Skip to main content

Impact of reduced tillage on soil organic carbon and nutrient budgets under organic farming

  • Florian Gadermaier (a1) (a2), Alfred Berner (a1), Andreas Fließbach (a1), Jürgen Kurt Friedel (a2) and Paul Mäder (a1)...

No-tillage (NT) and reduced tillage (RT) systems are well-known management tools for reducing soil erosion and improving soil fertility. NT and RT may improve the environmental and economic performance of organic farming, but they are still not common practice among organic farmers. This paper presents the effects of tillage [RT versus conventional tillage (CT)], fertilization (slurry versus manure compost) and biodynamic preparations (with versus without) on soil fertility indicators such as soil organic carbon (Corg), microbial biomass and microbial activity, soil nutrients and nutrient budgets in an organic farming system during the first six-year crop rotation period of a long-term experiment on a clayey soil in a temperate climate. RT caused stratification of soil organic carbon (Corg), microbial properties and soil nutrients in the soil profile. Under RT, Corg in the 0–10 cm soil layer increased from 2.19 to 2.61% (w/w) from 2002 to 2008, whereas it remained constant under CT. In both tillage treatments, Corg remained constant in the 10–20 cm soil depth. Microbial biomass C increased by 37% under RT in the 0–10 cm soil depth and microbial activity [dehydrogenase activity (DHA)] was enhanced by 57%. Soil microbial biomass C and DHA in the 10–20 cm soil depth were also higher under RT (+10 and +17%, respectively). Soluble soil P and K were 72 and 40%, respectively, higher in 0–10 cm soil depth under RT when compared with CT. Fertilization showed no effects on the measured soil properties. Biodynamic preparations increased solely the Cmic-to-Nmic (soil microbial biomass C to soil microbial biomass N) ratio by 7% in the 0–10 cm soil depth. Nutrient budgets for P were balanced in all treatments, but N and K exports were higher under RT compared to CT. We conclude that RT is a suitable method for increasing indicators of soil fertility in organic farming systems. The combined effects of RT and an organic farming system with a diverse, ley-based crop rotation and organic fertilization merit further promotion and it may be considered for supporting actions by the agricultural policy schemes.

Corresponding author
*Corresponding author:
Hide All
1.Lal R. 2009. Laws of sustainable soil management. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 29:79.
2.Pekrun C. and Claupein W. 1998. Forschung zur reduzierten Bodenbearbeitung in Mitteleuropa: Eine Literaturübersicht. Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Pflanzenbauwissenschaften 2:160175.
3.Kay B.D. and VandenBygaart A.J. 2002. Conservation tillage and depth stratification of porosity and soil organic matter. Soil and Tillage Research 66:107118.
4.Alvarez R. 2005. A review of nitrogen fertilizer and conservation tillage effects on soil organic carbon storage. Soil Use and Management 21:3852.
5.Rasmussen K.J. 1999. Impact of ploughless soil tillage on yield and soil quality: A Scandinavian review. Soil and Tillage Research 53:3–14.
6.Kladivko E.J. 2001. Tillage systems and soil ecology. Soil and Tillage Research 61:6176.
7.Koch H.-J. and Stockfisch N. 2006. Loss of soil organic matter upon ploughing under a loess soil after several years of conservation tillage. Soil and Tillage Research 86:7383.
8.Baker J.M., Ochsner T.E., Venterea R.T., and Griffis T.J. 2007. Tillage and soil carbon sequestration – what do we really know? Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 118:15.
9.Kandeler E., Tscherko D., and Spiegel H. 1999. Long-term monitoring of microbial biomass, N mineralisation and enzyme activities of a chernozem under different tillage management. Biology and Fertility of Soils 28:343351.
10.Peigné J., Ball B.C., Roger-Estrade J., and David C. 2007. Is conservation tillage suitable for organic farming? A review. Soil Use and Management 23:129144.
