Soil health assessment of the Sanborn Field long-term experimental study
Soil health assessment uses a combination of potential indicators affecting soil processes to comprehensively monitor soil change, caused by cropping systems and soil management. The objectives of the study were to assess the effects of selected cropping systems, soil management and landscape slope positions on the soil health characteristics of the Sanborn Field long-term experimental study in Columbia, Missouri, United States. Soil samples were collected on each of four dates over two years (8 th May 2014, 4th September 2014, 1st April 2016, and 18th August 2016) from selected plots to address each objective, and these time samples were used as replications. Soil physical, chemical, and biological characteristics were analyzed in the laboratory for these samples to assess soil health using the Cornell Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health (CASH) method. To assess soil health in this study, soil health scoring was determined used R-studio version 1.1.149 to relate the interaction of cropping systems, soil management, and slope positions. Most soil resources on Sanborn Field are a poorly-drained claypan soil classified as a Mexico silt loam (fine, smectitic, mesic Vertic Epiaqualf). In addition, soil samples collected from Tucker Prairie was used as a proxy for the original state of Sanborn Field soils. The first study was conducted to evaluate the effects of long-term cropping systems on soil health properties. The results from the characterization indicated that continuous timothy (Phleum pretense L.) and warm season grass treatments were classified with very high soil health scores, and the lowest score was found for continuous corn (Zea mays L.). In addition, results showed strong positive linear associations between soil organic carbon, total nitrogen, potentially mineralizable nitrogen, active carbon, microbial biomass, and water stable aggregates; while a strong negative linear correlation existed between each of these properties and bulk density. The second study was conducted to evaluate the effects of long-term annual applications of no fertilizer, full fertilizer, and manure on soil health measurements of selected cropping systems. Different cropping systems, including continuous corn, continuous wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), corn-wheat-red clover (Trifolium pretense L.) rotation, and corn-soybean (Glycine max L.)-wheat rotation treatments were used in this study. Results showed that annual dairy cow (Bos Taurus) manure applications had the greatest effect on all soil health indicators and had the largest overall soil health score compared to full fertility and no fertilizer treatments. Moreover, continuous wheat with manure application presented the best combination of effects on soil properties with the largest score for most soil health indicators and an overall health score of 82 out of 100 classified as very high which is the best. The last study evaluated the effects of landscape slope positions on soil health properties of the long-term experiment. Results showed that the summit position had the highest overall soil health score while the lowest score was found on the shoulder position. However, there were no significant differences along the transect slope for water-stable aggregates and bulk density. There were significant differences along the transect for the biological properties such as soil organic carbon, active carbon, potentially mineralizable nitrogen, and microbial biomass. Results of this study illustrate the effect of selected variables on soil health and provide the recent addition of using biological characteristics to account for soil health properties. It is important to remember that this study of the long-term Sanborn Field experiment is just for a small-sized plot area. Future studies of soil management effects on soil health need to account for their own field conditions and their own unique environment.
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