Crop residues, such as maize stovers have been widely proposed as essential renewable biofuels for clean energy. However, removing these residues for bioenergy feedstocks may adversely offset the benefits of crop residue mulching, such as improve soil health, enhance crop productivity, and alleviate global climate change. Understanding crop yields and soil fertility in response to different levels of crop residue mulching in long-term no-till farming systems is pivotal for local agricultural management.
Based on a continuous 9-year no-tillage farmland, researchers from the Institute of Applied Ecology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) conducted an in-situ 15N-labeled micro-plot to investigate the effects of no-tillage with residue application at either 0, 33, 67 or 100 % on nitrogen (N) transformation as well as crop yields in black soil of northeastern China.
The researchers found that no-tillage with maize stover mulching significantly enhanced fertilizer nitrogen conversion from the labile mineral pool to more stable fixed NH4+ and organic nitrogen reserves, and thus potentially reduce fertilizer nitrogen loss in the seedling stages.
Additionally, the re-mineralization and release of newly synthesized organic nitrogen and recently fixed NH4+ could further promote soil nitrogen availability for crop nitrogen uptakes and subsequent crop yields.
The results showed that stover mulching increased maize grain yields and crop 15N uptakes. No-till with mulching application can be a valuable conservation practice to promote the sustainable development of local agriculture, whereas indiscriminate harvesting of crop residues may deteriorate soil nutrient cycling to reduce nitrogen use efficiency in the soil-crop system. So, it can be inferred that applying maize stover mulching in no-till farming would further promote crop yields.
Relevant results have been published in Soil & Tillage Research entitled "Effects of no-tillage and stover mulching on the transformation and utilization of chemical fertilizer N in Northeast China".
This study was supported by the K.C. Wong Education Foundation and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.