Date of Award
Master of Science
Since agriculture began, field management has been at the forefront of expanding food production beyond previous limitations. Agricultural productivity is closely related to the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the soil. Landscape position and field management are among primary factors affecting these soil properties. Delineation of topographic positions of the field surface by shape (i.e., convex, concave, and linear) characterizes areas that may accumulate or lose soil and nutrients either during a discrete event or cumulatively over several growing seasons. Increased soil compaction, degradation of soil structure, and erosion have all been attributed to declining agricultural production. In addition to the physical disturbance from cultivation, erosion and deposition of soil components in different landscape positions explain a large part of the heterogeneity of soil properties across an agriculture field. In response to this, conservation tillage techniques, precision agriculture, and other novel management strategies have been developed to reduce negative impacts conventional row crop production such as nutrient pollution and compaction while optimizing farmer inputs. The objective of this project was to evaluate effects of topographic position and conservation tillage techniques on soil physical, chemical, and biological properties on the field scale as well as correlate certain soil attributes with suspended soil runoff collected during the sprinkle infiltration test. Soil fertility sampling was completed every fall from 2011 to 2014 and additional sampling of soil physical properties was taken in the spring between 2013 and 2014. Differences between fall conservation tillage treatments, no-till (NT), AerWay® aerator (AA), and Great Plains Turbo-Till® (GP), and topographic positons, concave, convex and linear were analyzed. Sediment runoff and earthworm biomass were also collected in the fall in 2014. Results indicated a significant increase of soil organic matter (12%-24%), water stable aggregates (78%-98%), phosphorus (43%-76%), and cation exchange capacity (28%-35%) within concave over the convex landscape positions. Soil strength was significantly lower in the field managed with the GP vertical tillage disk compared with the AA field to a depth of 27.5 cm and the NT field to depth of 17.5 cm. Crop residue coverage (percent covered) was more complete in the NT field (12%) and the GP field (3%) compared with the AA field. Suspended sediment runoff was negatively correlated with water-stable aggregates, Ca, and Mg, but positively correlated with earthworm biomass. Extractable nutrients and soil physical properties were also strongly affected by air temperature and precipitation throughout the study period. Characterizing soil properties within topographic positions has potential applications in precision agriculture management, such as reducing excessive fertilization, and identifying areas of increased pollution potential. Evaluation of the tandem effects of conservation tillage tools and topographic position within central Illinois is important in order for the optimization of production and conservation of resources. Physical disturbance from tillage and the transport of sediment from eroded areas to depositional topographic positions are key factors influencing the variability of soil properties, crop productivity, and potential sediment-borne nutrient pollution within individual agricultural fields.
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