Carbon Supply and Storage in Tilled and Nontilled Soils as Influenced by Cover Crops and Nitrogen Fertilization

J Environ Qual. 2006 Jul 6;35(4):1507-17. doi: 10.2134/jeq2005.0189. Print Jul-Aug 2006.


Soil carbon (C) sequestration in tilled and nontilled areas can be influenced by crop management practices due to differences in plant C inputs and their rate of mineralization. We examined the influence of four cover crops {legume [hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth)], nonlegume [rye (Secale cereale L.)], biculture of legume and nonlegume (vetch and rye), and no cover crops (or winter weeds)} and three nitrogen (N) fertilization rates (0, 60 to 65, and 120 to 130 kg N ha(-1)) on C inputs from cover crops, cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.), and sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench)], and soil organic carbon (SOC) at the 0- to 120-cm depth in tilled and nontilled areas. A field experiment was conducted on Dothan sandy loam (fine-loamy, siliceous, thermic Plinthic Paleudults) from 1999 to 2002 in central Georgia. Total C inputs to the soil from cover crops, cotton, and sorghum from 2000 to 2002 ranged from 6.8 to 22.8 Mg ha(-1). The SOC at 0 to 10 cm fluctuated with C input from October 1999 to November 2002 and was greater from cover crops than from weeds in no-tilled plots. In contrast, SOC values at 10 to 30 cm in no-tilled and at 0 to 60 cm in chisel-tilled plots were greater for biculture than for weeds. As a result, C at 0 to 30 cm was sequestered at rates of 267, 33, -133, and -967 kg C ha(-1) yr(-1) for biculture, rye, vetch, and weeds, respectively, in the no-tilled plot. In strip-tilled and chisel-tilled plots, SOC at 0 to 30 cm decreased at rates of 233 to 1233 kg C ha(-1) yr(-1). The SOC at 0 to 30 cm increased more in cover crops with 120 to 130 kg N ha(-1) yr(-1) than in weeds with 0 kg N ha(-1) yr(-1), regardless of tillage. In the subtropical humid region of the southeastern United States, cover crops and N fertilization can increase the amount of C input and storage in tilled and nontilled soils, and hairy vetch and rye biculture was more effective in sequestering C than monocultures or no cover crop.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / methods
  • Carbon / metabolism*
  • Crops, Agricultural / growth & development*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Fertilizers*
  • Georgia
  • Nitrogen / metabolism*
  • Organic Chemicals / chemistry
  • Organic Chemicals / metabolism*
  • Soil / analysis*
  • Time Factors


  • Fertilizers
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Soil
  • Carbon
  • Nitrogen