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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2016

Two decades of no-till in the Oberacker long-term field experiment: Part I. Crop yield, soil organic carbon and nutrient distribution in the soil profile

Martinez, Ingrid; Chervet, A.; Weisskopf, Peter; Sturny, W. G.; Etana, Ararso; Stettler, Matthias; Forkman, Johannes; Keller, Thomas


This is the first in a series of papers describing the impact of two decades of no-till in the Oberacker long-term field experiment in Switzerland. The experiment was established in 1994 on a sandy loam and compares two tillage systems, conventional tillage with mouldboard ploughing (MP) and no-till (NT). Crops are grown in a six-year rotation, namely peas (Pisum sativum L.) - winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) - field beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) - winter barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) - sugar beet (Beta vulgaris L.) - silage maize (Zea mays L). This study investigated the impact of the two tillage systems on (i) nutrient distribution and storage in the soil profile, (ii) the depth distribution of soil organic carbon and (iii) crop productivity. Soil samples were collected layer-by-layer following cultivation layers and natural soil horizons in a metal frame (0.5 m x 0.5 m cross-sectional area) down to 0.5 m depth. The layer boundaries were approximately 0.02, 0.05, 0.15, 0.25, 0.30, 0.40, and 0.50 m for NT, and 0.15, 0.25, 030, 0.40, and 0.50 m for MP. Soil organic carbon (SOC), total nitrogen (TotN), phosphorus (P), calcium (Ca), potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), pH, and bulk density were measured for each layer. The nutrient distribution was rather uniform within the plough layer in MP. In NT, there was strong stratification, with higher nutrient concentrations in the upper layers for TotN, K and Mg. This was associated with crop residue retention on the surface and reduced plant uptake due to low pH. In contrast, the distribution of P and Ca in NT was rather uniform in the 0-30 cm layer, with a trend towards maximum concentrations at around 20 cm depth. Total storage of nutrients per ha in the whole soil profile was similar in NT and MP for all nutrients. SOC stocks did not differ between NT and MP, although the depth distribution of SOC concentration was significantly different. The long-term average crop yield was slightly higher in NT than in MP, but the difference was not significant. Crop yield was significantly higher in NT for winter cereals (winter wheat, winter barley) and legumes (field beans and peas), but lower for root and tuber crops (sugar beet, potatoes). It can be assumed that the high crop yields in NT in the Oberacker long-term field experiment are due to the well-balanced crop rotation. (C) 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Direct drilling; Mouldboard ploughing; Crop rotation; Stratification; Storage

Published in

Soil and Tillage Research
2016, Volume: 163, pages: 141-151