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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Soil biochemical changes at different wheat growth stages in response to conservation agriculture practices in a rice-wheat system of north-western India

Tanushree Bera A , Sandeep Sharma A D , H. S. Thind A , Yadvinder-Singh B C , H. S. Sidhu B and M. L. Jat C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Soil Science, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana 141004, India.

B Borlaug Institute for SouthAsia, (BISA), CIMMYT, Ladhowal, Ludhiana 141004, India.

C International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), NASC Complex, New Delhi 110012, India.

D Corresponding author. Email: sandyagro@pau.edu

Soil Research 56(1) 91-104 https://doi.org/10.1071/SR16357
Submitted: 15 December 2016  Accepted: 17 July 2017   Published: 7 December 2017

Abstract

Intensive tillage, removal or burning of crop residues, limited organic manure use, declining irrigation water resources and scarcity of labour are the major causes of soil degradation and unsustainability of rice (Oryza sativa L.)–wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) system (RWS) in South Asia.Resource conservation technologies (RCTs) such as zero tillage (ZT), dry direct seeded rice (DSR) and crop residues retained as mulch have shown promise to increase the productivity and profitability of RWS in South Asia. Effects of RCTs on soil biological parameters are unclear and contradictory. We evaluated the effects of conservation agriculture practices on changes in soil biochemical properties at different growth stages of wheat grown as the fifth crop in RWS. Twelve treatment combinations of tillage, crop establishment and crop residue management included four main plot treatments in rice: (1) conventional tillage (CT)-DSR,(2) ZT-DSR, (3) DTR, ZT machine transplanted rice and (4) PTR, conventional puddled transplanted rice. The three subplot treatments were: (i) CTW-R, CT wheat with both rice and wheat residues removed, (ii) ZTW-R, ZT wheat with residues of both the crops removed and (iii) ZTW+R, ZT wheat with rice residue retained as surface mulch in subsequent wheat. Irrespective of rice establishment methods, mean wheat grain yield under ZTW+R was 6% and 10% greater than CTW-R and ZTW-R respectively. Soil enzyme activities increased (5–18%) under ZTW+R compared with ZTW-R and CTW-R at different growth stages of wheat. The residual effect of rice establishment methods was significant on soil enzyme activities during wheat cropping, which were highest under ZT-DSR followed by CT-DSR, DTR and PTR. Soil organic carbon content in the 0–7.5 cm layer was significantly higher (7–9%) under the ZTW+R treatment compared with all the other treatments. Principal component analysis (PCA) identified three enzyme activities (dehydrogenase, fluorescein diacetate and phosphatase), and soil organic carbon content as the most sensitive indicators for assessing soil quality for RWS based on conservation agriculture. The PCA discriminated rice establishment systems with rice residue as surface mulch from rice establishment systems without rice residue and the maximum tillering stage from the other stages of wheat. The present study provided reliable biochemical indicators to monitor soil biological quality changes in response to conservation agriculture practices in RWS.

Additional keywords: Conventional tillage, rice establishment methods, rice straw retention, soil enzymes, wheat growth stages.


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