Effect of straw management, tillage timing and timing of fertilizer nitrogen application on the crop utilization of fertilizer and soil nitrogen in an irrigated cereal rotation
Carefoot, J.M.; Janzen, H.H.
Soil and Tillage Research 44(3-4): 195-210
ISSN/ISBN: 0167-1987 DOI: 10.1016/s0167-1987(97)00053-6
In irrigated grain-growing soils on Canada's prairies, straw management can affect nitrogen (N) fertility and long-term soil organic matter reserves. We conducted a 2-year field experiment in southern Alberta, on a Dark Brown Chernozemic Lethbridge loam (Typic Boroll), to determine the effects of straw removal, tillage, and fertilizer timing on crop uptake of soil and fertilizer N. During the study (1991 and 1992), the crop was oat (Avena sativa L.) and wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), respectively, in an experiment that had been in a wheat-wheat-oat-wheat rotation since 1986. Five straw-tillage treatments were: straw-fall plow, straw-spring plow, no straw-fall plow, no straw-spring plow and no straw-direct seeding. Fertilizer N was applied in fall or spring. Ammonium nitrate (5 at.% 15N) was added at 100 kg N ha-1 in fall 1990 or spring 1991. For oat (1991), plant N derived from soil was higher under fall plow than under spring plow, higher with tillage than direct seeding, and unaffected by straw removal. The plant N derived from fertilizer was not affected by straw removal in fall plow treatments, but under spring plow, it was higher with straw removal. The plant N derived from fertilizer showed a significant straw-tillage X fertilizer timing interaction; with fall incorporated straw, plant N derived from fertilizer was 44.0 kg N ha-1 for spring-applied, and 30.6 ka N ha-1 for fall-applied N, but in other straw-tillage treatments there was no effect of fertilizer timing. Cumulative fertilizer N recovery (plant + soil) over the 2 years averaged 64.2%, and was unaffected by straw-tillage treatment. Fertilizer N recovery, however, was less with fall-applied N (61.3%) than spring applied N (66.8%). At mid-season, fall plow treatments had higher soil inorganic N and inorganic N derived from fertilizer than spring plow treatments, apparently because of less immobilization. The fall plow treatments also retained higher inorganic N after harvest. Straw removal and fertilizer timing did not influence soil inorganic N and soil inorganic N derived from fertilizer. N removal in straw (16 kg N ha-1 yr-1) could deplete soil N in the long-term. Long-term effects of tillage timing on soil N will depend on the relative amount of N lost by leaching with fall plowing and that lost by denitrification under spring plowing. With direct seeding, crop yield and uptake of soil N was less, and N losses by denitrification could be greater. Application of N in spring, rather than fall, should enhance crop N uptake, reducing N losses and enhancing long-term soil organic N.