Effect of zero tillage and residues conservation on continuous maize cropping in a subtropical environment (Mexico)
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The effects of zero tillage and residue conservation in continuous maize-cropping systems are poorly documented, especially in the tropics, and are expected to vary highly with climatic conditions and nitrogen availability. In the present study, maize was cultivated during the wet and dry seasons in central Mexico for three consecutive years, under different treatments combining tillage with residue management techniques and with nitrogen rates. In some treatments, maize was also intercropped with jackbean, Canavalia ensiformis L. (DC). Yield and yield components as well as physiological traits and soil characteristics were assessed during the wet and dry seasons for the third year of cultivation. During the wet season, zero tillage was associated with less biomass and grain yield. Leaf chlorophyll concentration was smaller under zero tillage, suggesting less nitrogen uptake. Both zero tillage and residue conservation reduced early growth and strongly increased ear rot. During the dry season, zero tillage was associated with greater root mass, as measured by electrical capacitance. Residue conservation decreased the anthesis-silking interval, suggesting better water uptake. There was, however, no significant effect of tillage or residue management practices on yield. Zero tillage was found to be associated with increased soil bulk density, nitrogen concentration and microbial biomass organic carbon. Residue conservation increased soil carbon concentration as well as microbial biomass organic carbon. Intercropping with jackbean and conservation of its residues in addition to maize residues increased soil nitrogen concentration. Further investigation may provide more information on the factors related to zero tillage and residue conservation that affect maize early growth, and determine to which extent the observed modifications of soil chemical and physical properties induced by conservation tillage will further affect maize yield.
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