  53. Nimmo JR, Perkins KS (2002) Aggregate stability and size distribution. In: Dane JH, Topp GC (eds) Methods of soil analysis part 4 physical methods. Soil Science Society of America, Inc., Madison, pp 317–328Google Scholar
  54. Nuttall WF, Bowren KE, Campbell CA (1986) Crop residue management practices, and N and P fertilizer effects on crop response and on some soil physical and chemical properties of a Black Chernozem over 25 years in a continuous wheat rotation. Can J Soil Sci 66:159–171Google Scholar
  55. Nyborg M, Solberg ED, Izaurralde RC, Malhi SS, Molina-Ayala M (1995a) Influence of long-term tillage, straw and N fertilizer on barley yield, plant-N uptake and soil-N balance. Soil Tillage Res 36:165–174. doi: 10.1016/0167-1987(95)00502-1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Nyborg M, Solberg ED, Malhi SS, Izaurralde RC (1995b) Fertilizer N, crop residue and tillage alter soil organic carbon and nitrogen content in a decade. In: Lal R, Kimble J, Levine E, Stewart BA (eds) Soil management and greenhouse effects. Adv. Soil Sci. CRC Press Inc, Boca Raton, pp 93–99Google Scholar
  57. Olsen RJ, Hensler RF, Attoe OJ, Witzel SA, Peterson LA (1970) Fertilizer nitrogen and crop rotation in relation to movement of nitrate nitrogen through soil profiles. Soil Sci Soc Am Proc 34:448–452CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Oyedel DJ, Sibbesen E, Debosz K (1999) Aggregation and organic matter fraction of three Nigerian soils as affected by soil disturbance and incorporation of plant material. Soil Tillage Res 50:105–114. doi: 10.1016/S0167-1987(98)00200-1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Peterson TA, Russelle MP (1991) Alfalfa and the nitrogen cycle in the corn belt. J Soil Water Conserv 46:229–235Google Scholar
  60. Read DWL, Campbell CA (1981) Bio-cycling of phosphorus in soil by plant roots. Can J Soil Sci 61:587–589Google Scholar
  61. SAS Institute Inc (2004) SAS OnlineDoc® 9.1.3. SAS Institute Inc, CaryGoogle Scholar
  62. Schwab AP, Owensby CE, Kulyingyoung S (1990) Changes in soil chemical properties due to 40 years of fertilization. Soil Sci 149:35–43. doi: 10.1097/00010694-199001000-00004 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Seyfried MS, Rao PSC (1991) Nutrient leaching loss from two contrasting cropping systems in the humid tropics. Trop Agric Trinidad Tobago 68:9–18Google Scholar
  64. Siddoway FH (1963) Effects of cropping and tillage methods on dry aggregate soil stucture. Soil Sci Soc Am Proc 27:452–454Google Scholar
  65. Singh B, Malhi SS (2006) Response of soil physical properties to tillage and straw management on two contrasting soils in a cryoboreal environment. Soil Tillage Res 85:143–153. doi: 10.1016/j.still.2004.12.005 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Skidmore EL, Layton JB, Armbrust DV, Hooker ML (1986) Soil physical properties as influenced by cropping and residue management. Soil Sci Soc Am J 50:415–419Google Scholar
  67. Technicon Industrial Systems (1973a) Nitrate in water and waste water. Industrial Method No. 100-70W-B. Revised January 1978. Technicon Industrial Systems, TarrytownGoogle Scholar
  68. Technicon Industrial Systems (1973b) Orthophosphate in water and sea water. Industrial Method No. 155-71W. Technicon Industrial Systems, TarrytownGoogle Scholar
  69. Technicon Industrial Systems (1977) Industrial/simultaneous determination of nitrogen and/or phosphorus in BD acid digests. Industrial Method 334-74W/Bt. Technicon Industrial Systems, TarrytownGoogle Scholar
  70. Tisdale SL, Nelson WL, Beaton JD, Havlin JL (1993) Soil fertility and fertilizers. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 634 ppGoogle Scholar
  71. Tisdall JM, Oades JM (1982) Organic matter and water-stable aggregates in soils. J Soil Sci 33:141–163. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2389.1982.tb01755.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Townley-Smith L, Slinkard AE, Bailey LD, Biederbeck VO, Rice WA (1993) Productivity, water use and nitrogen fixation of annual legume green manures in the dark brown soil zone of Saskatchewan. Can J Plant Sci 73:139–148Google Scholar
  73. Van Bavel CHM (1950) Mean weight diameter of soil aggregates as a statistical index of aggregation. Soil Sci Soc Am Proc 14:20–23Google Scholar
  74. Varvel GE, Peterson TA (1990) Residual soil nitrogen as affected by continuous two-year and four-year crop rotation systems. Agron J 82:958–962Google Scholar
  75. Vasconcelos E, Cabral F, Cordovil CMD (1997) Effect of solid phase from pig slurry on soil chemical characteristics, nitrate leaching composition, and yield of wheat. J Plant Nutr 20:939–952CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Voorhees WB, Holt RF (1969) Management of alfalfa to conserve soil moisture. Agric Exp Stn Bull 494. Univ. of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota, USAGoogle Scholar
  77. Vos J, Van-Der-Putten PEL, Hussein-Muktar-Hussan, Van-Dam AM, Leffelaar PA (1998) Field observations on nitrogen catch crops. II. Root length and root length distribution in relation to species and nitrogen supply. Plant Soil 210:149–155. doi: 10.1023/A:1004367530320 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Wagar BI, Stewart JWB, Moir JO (1986) Changes with time in the form and availability of residual fertilizer phosphorus on chernozemic soils. Can J Soil Sci 66:105–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Yang SM, Li FM, Malhi SS, Wang P, Suo DR, Wang JG (2004) Long-term fertilization effects on crop yield and nitrate-N accumulation in soil in northwest China. Agron J 96:1039–1049CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Yang S, Malhi SS, Song JR, Yue WY, Wang JG, Guo TW (2006) Crop yield, N uptake and nitrate-N accumulation in soil as affected by 23 annual applications of fertilizers and manure on in the rainfed region of northwestern China. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 76:81–94. doi: 10.1007/s10705-006-9042-x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Yuan X, Tong Y, Yang X, Li X, Zhang F (2000) Effect of organic manure on soil nitrate accumulation. Soil Environ Sci 9:197–200Google Scholar
  82. Zhang WL, Tian ZX, Zhang N, Li XO (1996) Nitrate pollution of groundwater in northern China. Agric Ecosyst Environ 59:223–231. doi: 10.1016/0167-8809(96)01052-3 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Zheng Z, Simard RR, Lafond J, Parent LE (2001) Changes in phosphorus fraction of a humic gleysol as influenced by cropping system and nutrient source. Can J Soil Sci 81:175–183Google Scholar
  84. Zentner RP, Campbell CA, Beiderbeck VO, Miller PR, Selles F, Fernandez MR (2001) In search of a sustainable cropping system for the semiarid Canadian prairies. J Sustain Agric 18:117–136. doi: 10.1300/J064v18n02_10 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. S. Malhi
    • 1
  • S. A. Brandt
    • 2
  • R. Lemke
    • 3
  • A. P. Moulin
    • 4
  • R. P. Zentner
    • 5
  1. 1.Agriculture and Agri-Food CanadaMelfortCanada
  2. 2.Agriculture and Agri-Food CanadaScottCanada
  3. 3.Agriculture and Agri-Food CanadaSaskatoonCanada
  4. 4.Agriculture and Agri-Food CanadaBrandonCanada
  5. 5.Agriculture and Agri-Food CanadaSwift CurrentCanada

Personalised recommendations