Changes in soil organic matter over 70 years in continuous arable and ley–arable rotations on a sandy loam soil in England

A - Papers appearing in refereed journals

Johnston, A. E., Poulton, P. R., Coleman, K., Macdonald, A. J. and White, R. P. 2017. Changes in soil organic matter over 70 years in continuous arable and ley–arable rotations on a sandy loam soil in England. European Journal of Soil Science. 68 (3), pp. 305-316.

AuthorsJohnston, A. E., Poulton, P. R., Coleman, K., Macdonald, A. J. and White, R. P.
Abstract

The sequestration in soil of organic carbon (SOC) derived from atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) by replacing arable crops with leys, has been measured over 70 years on a sandy loam soil. The experiment was designed initially to test the effect of leys on the yields of arable crops. A 3‐year grazed grass with clover (grass + clover) ley in a 5‐year rotation with arable crops increased percentage organic carbon (%OC) in the top 25 cm of the soil from 0.98 to 1.23 in 28 years, but with little further increase during the next 40 years with all‐grass leys given fertilizer nitrogen (N). In this second period, OC inputs were balanced by losses, suggesting that about 1.3% OC might be near the equilibrium content for this rotation. Including 3‐year lucerne (Medicago sativa) leys had little effect on %OC over 28 years, but after changing to grass + clover leys, %OC increased to 1.24 during the next 40 years. Eight‐year leys (all grass with N or grass + clover) in 10‐year rotations with arable crops were started in the 1970s, and after three rotations %OC had increased to ca. 1.40 in 2000–2009. Over 70 years, %OC declined from 0.98 to 0.94 in an all‐arable rotation with mainly cereals and to 0.82 with more root crops. Applications of 38 t ha−1 farmyard manure (FYM) every fifth year increased %OC by 0.13% by the mid‐1960s when applications ceased. Soil treated with FYM still contained 0.10% more OC in 2000–2009. Changes in the amount of OC have been modelled with RothC‐26.3 and estimated inputs of C for selected rotations. Little of the OC input during the 70 years has been retained; most was retained in the grazed ley rotation, but 9 t ha−1 only of a total input of 189 t ha−1. In other rotations more than 98% of the total OC input was lost. Despite large losses of C, annual increases in OC of 4‰ are possible on this soil type with the inclusion of grass or grass + clover leys or the application of FYM, but only for a limited period. Such increases in SOC might help to limit increases in atmospheric CO2.

Year of Publication2017
JournalEuropean Journal of Soil Science
Journal citation68 (3), pp. 305-316
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)doi:10.1111/ejss.12415
Open accessPublished as ‘gold’ (paid) open access
FunderBiotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Funder project or codeSustainability
The Rothamsted Long-Term Experiments including Sample Archive and e-RA database [2012-2017]
Optimisation of nutrients in soil-plant systems: How can we control nitrogen cycling in soil?
Publisher's version
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online21 Mar 2017
Publication process dates
Accepted16 Jan 2017
Copyright licenseCC BY
PublisherWiley
ISSN1351-0754

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