Tillage and Cover Cropping Affect Crop Yields and Soil Carbon in the San Joaquin Valley, California
Rising costs and air quality regulations have created interest in California’s San Joaquin Valley (SJV) in production systems that reduce tillage operations and soil disturbance.
From 1999 to 2009, we evaluated conventional (CT) and reduced tillage (RT) systems for a cotton (Gossypium hirsutum
L.)/tomato (Solanum lycopersicon
Mill.) rotation with (CC) and without (NO) cover crops in a Panoche clay loam soil (fine-loamy, mixed, superactive, thermic Typic Haplocambid) in Five Points, CA, in terms of yield, soil C, and the NRCS soil conditioning index (SCI).
The RT reduced tractor operations by 50% for tomato and 40% for cotton. Cover cropping produced 38.7 t ha–1
of biomass. Tomato yields were 9.5% higher in RT vs. CT systems and 5.7% higher in NO vs. CC systems. The CT cotton yields were 10.0% higher than RT yields and 4.8% higher in NO systems, but yield patterns were not consistent from 2005 to 2009. Soil C content was uniform (0–30-cm depth) in 1999 (19.72 t ha–1
) and increased in all systems in 2007 (t ha–1
): RTCC 29.11, CTCC 26.36, RTNO, 24.09, and CTNO 22.65. Soil C content of RT and CT systems did not differ, but was greater in CC than in NO systems. In the 0- to 15-cm depth, RT increased soil C, indicating stratification, and also increased C in the occluded light and mineral fractions. The SCI was positive for RT treatments, predicting a soil C increase, and negative for CT systems, predicting a soil C decline, but measured soil C content increased in all systems.
Results show that RT maintains or increases yields relative to CT, and CC stores more soil C than NO.