Zone tillage is a reduced-tillage approach that attempts to capture both the environmental advantages of year-round ground cover and the agronomic benefits of in-row tillage. This study was conducted to determine the effect of differing levels of zone tillage intensity on soil carbon and nitrogen cycling in a corn-kura clover cropping system (Zea maize-Trifolium ambiguum). Research took place in Rosemount, MN in 2015 and 2016 in an established kura clover stand. Soils and kura clover biomass were each sampled three times in crop rows per year in four treatments that varied by intensity: NT (spray-down no-till), ST (shank-till, traditional strip till unit), RZT (zone-till, PTO-driven rotary zone tiller), and DT (double-till, ST + RZT). Samples were analyzed for microbial biomass (MB), soil inorganic nitrogen, and permanganate oxidizable carbon (POXC). Additionally, potentially mineralizable nitrogen (PMN) was measured for 2016 post-spring tillage soils. Greater spring kura clover biomass in 2016 (2449 kg ha−1) relative to 2015 (187 kg ha−1) influenced overall differences in soil quality between years. The double-till (DT) treatment had greater post-till soil inorganic N than the no-till (NT) treatment in 2016, and by corn harvest, both zone-till (RZT) and double-till (DT) had higher soil inorganic N than NT, indicating that the addition of kura clover biomass contributed to in-row, plant-available nitrogen. Double-till was also more effective in reducing kura clover encroachment into crop rows than NT. No effect of tillage intensity on PMN, MB, or POXC was observed at any sampling time, although trends of decreasing POXC paired with increasing MB over the 2016 growing season suggest that the quantity of incorporated kura clover biomass may have governed belowground nutrient cycling and soil fertility.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This project was generously funded by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (Water Quality grant #76922 ).
- Kura clover
- Living mulch
- N cycling