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Improving soil health with cover cropping, manure application, and crop rotation
Proceedings of the 2023 Mississippi Water Resources Conference

Year: 2023 Authors: Kovvuri N.R., Feng G., Bi G., Adeli A., Jenkins J.

Soil health can be evaluated by the ability of the soil to absorb, store and discharge water while preventing water erosion. The common management practices to restore soil health sustainably is the integration of different cover crops, manure application, and crop rotation. Studies have shown that the cultivation of different cover species for a long period of time has the potential to improve soil structure, aiding in infiltration and porosity, resulting in improved soil health by increasing soil organic carbon and total nitrogen content. An ongoing field study started in the year 2019 at the R.R Foil Plant Science Research Center with seven cover crop treatments to understand the influence of different cover crops like elbon rye, daikon radish, Austrian winter field peas, and a mixture of these cover crops on soil health, water quality that can impact crop production and climate change and resilience. This field has been incorporated with two tons of poultry litter every year, which is potentially known to improve the soil structure and several soil properties. Several soil health indicators can be chosen for assessing soil health. For this study, core soil sampling was done at the depths of 0-5 and 5-10 cm, and loose soil sampling was done at the depths of 0-5, and 5-10, 10-15 cm, and 15-30 cm after the termination of cover crops. We measured soil physical and hydraulic health indicators such as water stable aggregates, bulk density, available water content, and saturated hydraulic conductivity at the USDA-ARS Soil Physics and Hydrology Laboratory, Starkville. Soil chemical health indicators were also measured, such as total carbon, total nitrogen, pH, K, P, Mn, and organic matter. All those indicators have been used to calculate the overall soil health score. The Principal component analysis (PCA) was applied to perform the soil health assessment. The results indicated that the integration of cover crops improved soil properties as compared to no cover crop treatment. There was a significant difference between the cropping systems and the depth of the soil, indicating that the cotton crop responded well to the cover crop treatments than the corn crop, and the topsoil (0-5 cm) was found to be healthier at p < 0.05. However, no significant differences have been observed within the cover crop treatments, and long-term studies are necessary to understand the influence of different cover crops on soil health.

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