Comparing physical quality of tilled and no-tilled soils in an almond orchard in southern Italy

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Mirko Castellini *
Mario Pirastru
Marcello Niedda
Domenico Ventrella
(*) Corresponding Author:
Mirko Castellini | mcastellini@uniss.it

Abstract

No-tillage (NT) is an alternative way of reducing costs and lessening the burden of working the land, but in essence it is a method of sustainable land use in dryland cropping systems. The physical quality of the soil is the fundamental factor that defines the sustainability of agro-ecosystems, and its evaluation can be obtained using both capacitive and dynamic indicators. The main objectives of this study were: i) to assess the physical quality of the soil in an almond orchard where long-term different soil tillage systems and weed control methods, such as NT with chemical control and surface tillage (ST), were used; and ii) to compare the indicators under consideration with the proposed reference values, using the information gathered to evaluate the effects of NT and ST. The following physical properties were determined: bulk density, air capacity, macroporosity, plant available water capacity, relative field capacity, Dexter’s index, field saturated hydraulic conductivity, as well as the location (modal, median, and mean pore diameter) and shape (standard deviation, skewness, and kurtosis) parameters which corresponded to the equivalent pore size distribution functions. Our results showed that the physical soil indicators adopted were sufficiently sensitive to identify tillage-induced changes and then to quantify the physical quality of rigid to moderately expansive agricultural soils. After thirty years of NT, a set of capacitive indicators, along with measurements of hydraulic conductivity, used in conjunction with an optimal pore volume distribution and the water release curve, unanimously classified the quality of the studied soil as optimal or near optimal.

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