Soil Research Soil Research Society
Soil, land care and environmental research

Burning crop residues under no-till in semi-arid land, Northern Spain—effects on soil organic matter, aggregation, and earthworm populations

Iñigo Virto A C , Maria José Imaz A , Alberto Enrique A , Willem Hoogmoed B and Paloma Bescansa A

A Departamento Ciencias del Medio Natural, E.T.S.I. Agrónomos, Universidad Pública de Navarra, Campus Arrosadia. 31006 Pamplona, Spain.

B Farm Technology Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands.

C Corresponding author. Present address: Equipe M.O.S. Unité Mixte de Recherche ‘Biogéochimie des Milieux Continentaux’, Bât. EGER. Institut National Agronomique Paris-Grignon. 78850 Thiverval-Grignon, France. Email: or

Australian Journal of Soil Research 45(6) 414-421
Submitted: 6 February 2007  Accepted: 26 July 2007   Published: 20 September 2007


Stubble burning has traditionally been used in semi-arid land for pest and weed control, and to remove the excess of crop residues before seeding in no-tillage systems. We compared differences in soil properties in a long-term (10 years) tillage trial on a carbonated soil in semi-arid north-east Spain under no-tillage with stubble returned and stubble burnt, with the conventional tillage system (mouldboard plough, stubble returned) as a reference.

Differences in total soil organic C and C in particulate organic matter, mineralisation potential, soil physical properties (bulk density, penetration resistance, and aggregate size distribution and stability), and earthworm populations were quantified. The effect of stubble burning was absent or insignificant compared with that of tillage in most of the parameters studied. The most significant effect of stubble burning was the change in soil organic matter quality in the topsoil and penetration resistance. No-till plus stubble burning stocked an amount of organic C in the soil similar to no-till without burning, but the particulate organic matter content and mineralisation potential were smaller. Earthworm activity was similar under the 2 no-till systems, although a trend towards bigger earthworms with increasing penetration resistance was observed under the system with burning.

Our results indicate that the role of burnt plant residues and earthworms in organic matter accumulation and soil aggregation in Mediterranean carbonated soils under no tillage is of major importance, meriting further attention and research.

Additional keywords: conservation tillage, stubble burning, aggregate stability, Mediterranean soils.


Baker GH (1998) The ecology, management and benefits of earthworms in agricultural soils with particular reference to southern Australia. In ‘Earthworm ecology’. Soil and Water Conservation Society. (Ed. CA Edwards) pp. 229–257. (CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL)

Baker GH , Lee KE (1993) Earthworms. In ‘Soil sampling and methods of analysis’. Canadian Society of Soil Science. (Ed. MR Carter) pp. 359–371. (Lewis Publishers: Boca Raton, FL)

Bescansa P Imaz MJ Virto I Enrique A Hoogmoed WB 2006 Soil water retention as affected by tillage and residue management in semiarid Spain. Soil & Tillage Research 87 19 27 doi:10.1016/j.still.2005.02.028

Bonneau M , Souchier B (1987) ‘Pédologie. 2: Constituants et propriétés du sol.’ (Masson: Paris)

Cambardella CA Elliot ET 1992 Particulate soil organic-matter changes across a grassland cultivation sequence. Soil Science Society of America Journal 56 777 783

Carter MR Mele PM 1992 Changes in microbial biomass and structural stability at the surface of a duplex soil under direct drilling and stubble retention in north-eastern Victoria. Australian Journal of Soil Research 30 493 503

Chan KY Heenan DP 1993 Surface hydraulic properties of a red earth under continuous cropping with different management practices. Australian Journal of Soil Research 31 13 24 doi:10.1071/SR9930013

Chan KY Heenan DP 2005 The effects of stubble burning and tillage on soil carbon sequestration and crop productivity in southeastern Australia. Soil Use and Management 21 427 431 doi:10.1079/SUM2005357

Chan KY Heenan DP Oates A 2002 Soil carbon fractions and relationship to soil quality under different tillage and stubble management. Soil & Tillage Research 63 133 139 doi:10.1016/S0167-1987(01)00239-2

Chan KY Heenan DP So HB 2003 Sequestration of carbon and changes in soil quality under conservation tillage on light-textured soils in Australia: a review. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 43 325 334 doi:10.1071/EA02077

Conway KE 1996 An overview of the influence of sustainable agricultural systems on plant diseases. Crop Protection 15 223 228 doi:10.1016/0261-2194(95)00119-0

Curry JP (1998) Factors affecting earthworm abundance in soils. In ‘Earthworm ecology’. Soil and Water Conservation Society. (Ed. CA Edwards) pp. 37–64. (CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL)

Haines PJ Uren NC 1990 Effects of conservation tillage farming on soil microbial biomass, organic matter and earthworm populations, in north-eastern Victoria. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 30 365 371 doi:10.1071/EA9900365