11.FAO. 2003. Organic Agriculture. FAO Inter-Departmental Working Group on Organic Agriculture, Rome.
12.Fließbach A., Oberholzer H.-R., Gunst L., and Mäder P. 2007. Soil organic matter and biological soil quality indicators after 21 years of organic and conventional farming. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 118:273284.
13.Scheffer F. and Schachtschabel P. 2002. Lehrbuch der Bodenkunde. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg, Berlin.
14.Munro T.L., Cook H.F., and Lee H.C. 2002. Sustainability indicators used to compare properties of organic and conventionally managed topsoils. Biological Agriculture and Horticulture 20:201214.
15.Drinkwater L.E., Wagoner P., and Sarrantonio M. 1998. Legume-based cropping systems have reduced carbon and nitrogen losses. Nature 396:262265.
16.Six J., Frey S.D., Thiet R.K., and Batten K.M. 2006. Bacterial and fungal contributions to carbon sequestration in agroecosystems. Soil Science Society of America Journal 70:555569.
17.Watson C.A., Bengtsson H., Ebbesvik M., Løes A.-K., Myrbeck A., Salomon E., Schroder J., and Stockdale E.A. 2002. A review of farm-scale nutrient budgets for organic farms as a tool for management of soil fertility. Soil Use and Management 18:264273.
18.Berry P.M., Stockdale E.A., Sylvester-Bradley R., Philipps L., Smith K.A., Lord E.I., Watson C.A., and Fortune S. 2003. N, P and K budgets for crop rotations on nine organic farms in the UK. Soil Use and Management 19:112118.
19.IFOAM. 2006. IFOAM basic standards for organic crop production and processing. Version 2005. IFOAM, Germany.
20.Kainz M., Gerl G., Lemnitzer B., Bauchenss J., and Hülsbergen K.-J. 2005. Effects of different tillage systems in the long-term field experiment Scheyern. In Hess J. and Rahmann G. (eds). 8. Wissenschaftstagung Ökologischer Landbau, Kassel, Germany. p. 14.
21.Schmidt H., Schulz F., and Leithold G. 2006. Organic farming trial Gladbacherhof: Effects of different crop rotations and tillage systems. In Raupp J., Pekrun C., Oltmanns M., and Koepke U. (eds). Long-term Field Experiments in Organic Farming. International Society of Organic Agriculture Research (ISOFAR). p. 165182.
22.Pekrun C., Schneider N., Wüst C., Jauss F., and Claupein W. 2003. Einfluss reduzierter Bodenbearbeitung auf Ertragsbildung, Unkrautdynamik und Regenwurmpopulationen im Ökologischen Landbau. In Freyer B. (ed.). Beiträge zur 7. Wissenschaftstagung zum Ökologischen Landbau, Institut für Ökologischen Landbau, Wien, p. 2124.
23.Hampl U. 2005. Projekt Ökologischen Bodenbewirtschaftung. Zehn Jahre differenzierte Grundbodenbearbeitung im ökologischen Ackerbau. Abschlussbericht. Stiftung Ökologie and Landbau, Bad Dürkheim.
24.Schulz F., Brock C., and Leithold G. 2008. Effects of Farm Type and Different Intensities of Soil Tillage on Cash Crop Yields and Soil Organic Matter, in Cultivating the Future Based on Science: 2nd Conference of the International Society of Organic Agriculture Research ISOFAR, June 18–20, 2008, Modena, Italy.
25.Emmerling C. 2007. Reduced and conversation tillage effects on soil ecological properties in an organic farming system. Biological Agriculture and Horticulture 24:363377.
26.Berner A., Hildermann I., Fliessbach A., Pfiffner L., Niggli U., and Mäder P. 2008. Crop yield and soil quality response to reduced tillage under organic management. Soil and Tillage Research 101:8996.
27.Krauss M., Berner A., Burger D., Wiemken A., Niggli U., and Mäder P. 2010. Reduced tillage in temperate organic farming: implications for crop management and forage production. Soil Use and Management 26:1220.
