A minimum data set for soil quality assessment of wheat and maize cropping in the highlands of Mexico
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The objective was to establish a minimum soil quality dataset for a long-term tillage, residue management and rotation trial for wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and maize (Zea mays L.) production systems. Based on this soil quality evaluation, sustainable management practices could be selected for transferring technologies to farmers in the region. A long-term experiment was conducted with 16 different crop management practices varying in: (1) rotation (continuous maize or wheat and both phases of the rotation of maize and wheat), (2) tillage (conventional and zero) and (3) crop residue management (full retention or removal for fodder). Superior soil quality was considered to represent the maintenance of high productivity without significant soil or environmental degradation. The pertinent, minimum soil quality data set included the following physical indicators: time-to-pond, aggregate stability, permanent wilting point, and topsoil penetration resistance. Chemical indicators were: soil C, N, K and Zn concentrations, measured in the 0-5 cm topsoil and C, N concentration in 5-20 cm. Multivariate analysis grouped the treatments into clusters: (1) zero tillage with retention of residue, (2) zero tillage with residue removal and (3) conventional tillage. Zero tillage combined with crop residue retention improved chemical and physical conditions of the soil. In contrast, zero tillage with removal of residues, led to high accumulation of Mn in the topsoil, low aggregate stability, high penetration resistance, surface slaking resulting in low time-to-pond values and high runoff. Finally, soil quality under conventional tillage was intermediate (irrespective of residue management), especially reflected in the physical status of the soil. The results provide a strong justification to promote zero tillage technology combined with appropriate residue management to farmers in the volcanic highlands of Central Mexico and other similar regions. The minimum data set and associated tools for careful monitoring and observation, will be essential for evaluating soil quality in farmer's fields. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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