Soil quality and corn yield under crop–livestock integration in Illinois

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Compared with traditional cropping systems, integrated crop–livestock systems have shown greater efficiency in improving soil quality and crop yield. The objective of this study was to determine how an integrated crop–livestock system affected soil properties and corn (Zea mays L.) yield when compared with continuous corn (CC). The study was conducted from 2004–2008 on a large-scale research farm located near Pana, IL, USA. We evaluated the following soil and crop variables: soil organic matter (SOM) fractions, total nitrogen (TN) and total organic carbon (TC), soil microbial biomass carbon (SMBC), water aggregate stability, soil penetration resistance (PR), and corn yield. Three treatments were used in this study: winter cover crops (WCCs) and cool-season pastures (CSP), considered integrated system treatments and a nonintegrated CC monoculture. In the integrated system, CSP and WCC treatments combined, had significantly higher TN (P = 0.0926) than CC. Water aggregate stability was also higher in the integrated system (P = 0.0039). Greater percentages of TC and TN were represented by particulate organic matter (POM) POM-N and POM-C in the WCC treatment, followed by CSP, and CC. The PR for CSP (928 kPa) was not significantly different than WCC (921 kPa). However, both were significantly different than CC (655 kPa). Averaged across years, corn grain yield for WCC (11.5 Mg ha–1) was significantly higher than CC (10.8 Mg ha–1) (P = 0.0780). These results confirm that WCC and CSP used within integrated crop–livestock systems should improve soil quality, SOM dynamics, and crop yield despite moderate soil compaction caused from cattle presence.

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