Cumulative effects of reduced tillage and mulching on soil properties under semi-arid conditions
W. Mupangwa, S. Twomlow and S. Walker
Declining soil productivity is one of the greatest challenges facing smallholder agriculture. This study assessed effects of reduced tillage and mulching on soil organic carbon, bulk density, infiltration and maize yield. Treatments consisted of three tillage methods (conventional ploughing, ripping and planting basins) combined factorially with mulch levels (0, 0.5, 1, 2, 4, 8 and 10 t ha−1). The experiment was run for four growing seasons allowing for a rotation of maize, cowpea and sorghum in some of the fields. A new experimental field was opened each year and maintained in subsequent seasons until the end of the experiment.
Soil organic carbon increased with time in all tillage systems and more SOC gained in planting basins. Soil bulk density decreased with time in all tillage systems irrespective of mulch quantity applied. Ripping loosened the soil much deeper than the other tillage methods. Total infiltration in all treatments was similar over the four seasons. Soil structural changes resulted in increased unsaturated hydraulic conductivity and sorptivity of the clay loam soil. Maize yield increased with time in all treatments. Long term studies need to be conducted to substantiate the results on soil property and crop yield improvements observed in the reported study.