Cattle grazing and baling of corn (Zea mays L.) residues are common practices in integrated crop–livestock systems, but their impacts on soil properties are not well understood on a regional scale. We conducted a 3-yr study across a precipitation gradient (ranging from 400 to 804 mm) in the central Great Plains to evaluate soil compaction, structural quality, water content, fertility, sorptivity, and microbial biomass in response to corn residue grazing and baling. Six on-farm sites varying in soil texture, organic matter, crop rotation, and irrigation practices were established with three residue treatments: control, grazing, and baling. Sites were predominantly under conservation tillage management. Residue baling reduced residue cover by 57% and residue grazing by 17% relative to the control. At most sites, residue baling reduced near-surface soil water content by 8 to 32% and increased wind erodible fraction by 22 to 56% compared with the control but grazing generally had no effect. Residue grazing and baling had small or no negative effects on other measured soil properties regardless of soil type or precipitation amount. When changes in soil properties did occur, they were due to differences in grazing duration or agronomic management. For example, grazing during spring at one of the sites increased soil bulk density by 7% (1.17 vs. 1.26 Mg m –3 ) relative to the control. This short-term study indicates that residue grazing, in general, does not impact soil properties, but residue baling at high rates (>50%) could increase wind erosion risks and reduce surface soil water content in this region.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by funding from the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. We acknowledge the farm cooperators for managing experiment plots and Elizabeth Jeske for biomarker analysis.
© 2018 by the American Society of Agronomy.