Soil nitrogen conservation with continuous no-till management

  • John T. Spargo
  • Marcus M. Alley
  • Ronald F. Follett
  • James V. Wallace
Research Article


Tillage management is an important regulator of organic matter decomposition and N mineralization in agroecosystems. Tillage has resulted in the loss of considerable organic N from surface soils. There is potential to rebuild and conserve substantial amounts of soil N where no-till management is implemented in crop production systems. The objectives of our research were to measure N conservation rate with continuous no-till management of grain cropping systems and evaluate its impact on mineralizable and inorganic soil N. Samples were collected from 63 sites in production fields using a rotation of corn (Zea mays L.)—wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) or barley (Hordeum vulgare L.)—double-crop soybean (Glysine max L.) across three soil series [Bojac (Coarse-loamy, mixed, semiactive, thermic Typic Hapludults), Altavista (Fine-loamy, mixed semiactive, thermic Aquic Hapludults), and Kempsville (Fine-loamy, siliceous, subactive, thermic Typic Hapludults)] with a history of continuous no-till that ranged from 0 to 14 yrs. Thirty-two of the sites had a history of biosolids application. Soil cores were collected at each site from 0–2.5, 2.5–7.5 and 7.5–15 cm and analyzed for total N, Illinois soil N test-N (ISNT-N), and [NH4 + NO3]-N. A history of biosolids application increased the concentration of total soil N by 154 ± 66.8 mg N kg−1 (310 ± 140 kg N ha−1) but did not increase ISNT-N in the surface 0 – 15 cm. Continuous no-till increased the concentration of total soil N by 9.98 mg N kg−1 year−1 (22.2 ± 21.2 kg N ha−1 year−1) and ISNT-N by 1.68 mg N kg−1 year−1 in the surface 0–15 cm. The implementation of continuous no-till management in this cropping system has resulted in conservation of soil N.


No-till N Cycling N-Use efficiency Biosolids 



We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the producer cooperators for giving us access to farm fields to collect soil samples and providing us with management history. Without their assistance this work would not have been possible. Financial support for this research was provided by the USDA-NRCS through a Conservation Innovation Grant, the Virginia Agricultural Council, and Phillip Morris USA.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • John T. Spargo
    • 1
  • Marcus M. Alley
    • 1
  • Ronald F. Follett
    • 2
  • James V. Wallace
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Crop and Soil Environmental SciencesVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA
  2. 2.United States Deptartment of Agriculture – Agriculture Research ServicesFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Colonial Soil and Water Conservation DistrictQuintonUSA

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