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Long-term soil quality effects of soil and crop management in organic and conventional arable cropping systems

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Improving or maintaining soil health is crucial to support human needs, with the concept of soil quality connecting soil functions and sustainability concerns. In 2019, we assessed soil chemical, physical and biological properties in a long-term crop rotation experiment initiated in 1997 at Foulum, Denmark, with the aim of determining the long-term soil quality effects of the use of cover crops, animal manure, different crop sequences (with or without a legume-based ley) and organic vs conventional management. The concentration of soil organic carbon has been relatively stable across all treatments for 14 years prior to this investigation; in 2019, we found high aggregate stability, porosity, air permeability and pore organization in all treatments. Bulk density, air permeability and pore organization were affected to some extent by soil and crop management, with bulk density being the lowest in the organic treatment without cover crops, which had the most frequent harrowing. Earthworm density was the greatest in the organic system with grass-clover, especially following the ley year, thanks to a combination of high quality plant input and reduced soil disturbance. From a system perspective, none of the treatments investigated represented extremes, and all maintained good soil quality in the long-term. This indicates that long-term management should take into account the combination of different factors affecting soil quality.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115383
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Erling Nielsen for taking good care of the long-term experiment at Foulum during the last 25 years, and the technical staff at AU Foulum for their assistance with analysis. In addition, many thanks go to Zhi Liang for the always inspiring discussions. The study was part of the SoilCare and CCRotate projects. SoilCare was funded by the European Union HORIZON2020 Programme, while CCRotate was funded under the OrganicRD5 programme by the Green Growth and Development programme (GUDP) from the Danish Ministry of Environment and Food and coordinated by International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems (ICROFS).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors

    Research areas

  • Earthworms, Soil health, Soil organic C, Soil structural stability

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