In the original ridge tillage system as practiced in the US Corn Belt, ridges are formed during the growing season. Several studies have documented that this can reduce leaching of nutrients and improve fertilizer efficiency. This study was conducted to determine whether ridges formed in autumn can be used as an alternative to ploughing to reduce N leaching during autumn and winter, and thereby increase growth and N uptake of a subsequent unfertilized crop. A factorial field experiment with tillage and residues as factors was conducted during 1998–2000. Tillage treatments were autumn ridging and ploughing. Residue treatments were stubble, stubble + straw and stubble + liquid manure in order to create a gradient of C/N ratios. From the time of harvest until planting of a subsequent barley crop (Hordeum vulgare L.), inorganic N was determined 11 times in 1998–1999 and 10 times in 1999–2000 in the 0–10, 10–30, 30–60 and 60–90 cm soil layers. Growth and N uptake of barley was quantified nine times in both 1999 and 2000. Barley grain and straw yields were determined. Ridging resulted in lower levels of inorganic N in the 30–90 cm soil layer in November and a significantly higher level of inorganic N in the 0–30 cm soil layer in late April, indicating reduced leaching and increased N availability for the subsequent crop. Ridging significantly increased growth, yield and N uptake of barley whereas incorporation of straw generally reduced growth, yield and N uptake. It is concluded that ridging in autumn has a N conserving effect, and it is suggested that the potential of ridging in autumn as an alternative to ploughing is further investigated in detailed studies of solute movement, N immobilization/mineralization and crop performance.
Soil and Tillage Research, 2006, Vol 85, Issue 1-2, p. 27-37