Subsoil compaction effect on spatio-temporal root growth, reuse of biopores and crop yield of spring barley

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Subsoil compaction in arable farming caused by increasingly heavy machinery results in increased subsoil strength and reduced aeration and water flow. This can restrict root growth and reduce crop yield. To mitigate these effects of subsoil compaction, we included a deep-rooted catch crop of fodder radish (Raphanus sativus var. oleifera) in a rotation of spring barley (Hordeum vulgare). The objective was to determine the effect of subsoil compaction on root growth and grain yield of barley, and to investigate the creation and use of biopores for subsequent root growth. Studies were carried out in 2013–2016 in a soil compaction experiment established in 2010 on a sandy loam. The soil had for four consecutive years (2010–2013) been compacted with multi-passes in an 8 Mg wheel load treatment (M8) or had not been compacted (Control). Spring barley was grown every year and fodder radish was grown as a catch crop from harvest to winter in 2013–2016. Penetration resistance to 90 cm depth was measured in 2015 at a soil water content near field capacity. Root growth and biopore reuse were investigated using horizontal minirhizotrons installed at 30, 50 and 70 cm depth from 2013–2016. Spring barley grain yield was recorded annually. We found that M8 caused critical subsoil compaction with penetration resistance peaking at 3.5 MPa in the upper subsoil (30−40 cm depth). Subsoil compaction reduced root growth by c. 50 % at 30 cm depth and barley yields by 6–8 % compared to the Control in three years after cessation of the compaction treatment. The number of biopores that were reused were higher for fodder radish than for spring barley, 4.1 % and 3.1 %, respectively, but did not differ between compaction treatments. Our study displayed a marked, negative residual effect of soil compaction on above- and belowground crop growth. There was no tendency towards a recovery within the years studied (1–3 years after compaction). Severe subsoil compaction is a widespread problem and therefore we call for more studies on the spatio-temporal dynamics of the creation and subsequent use of biopores for root growth as these are essential for the recovery of compacted subsoils.

Original languageEnglish
Article number126225
JournalEuropean Journal of Agronomy
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

    Research areas

  • Biopore, Fodder radish, Minirhizotron, Root growth, Soil compaction, Spring barley

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