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Using active fractions of soil organic matter as indicators of the sustainability of ferrosol farming systems

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Bell, M.J., Moody, P.W., Yo, S.A. and Connolly, R.D. (1999) Using active fractions of soil organic matter as indicators of the sustainability of ferrosol farming systems. Australian Journal of Soil Research, 37 (2). pp. 279-288. ISSN 0004-9573


Article Link: https://doi.org/10.1071/S98064


Chemical and physical degradation of Red Ferrosols in eastern Australia is a major issue necessitating the development of more sustainable cropping systems. This paper derives critical concentrations of the active (permanganate-oxidisable) fraction of soil organic matter (C1) which maximise soil water recharge and minimise the likelihood of surface runoff in these soils.
Ferrosol soils were collected from commercial properties in both north and south Queensland, while additional data were made available from a similar collection of Tasmanian Ferrosols. Sites represented a range of management histories, from grazed and ungrazed grass pastures to continuously cropped soil under various tillage systems. The concentration of both total carbon (C) and C1 varied among regions and farming systems.

C1 was the primary factor controlling aggregate breakdown, measured by the percentage of aggregates <0·125 mm (P125) in the surface crust after simulated rainfall. The rates of change in P125 per unit change in C1 were not significantly different (P < 0·05) for soils from the different localities. However, soils from the coastal Burnett (south-east Queensland) always produced lower P125 (i.e. less aggregate breakdown) than did soils from the inland Burnett and north Queensland locations given the same concentration of C1. This difference was not associated with a particular land use.

The ‘critical’ concentrations of C1 for each region were taken as the C1 concentrations that would allow an infiltration rate greater than or equal to the intensity of a 1 in 1 or 1 in 10 year frequency rainfall event of 30 min duration. This analysis also provided an indication of the risk associated with the concentrations of C1 currently characterising each farming system in each rainfall environment. None of the conventionally tilled Queensland Ferrosols contained sufficient C1 to cope with rainfall events expected to occur with a 1 in 10 frequency, while in many situations the C1 concentration was sufficiently low that runoff events would be expected on an annual basis.

Our data suggest that management practices designed both to maximise C inputs and to maintain a high proportion of active C should be seen as essential steps towards developing a more sustainable cropping system.

Item Type:Article
Keywords:Ferrosols, Oxisols, organic carbon, permanganate fractions, aggregate stability, infiltration, erosion risk
Subjects:Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Special aspects of agriculture as a whole > Sustainable agriculture
Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Soils. Soil science
Live Archive:06 Mar 2024 00:06
Last Modified:06 Mar 2024 00:06

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