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Essington, Michael E.; Howard, Donald D.


Conservation tillage results in the concentration of plant-available P near the soil surface. We studied the effects of conservation tillage on P speciation by examining the distribution of P in inorganic and organic chemical pools. Depth-incremented soil samples were collected from long-term (9- and 10-yr) no-till (NT) and disk tillage (DT) systems cropped in corn (Zea mays L.) with a wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) cover crop. Rates of P were 0, 20, and 60 kg P ha−1 yr−1. Total P (PT), organic P (PO), and available P (Mehlich-3, M3-P; Olsen NaHCO3-pH 8.5, Olsen-P) were determined. P was also extracted from the following chemical pools: non-occluded Al-bound (Al-P), non-occluded Febound (Fe-P), occluded-reductant-soluble (CBD-P), and Ca-bound (Ca-P). Total P did not vary with depth, but was greater in NT than in DT and increased with P rate. Organic P increased with P rate in the 0- to 8-cm depth. Organic P was greater in NT plots in the 8- to 60-cm depths, averaging 75 mg kg−1 for NT and 48 mg kg−1 for DT plots. Mehlich 3-P and Olsen-P were greatest in the surface 4 cm and in the 60-kg P ha−1 plots, with higher levels observed in NT plots. On average, the forms of P (as a % of total P) in NT soil was 6.2% Al-P, 33.9% Fe-P, 33.9% CBD-P, and 4.7% Ca-P. Average P distribution in DT soils was 5.4% Al-P, 35.6% Fe-P, 31.3% CBD-P, and 5.1% Ca-P. The influence of tillage on P distribution was primarily limited to the soil surface, with the exception of Al-P, which was greater in the 8- to 30-cm depths of the NT plots. Because the impact of tillage was limited to a thin, soil surface layer (<4 cm), soil P-test rating would not be affected by tillage practice. However, the improper collection of soil samples from NT (i.e., too shallow) for P-testing may provide erroneous P-test results and fertilizer recommendations.

Dept. of Plant and Soil Sciences, Institute of Agriculture, The University of Tennessee, P.O. Box 1071, Knoxville, TN 37901-1071. Dr. Essington is corresponding author. E-mail:

Received June 20, 1999; accepted Sept 20, 1999.

© 2000 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.