Grazed temporary grass-clover leys in crop rotations can have a positive impact on soil quality under both conventional and organic agricultural systems

TitleGrazed temporary grass-clover leys in crop rotations can have a positive impact on soil quality under both conventional and organic agricultural systems
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsZani C.F, Gowing J., Abbott G.D, Taylor J.A, Lopez-Capel E., Cooper J.
JournalEuropean Journal of Soil Science
Type of ArticleArticle; Early Access
ISBN Number1351-0754
Accession NumberWOS:000544743200001
KeywordsAgriculture, biodiversity, Carbon sequestration, Ecosystem services, environmental impacts, fertility, food security, land management, ley-arable rotation, loam soil, management, MATTER, mixed farming, pasture, phosphorus, soil functions, soil health

Soil quality (SQ) is the ability of soil to provide ecosystem functions and services. Implementation of a certain agricultural system can affect SQ and therefore play an essential role in achieving sustainable agriculture. The aim of this study was to explore how agricultural systems (conventional vs. organic), grazing regime (non-grazed vs. grazed) and the different proportions of temporary grass-clover leys in crop rotations (ley time proportion, LTP) affect SQ within a mixed (cropping and pasture/dairy system) commercial farming enterprise in the UK. Seven SQ indicators were evaluated, including chemical (pH; available phosphorus (P); potassium (K)), physical (bulk density, BD; aggregate stability, AS) and biological (total carbon (C); microbial biomass carbon, MBC) sectors. All SQ indicators were measured at three depth intervals (0-0.15, 0.15-0.30, 0.30-0.60 m), except for AS and MBC, which were only considered for the topsoil (0-0.15 m). The findings reflected existing knowledge on the advantages of organic vs. conventional systems for SQ indicators, with the former showing higher MBC and similar K, BD, AS and C in the 0-0.30-m compared to the latter. Lower topsoil available P in organic systems can be related to the lack of measurements in all P pools. When grazing was included: (a) both agricultural systems showed higher topsoil available P, C and MBC; and (b) there was a higher topsoil K in organic systems, whereas it positively affected topsoil BD and C (0.15-0.30 m) in conventional systems. Increasing LTP to 30-40% of the full crop rotation increased topsoil AS and C (0-0.30 m) in a linear fashion. Subsoil conditions (>0.30 m) favoured K, BD and C in conventional systems, but these results should be considered carefully. It was concluded that both organic and conventional systems delivered similar levels of SQ and that reviving mixed farming systems may be a key factor for delivering multifunctional agroecosystems that maintain SQ and optimize ecosystem services. Highlights Single-farm comparison of top- and subsoil quality in organic and non-organic systems. The organic system increased microbial biomass carbon but decreased topsoil available phosphorus. Grazing increased topsoil available phosphorus, carbon concentration and microbial biomass carbon. Temporary leys in rotations increased topsoil aggregate stability and carbon concentration. Mixed farming is a key factor for delivering multifunctional agroecosystems.

Alternate JournalEur. J. Soil Sci.