Subsoil improvement in a tropical coarse textured soil: Effect of deep-ripping and slotting
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In many coarse textured soils, limited root development and biomass production are attributed to adverse physical conditions in the subsoil. The current study was undertaken on an Arenic Acrisol located in Northeast Thailand (i) to assess whether subsoil physical characteristics influence crop rooting depth, and (ii) to compare the benefits associated with conventional tillage with that of localised subsoil loosening on crop performance and selected soil attributes. Control plots consisted of disk ploughing; the implemented treatments were conventional deep-ripping and localised slotting below the planting line. A crop rotation consisting of a legume followed by maize was established annually to assess the impact of these treatments on crop performance. In the control treatment, root development was restricted to the topsoil (0-20 cm) due to high subsoil bulk density (> 1.6 Mg m(-3)). After deep-ripping, no improvement was observed in bulk density, rooting depth and in crop performance. The implementation of a slotting treatment systematically improved root development in the slotted subsoil, root impact frequency increasing from < 0.2 to 0.6-0.8 (P = 0.01) despite no change in the bulk densities of the subsoil. This systematic improvement in root development could be explained by (i) reduced slumping that enable root development prior to recompaction and/or (ii) preferential drainage in the slot and therefore decreased resistance to root penetration. In a dry year maize yield was improved by 78% (P = 0.01); the deep-rooting legume Stylosanthes was tested only a wet year and its biomass production increased by > 40% (P = 0.03). This study highlights the detrimental impact of subsoil compaction on root development and the potential role of slotting in coarse textured soils as a long-term management tool in addressing adverse subsoil physical characteristics that limit deep-rooting. (c) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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