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Effects of restorative agroecosystems on soil characteristics and plant production on a degraded soil in the Georgia Piedmont, USA

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 July 2009

K.L. Jacobsen*
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, 255 Agricultural Sciences and Industries Building, University Park, PA 16802, USA.
C.F. Jordan
Odum School of Ecology, Ecology Building, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA.
*Corresponding author:


This work presents the results of a three-year field study of agroecosystems designed to restore soil organic matter (SOM) to degraded soils of the Georgia Piedmont. The systems combine a suite of management practices previously demonstrated to increase SOM when studied individually, and examine the effects of these techniques when used in combination in a cropping systems context on soil characteristics, crop production and weed biomass. The systems' components include organic management, alley cropping with perennial legumes, conservation tillage, use of winter cover crops, straw mulch and two compost application rates. Vegetable crops grown were a rotation of okra, hot pepper and a corn and winter squash intercrop. The systems were not able to maintain soil C or N without the addition of compost. Systems incorporating alley cropping, organic management, conservation tillage and compost maintained soil C, and increased in soil C when mulch was not applied. In organic, conservation tillage without alley cropping, soil C did not change significantly, even with annual 44.8 Mg ha−1 of compost additions. Patterns for soil N followed those of soil C. The study demonstrated that alley cropping can maintain and sequester soil C and N beyond organic conservation tillage alone, and more than conventionally tilled, chemically fertilized treatments. Crop yields did not vary by treatment due to high variation within treatments. Winter cover crop residue provided an effective weed barrier for 4 to 6 weeks in the spring, but additional hand weeding was required throughout the summer. The results of this systems-level study demonstrated interactions between management practices when used in combination that would not have been observed when studied individually. It also demonstrates that agroforestry techniques, conservation tillage and compost applications can increase soil C in degraded, clayey soils while they are in cultivation.

Research Papers
Copyright © 2009 Cambridge University Press

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