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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Response of maize yield to changes in soil organic matter in a Swedish long-term experiment

Katterer, Thomas; Bolinder, Martin A.

Abstract

Agricultural practices that lead to soil carbon sequestration may be a win-win strategy for mitigating global warming and improving soil fertility and resource use efficiency. The mechanisms through which soil organic carbon (SOC) concentration affects crop yields are numerous but difficult to separate. The objective of this study was to disentangle these processes and estimate to what extent the yield response to SOC is mainly driven by changes in physical or biochemical properties and processes. This was achieved by analysing the response of yields in continuous maize to SOC concentrations during 20 years (2000-2019), which had evolved in 14 experimental treatments in a Swedish long-term field experiment at Ultuna since 1956, ranging from 0.94% to 3.65% in the topsoil (0-20 cm). Average maize yields during this period varied between 1.9 and 8.4 Mg dry mass per hectare in the different treatments. The treatments comprise applications of different mineral nitrogen (N) fertilizers and organic amendments and combinations thereof. Our analysis showed that maize yield in the treatments that were not severely limited by nitrogen supply or soil acidity increased by 16% for each percentage unit increase in SOC. We applied the widely used concept of critical N concentration in plant biomass to diagnose the N status in maize in the different treatments (N nutrition index [NNI]) and parameterized a response function between yield and pH (RpH). Dry soil bulk density (BD) was used as a proxy for soil physical properties. These three variables NNI, RpH and BD explained 95% of the variation in maize yields among treatments. Further analysis of the relationship between BD, SOC and plant available water capacity revealed that about two thirds of the yield increases in response to SOC change could be ascribed to associated changes in soil physical properties. Our analysis suggests that the extra storage capacity of water, which increased by up to 15 mm in the topsoil for each unit percentage increase in SOC, was the main driver for the observed yield responses. We conclude that measures for increasing SOC in soils most likely are an effective adaptation strategy for reducing the risk of crop damage during dry spells, which probably are becoming more frequent in the future due to climate change, even in relatively humid climates as in Sweden.After about six decades of different agricultural management, soil organic carbon (SOC) concentrations differed by up to a factor of four between the treatments in a Swedish field trial. Crop yields increased by 16% for each unit percentage of SOC increase in the high-N treatments and by 14% in the low-N treatments. image

Keywords

crop productivity; maize; nitrogen nutrition index; nitrogen use efficiency; plant available water capacity; soil carbon; soil carbon sequestration; soil physical properties

Published in

European Journal of Soil Science
2024, Volume: 75, number: 2, article number: e13482Publisher: WILEY