Strategic tillage may sustain the benefits of long-term no-till in a Vertisol under Mediterranean climate
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Long-term no-till or reduced tillage may decline functioning ability of soils due to surface/subsurface compaction and/or stratification of plant nutrients. A long-term (ten years) field experiment was established in 2006 in the Cukurova region of Turkey to evaluate the impact of tillage on the physical properties of a soil under a Mediterranean climate. The tillage systems investigated included two conventional (CT-1 and CT-2), three reduced (RT-1, RT-2 and RT-3) and two no-till (NT and ST), including strategic/occasional tillage. Nine-year old undisturbed no-till plots were divided into two categories and half of these plots were plowed by a moldboard plow in November 2015, and this practice was defined as strategic tillage (ST), while remaining half of the plots left undisturbed. Soil samples were collected from disturbed and undisturbed plots of NT as well as plots under other tillage systems from three soil depths (i.e., 0-10, 10-20 and 20-30 cm) in November 2016. The crop rotation at the experimental areas was winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L), soybean (Glycine max. L.) - grain maize (Zea mays L.) - winter wheat. Soil samples were analyzed for aggregate stability (AS), mean weight diameter (MWD), bulk density (BD), water filled pore space (WFPS), water content at field capacity (FC), permanent wilting point (PWP), available water content (PAW), micropores (MiP), macropores (MaP), total porosity (TP), and penetration resistance (PR). The ST decreased MWD of surface soil compared to NT by 7.2%, while MWD under ST was higher than NT by 78.0% and 103.6% for 10-20 and 20-30 cm depths, respectively. The NT and RT resulted higher BD and PR, and lower MaP and TP than CT and ST in all three depths, though the values were generally not limiting for crop growth. The ST significantly (P < 0.01) decreased BD and PR within 30 cm of soil surface. However, water content at FC, PWP and also PAW in 0-10 and 10-20 cm depths were significantly reduced with ST compared to NT. The ST significantly (P < 0.01) increased the MaP and TP compared to NT which favors better aeration and water movement. The mean WFPS under NT, RT-2 and RT-3 systems in 0-10 cm and with all tillage systems (except ST in 10-20 cm) in subsurface layers were higher than 60%, which is considered a threshold for nitrogen losses as N2O fluxes. Implementation of ST into conservational practices under Mediterranean climate could be a viable management option to overcome some of the disadvantages of long-term conservation tillage and thereby to improve physical soil conditions for crop growth, air and water movement.