28.Zaller J.G. and Köpke U. 2004. Effects of traditional and biodynamic farmyard manure amendment on yields, soil chemical, biochemical and biological properties in a long-term experiment. Biology and Fertility of Soils 40:222229.
29.Carpenter-Boggs L., Kennedy A.C., and Reganold J.P. 2000. Organic and Biodynamic Management: effects on Soil Biology. Soil Science Society American Journal 64:16511659.
30.FAL, FAW and RAC. 1996. Referenzmethoden der Eidg. landwirtschaftlichen Forschungsanstalten-1. Bodenuntersuchung zur Düngeberatung., Ed, Zürich-Reckenholz.
31.Vance E.D., Brookes P.C., and Jenkinson D.S. 1987. An extraction method for measuring soil microbial biomass C. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 19:703707.
32.Joergensen R.G. and Mueller T. 1996. The fumigation extraction method to estimate soil microbial biomass: Calibration of the k EC-factor. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 28:2531.
33.Joergensen R.G. and Mueller T. 1996. The fumigation extraction method to estimate soil microbial biomass: calibration of the k EN-factor. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 28:3337.
34.Tabatabai M.A. 1982. Soil enzymes. In Page A.L., Miller R.H., and Keeney D.R. (eds). Methods of Soil Analysis, Part 2: Chemical and Microbiological Properties. Soil Science Society of America, Madison, WI. p. 903947.
35.Pronin D. Einfluss unterschiedlicher Bearbeitungs- und Bestellverfahren auf die vertikale Differenzierung von Bodenkennwerten auf lehmigem Sand (Brandenburg) und Schwarzerde (Novosibirsk) sowie auf ausgewählte Pflanzenmerkmale. Shaker Verlag, Aachen, Germany.
36.Friedel J.K., Munch J.C., and Fischer W.R. 1996. Soil microbial properties and the assessment of available soil organic matter in a haplic Luvisol after several years of different cultivation and crop rotation. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 28:479488.
37.Ogle S.M., Breidt F.J., and Paustian K. 2005. Agricultural management impacts on soil organic carbon storage under moist and dry climatic conditions of temperate and tropical regions. Biogeochemistry 72:87–121.
38.Stockfisch N., Forstreuter T., and Ehlers W. 1999. Ploughing effects on soil organic matter after twenty years of conservation tillage in Lower Saxony, Germany. Soil and Tillage Research 52:91–101.
39.Angers D.A., Bolinder M.A., Carter M.R., Gregorich E.G., Drury D.F., Liang B.C., Voroney R.P., Simard R.R., Donald R.G., Beyaert R.P., and Martel J. 1997. Impact of tillage practies on organic carbon and nitrogen storage in cool humid soils of eastern Canada. Soil and Tillage Research 41:191201.
40.Angers D.A., N'dayegamiye A., and Côté D. 1993. Tillage-induced differences in organic matter of particle-size fractions and microbial biomass. Soil Science Society of America Journal 57:512516.
41.Kouwenhoven J.K. and Boer J. 1997. Exoploughing for sustainable and organic farming. In Fortyma M. (ed.). 14th Conference of the International Soil Tillage Research Organization (ISTRO), July 27 to August 1, Pulawy, Poland. p. 339401.
42.Drinkwater L.E., Janke R.R., and Rossoni-Longnecker L. 2000. Effects of tillage intensity on nitrogen dynamics and productivity in legume-based grain systems. Plant and Soil 227:99–113.
43.Conant R.T., Easter M., Paustian K., Swan A., and Williams S. 2007. Impacts of periodic tillage on soil C stocks: A synthesis. Soil and Tillage Research 95:110.
44.Pierce F.J., Fortin M.-C., and Staton M.J. 1994. Periodic plowing effects on soil properties in a no-till farming system. Soil Science Society of America Journal 58:17821787.
