Tillage effects on soil-water-air matrix and prediction of soil bulk density from cone index data

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Virginia Tech


Conventional farming systems create socio-economic problems through increased production costs and loss of the soil and chemicals that are washed from the farmlands. Even though no-till farming systems can increase farm profit and reduce environmental degradation, soil compaction can negate the advantages of no-till farming when no-till systems are used continuously under certain soil and climatic conditions.

One objective of this study was to evaluate the long-term effects of the no-till method on bulk density, capillary porosity, noncapillary porosity, void ratio, and cone index of the soil. Although tillage affected cone index significantly, moisture variations caused difficulty in interpreting the results. No statistically significant differences in other parameters were found among no-till, conventional till, and control fallow treatments within each of three cropping seasons. However, within each tillage treatment these parameters showed significant variations between test seasons. When the soil bulk density data is required at close depth intervals, the core sample method becomes laborious while its use is limited by soil type and moisture conditions. The neutron probe densitometer is difficult to use in tillage studies due to practical problems. Among the predictive models for bulk density, some require parameters determined through expensive laboratory procedures while others have not been proven to work in field conditions. Therefore, the second objective was to develop a model to predict soil bulk density using cone index and moisture content data for a Virginia soil.

Two separate models have been developed for top and subsoil layers using remolded natural soil samples. The topsoil model predicted bulk density close to the actual data taken in recently disturbed soils. One cropping season after plowing, predicted values were about 10% higher than the actual, a result which could be due to the aging effect. The subsoil model, on the other hand, under-predicted soil bulk density by about I5%

After the model coefficients for a particular soil are determined through laboratory tests, cone index and moisture data can be used to predict bulk density in that soil. This procedure may save time and expense in future research on soil compaction.