Heenan DP McGhie WJ Thomson FM Chan KY 1995 Decline in soil organic carbon and total nitrogen in relation to tillage, stubble management, and rotation. Australian Journal of Experimental Research 35 877 884 doi:10.1071/EA9950877

Ismail I Blevins RL Frye WW 1994 Long-term no-tillage effects on soil properties and continuous corn yields. Soil Science Society of America Journal 58 193 198

Lopez MV Arrue JL Alvaro-Fuentes J Moret D 2005 Dynamics of surface barley residues during fallow as affected by tillage and decomposition in semiarid Aragon (NE Spain). European Journal of Agronomy 23 26 36

Marriott E Wander MM 2006 Total and labile soil organic matter in organic and conventional farming systems. Soil Science Society of America Journal 70 950 959 doi:10.2136/sssaj2005.0241

Masiello CA 2004 New directions in black carbon organic geochemistry. Marine Chemistry 92 201 213 doi:10.1016/j.marchem.2004.06.043

Mele PM Carter MR 1999 Impact of crop management factors in conservation tillage farming on earthworm density, age structure and species abundance in south-eastern Australia. Soil & Tillage Research 50 1 10 doi:10.1016/S0167-1987(98)00189-5

Muneer M Oades JM 1989 The role of Ca-organic interactions in soil aggregate stability. III. Mechanisms and models. Australian Journal of Soil Research 27 411 423 doi:10.1071/SR9890411

Powlson DS Brookes PC Christensen BT 1987 Measurement of soil microbial biomass provides an early indication of changes in total soil organic matter due to straw incorporation. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 19 159 164 doi:10.1016/0038-0717(87)90076-9

Pulleman MM Six J Uyl A Marinissen JCY Jongmans AG 2005 Earthworms and management affect organic matter incorporation and microaggregate formation in agricultural soils. Applied Soil Ecology 29 1 15 doi:10.1016/j.apsoil.2004.10.003

Rasmussen PE 1995 Effects of fertilizer and stubble burning on downy brome competition in winter-wheat. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis 26 951 960

Rasmussen PE Allmaras RR Rohde CR Roager NC 1980 Crop residue influences on soil carbon and nitrogen in a wheat–fallow system. Soil Science Society of America Journal 44 596 600

Rasmussen PE Collins CH 1991 Long-term impacts of tillage, fertilizer, and crop residue on soil organic matter in temperate semiarid regions. Advances in Agronomy 45 93 134

Rasse DP Rumpel C Dignac MF 2005 Is soil carbon mostly soil carbon? Mechanisms for a specific stabilisation. Plant and Soil 269 341 356

Rovira AD Smettem KRJ Lee KE 1987 Effects of rotation and conservation tillage on earthworms in a red-brown earth under wheat. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 38 829 834 doi:10.1071/AR9870829

Rumpel C Alexis M Chabbi A Chaplot V Rasse DP Valentin C Mariotti A 2006 Black carbon contribution to soil organic matter composition in tropical sloping land under slash and burn agriculture. Geoderma 130 35 46 doi:10.1016/j.geoderma.2005.01.007

Six J Bossuyt H Degryze S Denef K 2004 A history of research on the link between (micro)aggregates, soil biota and soil organic matter dynamics. Soil & Tillage Research 79 7 31 doi:10.1016/j.still.2004.03.008

Six J Elliott ET Paustian K 1999 Aggregate and soil organic matter dynamics under conventional and no-tillage systems. Soil Science Society of America Journal 63 1350 1358

Skjemstad JO Reicosky DC Wilts AR McGowan JA 2002 Charcoal carbon in U.S. agricultural soils. Soil Science Society of America Journal 66 1249 1255

Skjemstad JO Swift RS McGowan JA 2006 Comparison of the particulate organic carbon and permanganate oxidation methods for estimating labile soil organic carbon. Australian Journal of Soil Research 44 255 263

Soil Survey Staff (2003) ‘Keys to Soil Taxonomy.’ 9th edn (Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA: Washington, DC)

SPSS Inc. (2003) ‘Statistical software SPSS 12.1.’ (SPSS: Chicago, IL)

Tebrügge F Düring RA 1999 Reducing tillage intensity: a review of results from a long-term study in Germany. Soil & Tillage Research 53 15 28 doi:10.1016/S0167-1987(99)00073-2

Valzano FP Greene RSB Murphy BW 1997 Direct effects of stubble burning on soil hydraulic and physical properties in a direct drill tillage system. Soil & Tillage Research 42 209 219 doi:10.1016/S0167-1987(96)01101-4

Zhang GS Chan KY Oates A Heenan DP Huang GB 2007 Relationship between soil structure and runoff/soil loss after 24 years of conservation tillage. Soil & Tillage Research 92 122 128 doi:10.1016/j.still.2006.01.006

Rent Article Export Citation Cited By (22)