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Soil Microbial Biomass and Its Relationship With Yields of Irrigated Wheat Under Long-term Conservation Management

Lupwayi, Newton Z.1; Larney, Francis J.1; Blackshaw, Robert E.1; Pearson, Drusilla C.1; Eastman, Andrea H.2

doi: 10.1097/SS.0000000000000242

ABSTRACT Relating soil microbial properties to crop productivity is important to appreciate the value of soil microbial activities in sustainable agriculture. Over a 10-year period, we evaluated the effects of conservation (CONS) management practices on soil microbial biomass carbon (MBC). The CONS practices included addition of composted cattle manure; reduced tillage; diverse crop rotations that comprised wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), potato (Solanum tuberosum L.), dry bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.), and sugar beet (Beta vulgaris L.); and use of cover crops. The CONS management was applied to 3- to 5-year irrigated crop rotations and compared with conventional (CONV) management systems that did not have any of the CONS practices. Continuous wheat was also included. We then related MBC to wheat yields. Averaged over the 10-year period, CONS management overall increased MBC in wheat rhizosphere and bulk soil by 18% and 34%, respectively. When rotations of the same length were compared, CONS management in 3-year rotations increased rhizosphere MBC by 18% and bulk soil MBC by 30%; the corresponding increases in 4-year rotations were 13% and 36%. Regressions between soil MBC and wheat yields were quadratic, with MBC in wheat rhizosphere associated with increasing wheat yields up to 720 mg C kg−1 soil. The corresponding value for MBC in bulk soil was 645 mg C kg−1 soil. These effects were related to the compost and crop C inputs to the soil, which impacted soil organic C contents. Therefore, CONS management resulted in a cycle of high MBC and high wheat yields.

1Lethbridge Research and Development Centre, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.

2Beaverlodge Research Farm, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, Beaverlodge, Alberta, Canada.

Address for correspondence: Dr. Newton Z. Lupwayi, Lethbridge Research and Development Centre, 5403 1st Ave South, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada T1J 4B1. E-mail:

Financial Disclosures/Conflicts of Interest: None reported.

Received November 9, 2018.

Accepted for publication December 21, 2018.

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