45.Kettler T.A., Lyon D.J., Doran J.W., Powers W.L., and Stroup W.W. 2000. Soil quality assessment after weed-control tillage in a no-till wheat–fallow cropping system. Soil Science Society of America Journal 64:339346.
46.Grandy A.S. and Robertson G.P. 2006. Aggregation and organic matter protection following tillage of a previously uncultivated soil. Soil Science Society of America Journal 70:13981406.
47.Franzluebbers A.J. and Stuedemann J.A. 2008. Early response of soil organic fractions to tillage and integrated crop–livestock production. Soil Science Society of America Journal 72:613625.
48.Christensen B.T. 1988. Effects of animal manure and mineral fertilizer on the total carbon and nitrogen contents of soil size fractions. Biology and Fertility of Soils 5:304307.
49.Wander M.M. and Traina S.J. 1996. Organic matter fractions from organically and conventionally managed soils. 1. Carbon and nitrogen distribution. Soil Science Society of America Journal 60:10811087.
50.Sparling G.P. 1992. Ratio of microbial biomass carbon to soil organic-carbon as a sensitive indicator of changes in soil organic-matter. Australian Journal of Soil Research 30:195207.
51.Alvarez R., Diaz R.A., Barbero N., Santanatoglia O.J., and Blotta L. 1995. Soil organic-carbon, microbial biomass and CO2–C production from three tillage systems. Soil and Tillage Research 33:1728.
52.von Lützow M., Leifeld J., Kainz M., Kögel-Knabner I., and Munch J.C. 2002. Indications for soil organic matter quality in soils under different management. Geoderma 105:243258.
53.Franzluebbers A.J. and Brock B.G. 2007. Surface soil responses to silage cropping intensity on a Typic Kanhapludult in the piedmont of North Carolina. Soil and Tillage Research 93:126137.
54.Heinze S., Raupp J. and Joergensen R.G. 2010. Effects of fertilizer and spatial heterogeneity in soil pH on microbial biomass indices in a long-term field trial of organic agriculture. Plant and Soil 328:203215.
55.Joergensen R.G. 1995. Die quantitative Bestimmung der mikrobiellen Biomasse in Böden mit der Chloroform-Fumigations-Extraktions-Methode. Institut für Bodenwissenschaften, Universität Göttingen, Göttingen.
56.Guggenberger G., Frey S.D., Six J., Paustian K., and Elliott E.T. 1999. Bacterial and fungal cell-wall residues in conventional and no-tillage agroecosystems. Soil Science Society American Journal 63:11881198.
57.Emmerling C. 2005. Entwicklung der organischen Bodensubstanz, Bodenstruktur, Nährstoffgehalte sowie bodenbiologischen Eigenschaften, Abschlussbericht Projekt Ökologische Bodenbewirtschaftung. Stiftung Ökologie und Landbau, Bad Dürkheim, Germany.
58.Vu D.T., Tang C., and Armstrong R.D. 2009. Tillage system affects phosphorus form and depth distribution in three contrasting Victorian soils. Australian Journal of Soil Research 47:3345.
59.Bünemann E.K., Heenan D.P., Marschner P., and McNeill A.M. 2006. Long-term effects of crop rotation, stubble management and tillage on soil phosphorus dynamics. Australian Journal of Soil Research 44:611618.
60.Steinshamn H., Thuen E., Bleken M.A., Brenøe U.T., Ekerholt G., and Yri C. 2004. Utilization of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) in an organic dairy farming system in Norway. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 104:509522.
61.Björklund J., Limburg K.E., and Rydberg T. 1999. Impact of production intensity on the ability of the agricultural landscape to generate ecosystem services: an example from Sweden. Ecological Economics 29:269291.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems
  • ISSN: 1742-1705
  • EISSN: 1742-1713
  • URL: /core/journals/renewable-agriculture-and-food-systems
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 9
Total number of PDF views: 107 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 445 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.