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Grazed temporary grass‐clover leys in crop rotations can have a positive impact on soil quality under both conventional and organic agricultural systems

Lookup NU author(s): Caio Zani, John Gowing, Dr Geoffrey AbbottORCiD, Dr James Taylor, Dr Elisa Lopez-Capel, Dr Julia Cooper



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Wiley, 2021.

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Soil quality (SQ) is the ability of soil to provide ecosystem functions and services. Implementation of a certain agricultural system can affect SQ and therefore play an essential role in achieving sustainable agriculture. The aim of this study was to explore how agricultural systems (conventional vs. organic), grazing regime (non-grazed vs. grazed) and the different proportions of temporary grass-clover leys in crop rotations (ley time proportion-LTP) affect SQ within a mixed (cropping and pasture/dairy system) commercial farming enterprise in the UK. Seven SQ indicators were evaluated, including chemical (pH; available phosphorus-P; potassium-K), physical (bulk density-BD; aggregate stability-AS) and biological (total carbon-C; microbial biomass carbon-MBC) sectors. All SQ indicators were measured at three depth intervals (0-0.15, 0.15-0.30, 0.30-0.60 m), except for AS and MBC, which were only considered for the topsoil (0-0.15 m). The findings reflected existing knowledge on the advantages of organic vs. conventional systems on SQ indicators, with the former showing higher MBC and similar K, BD, AS and C in the 0-0.30 m layer compared to the latter. Lower topsoil available P in organic systems can be related to the lack of measurements in all P pools. When grazing was included i) both agricultural systems showed higher topsoil available P, C and MBC; and ii) there was higher topsoil K in organic systems whilst it positively affected topsoil BD and C (0.15-0.30 m) in conventional systems. Increasing LTP to 30-40% of the full crop rotation increased topsoil AS and C (0-0.30 m) in a linear fashion. Subsoil conditions (> 0.30 m) showed K, BD and C being favoured under the conventional system, but these results should be considered carefully. It was concluded that both organic and conventional systems delivered similar levels of SQ and that reviving mixed farming systems may be a key factor for delivering multi-functional agroecosystems that maintain SQ and optimise ecosystem services.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Zani Caio, Gowing John, Abbott Geoffrey, Taylor James, Lopez-Capel Elisa, Cooper Julia

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: European Journal of Soil Science

Year: 2021

Volume: 72

Issue: 4

Pages: 1513-1529

Print publication date: 01/07/2021

Online publication date: 28/05/2020

Acceptance date: 22/05/2020

Date deposited: 12/06/2020

ISSN (print): 1351-0754

ISSN (electronic): 1365-2389

Publisher: Wiley


DOI: 10.1111/ejss.13002


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