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Keywords:

  • Permanent raised beds;
  • soil fertility;
  • aggregate stability;
  • soil porosity;
  • yield

Abstract

In arid north-western China, soil degradation, limited water and subsequent yield decline, largely as a result of excessive tillage and residue removal practices, are the main factors limiting further development of local agriculture. The effects of permanent raised beds (PRB), no-till (NT) and traditional tillage (TT) on soil structure and yield were investigated in a wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) – maize (Zea mays L.) cropping system from 2004 to 2009 in the Hexi Corridor of Gansu Province, China. PRB and NT had more macro-aggregates (>0.25 mm, +2.7%), a better distribution of pore size classes and improved hydraulic conductivity, whereas TT soils were dominated by micro-aggregates and micro-porosity. In PRB, soil bulk density decreased significantly by 6.3 and 7.0% for the 0- to 10-cm and 20- to 30-cm depths relative to TT. The PRB mean crop yields increased by 4.2% and water use efficiency improved by 21.3% compared with TT because of greater soil moisture and improved soil physical and chemical status. These improvements in soil properties, yield and water use are of considerable importance for soil regeneration, food security and sustainable agriculture in arid regions, such as north-western China.