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Direct Seeding Improves Soil Fertility

22 February 2013
Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development

CANADA - Many prairie farmers have adopted direct seeding, also referred to as no-till cropping, which has improved soil organic matter levels and soil quality. Increased soil organic matter often increases the nutrient supplying power of soil. Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), sulphur (S) and other required plant nutrients are stored in soil organic matter.

“For the soil to release nutrients, the right conditions are necessary, such as warm soil temperatures and good soil moisture conditions, which are needed for soil microbes to break down or ‘mineralize’ N, P and S in the organic matter,” says Dr Ross McKenzie, research scientist – agronomy with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.

“Normally, there is good potential for soils that have been in no-till for a number of years, to have the increased ability to mineralize more N during the growing season and other nutrients versus conventional tilled fields. But that doesn’t always happen, particularly in cooler, or drier spring and summer conditions.

“Most research across the prairies has shown that the potential for soil organic matter mineralization is increased under direct seeding.

"This is because the make-up of the soil organic matter is different in direct seeded land versus conventional tilled land. The proportion of easily mineralizable nutrient is higher in soil organic matter that develops under no-till cropping systems versus conventional tillage systems.”

After converting to no-till from conventional tillage cropping, many growers found they had to increase their N fertilizer rates as there was an increased portion of the fertilizer N that became tied up in organic matter.

Also, no-till cropping conserves soil moisture meaning crop yield potential was higher and more N was needed to achieve optimum yields.

Every soil tillage operation means losing one-half inch to one inch of soil water, so under no-till, crop yield potential could be easily increased by five to seven bushels for wheat and seven to nine bushels for barley, for each inch of water conserved in the soil. When developing fertilizer plans, farmers adjusted their fertilizer inputs for higher target yields.

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