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Effects Of Tillage Systems And Rotations On Crop Production For A Thin Black Chernozem In The Canadian Prairies

G. Lafond, W. E. May, F. Stevenson, D. Derksen
Published 2006 · Geology

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Abstract Soil degradation is the single most important threat to global food production and security. Wind and water erosion are the main forms of this degradation, and conservation tillage represents an effective method for controlling this problem. The objective of this study was to quantify the effects of three tillage methods [zero (ZT), minimum (MT) and conventional (CT)] and three four-year crop sequences [spring wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)–spring wheat–winter wheat–fallow; spring wheat–spring wheat–flax (Linum usitatissimum L.)–winter wheat; spring wheat–flax–winter wheat–field pea (Pisum sativum L.] on crop establishment, plant height, seed weight, soil water storage, crop water use, crop water use efficiency and grain yield over a 12-year period under Canadian growing conditions. Plant establishment was not adversely affected by tillage systems or crop sequences except for flax, where a small reduction was observed with ZT and MT. Conservation tillage showed a yield benefit over CT of 7%, 12.5% and 7.4% for field pea, flax and spring wheat grown on cereal stubble, respectively over the 12 years of the study. Much of the yield increase was due to an increase in soil water in the 0–30 cm soil layer with ZT and MT. However, tillage systems had no effect on grain yield for spring wheat grown on fallow and field pea stubble due to a lack of differences in spring soil water content. Flax grown in sequence with cereals only yielded higher than when it was grown in the sequence which included field pea, even though flax was seeded on spring wheat stubble in both cases. Winter wheat yielded higher when grown on flax stubble than on spring wheat stubble. The results indicate that a one-year non-cereal break crop was enough to alleviate the negative effects of consecutive cereal crops on winter wheat. Spring wheat grown on field pea stubble always yielded more than when grown on cereal stubble. A 10% increase in water use efficiency was observed with flax grown with ZT and MT management. Crop sequence improved water use efficiency in flax and spring wheat. Growing spring wheat on field pea stubble as opposed to growing it on cereal stubble resulted in a 10% increase in water use efficiency. Overall, rainfall accounted for 73%, 72%, 67% and 65% of total water used by field pea, flax, winter wheat and spring wheat, respectively. This explains the large year effect as a result of variation in growing (May–August) season precipitation. The non-significant tillage system by year interaction implies that the positive benefits of ZT and MT occur over a wide range of growing conditions, while the absence of a tillage system by crop sequence interaction suggests that knowledge developed under CT management also applies to ZT and MT. The results of this study support the large shifts towards in conservation tillage being observed in the Canadian prairies.
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