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Is water quality a trade-off for the benefits of no-till?

August 10, 2022  By Ehsan Ghane, Michigan State University Extension, Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering

When excess phosphorus (P) from the farm reaches downstream water bodies, it causes eutrophication and harmful algal blooms like the ones in Lake Erie and Saginaw Bay. Much of this phosphorus is soluble and readily available for algae growth. This phosphorus originates from mineralization of soil organic matter and application of commercial fertilizer and manure.

No-till reduces soil erosion, reduces surface runoff, increases organic matter and increases soil water holding capacity. However, Baker et al., 2017 notes that there is a risk of P transport through macropores with no-till in fine-textured clay soil. No-till can promote the development of macropores in the generally fine-textured clay soil. The macropores allow phosphorus to quickly move from the soil surface to the drains without passing through the soil to reach the drains. The extent of macropore development depends on the soil. Some clay soils have greater potential for macropore development because of their swell and shrink characteristics. | READ MORE

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