Effects of no-tillage and subsoil loosening on soil physical properties and crop performance : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Applied Science in Soil Science at Massey University
Much of New Zealand's lowland agriculture integrates animal and crop production on poorly drained, easily compacted soils. Over the years, conventional cultivation has given rise to degraded soil structure on many farms. No-tillage has been shown to avoid many of these problems but the question remains: "Where soils are compact, what combination of deep tillage and/or drainage systems and no-tillage allow for the most efficient transition from conventional cultivation to no-tillage crop establishment?" The objective of this study was to ascertain if soil properties, and crop (Brassica campestis x Brassica napus cv "Pasja" followed by wheat Triticum aestivum cv "Kohika") establishment and yield on land converted from a conventionally tilled system to a no-tillage system could be improved by various subsoiling and mole plough operations. Plots on a Milson silt loam (Argillic Perch-Gley Pallic Soil) (Typic Ochraqualf) were paraplowed (PP), straight-legged subsoiled (SL), mole ploughed (M) or were left as non-subsoiled controls (C) in the autumn of 1997. Forage brassica was then sown with a Cross-Slot™ no-tillage drill. Wheat was established on the same plots with the same no-tillage drill in the spring of 1997. Subsoiling initially reduced soil strength by a significant amount. Shortly after subsoiling cone indices showed disruption to 300 mm with PP, 350 mm with SL and 100 mm with M. At the same time, approximately 20% of profile cone indices from subsoiled treatments were greater than 2 MPa, compared to approximately 52% for C and M. At 267 days after subsoiling, PP continued to have lower cone index values than C and M. Subsoiling initially reduced bulk density. When measured in May, the bulk density of PP plots was significantly lower than SL, M and C although reconsolidation in all plots was observed in February 1998 after the wheat was harvested. Air permeability in PP, SL and M was significantly greater than in C. Despite the differences in soil strength and bulk density (but not air permeability), subsoiling and mole ploughing did not produce differences in plant populations or yield for either the winter brassica or spring-sown wheat crops. The lack of any differences for brassica crop performance criteria were in spite of the vertical rooting depth being greater in the PP treatment. The lack of differences in plant establishment and yield was thought to be due to the relatively dry autumn and winter soil conditions and the use of the Cross-Slot™ no-tillage opener which is reported to be tolerant of variable soil conditions.