Management practices can influence soil CO(2) emission and C content in cropland, which can effect global warming. We examined the effects of combinations of irrigation, tillage, cropping systems, and N fertilization on soil CO(2) flux, temperature, water, and C content at the 0- to 20-cm depth from May to November 2005 at two sites in the northern Great Plains. Treatments were two irrigation systems (irrigated vs. non-irrigated) and six management practices that contained tilled and no-tilled malt barley (Hordeum vulgaris L.) with 0 to 134 kg N ha(-1), no-tilled pea (Pisum sativum L.), and a conservation reserve program (CRP) planting applied in Lihen sandy loam (sandy, mixed, frigid, Entic Haplustolls) in western North Dakota. In eastern Montana, treatments were no-tilled malt barley with 78 kg N ha(-1), no-tilled rye (Secale cereale L.), no-tilled Austrian winter pea, no-tilled fallow, and tilled fallow applied in dryland Williams loam (fine-loamy, mixed Typic Argiborolls). Irrigation increased CO(2) flux by 13% compared with non-irrigation by increasing soil water content in North Dakota. Tillage increased CO(2) flux by 62 to 118% compared with no-tillage at both places. The flux was 1.5- to 2.5-fold greater with tilled than with non-tilled treatments following heavy rain or irrigation in North Dakota and 1.5- to 2.0-fold greater with crops than with fallow following substantial rain in Montana. Nitrogen fertilization increased CO(2) flux by 14% compared with no N fertilization in North Dakota and cropping increased the flux by 79% compared with fallow in no-till and 0 kg N ha(-1) in Montana. The CO(2) flux in undisturbed CRP was similar to that in no-tilled crops. Although soil C content was not altered, management practices influenced CO(2) flux within a short period due to changes in soil temperature, water, and nutrient contents. Regardless of irrigation, CO(2) flux can be reduced from croplands to a level similar to that in CRP planting using no-tilled crops with or without N fertilization compared with other management practices.