Year of Publication

2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Agriculture, Food and Environment

Department

Plant and Soil Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Robert C. Pearce

Second Advisor

Dr. John H. Grove

Abstract

Agronomic practices, including tillage, crop rotation and N fertilization, have been developed to efficiently manage soil N dynamics and crop N nutrition. These practices can affect soil organic carbon (SOC) and soil total nitrogen (STN) sequestration, and consequently influence soil nitrogen mineralization (SNM) and crop N nutrition. However, little research has been systematically and simultaneously conducted to examine the effect of agronomic management on (1) SOC and STN stocks; (2) SNM; and (3) crop N nutrition. Burley tobacco (Nicotiana tobacum L.) is a N demanding crop and subject to inefficiency in N fertilization. Moreover, conservation tillage and rotation have been integrated into traditionally tillage intensive tobacco cropping systems. Thus, a tobacco tillage and rotation study was used to test how agronomic practices can affect N dynamics and crop N status in a series of sequential experiments.

Firstly, different tobacco production systems were utilized to investigate the effects of tillage and rotation on soil aggregate stabilization and associated SOM sequestration. No-tillage and rotation management enhanced SOC and STN stocks, mainly by increasing the proportion of macroaggregates and SOC and STN concentrations.

Secondly, a series of studies were conducted on SNM, including: (1) comparison of laboratory and in situ resin-core methods in estimating SNM; (2) evaluation of the influence of N fertilizer application on SNM; and (3) comparison of chemical indices for predicting SNM across management treatments over time. Laboratory method had different results relative to in situ method due to sample pretreatments. Fertilizer N application had a priming effect on SNM, but priming depended on both the N fertilizer rate and the background SOM level. The effect of rotation/tillage treatments on SNM was stable across years and SOC appeared to be the best indicator of SNM among other soil carbon and N estimates.

Thirdly, a N fertilizer study for different tillage systems was conducted in 2012 and 2013. Crop parameters and plant available N (PAN) were collected to investigate the impact of tillage on tobacco production. Crop parameters showed that no-tillage can result in N deficiency in dry years. Similar PAN for both tillage methods suggested N deficiency in no-till tobacco was due to the crop’s lower N uptake capacity. In 2014, tobacco root analysis confirmed that no-tillage can result in less root exploration of the soil volume than conventional tillage.

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