[Background] Long-term rotary tillage has led to the deterioration of cotton production in northern China. This deterioration is due to the disturbance of topsoil, a dense plough pan at the 20–50 cm depth, and the decreased water storage capacity. A 2-yr field experiment was performed from 2014 to 2015 to explore a feasible soil tillage approach to halting the deterioration. The experiment consisted of four treatments: replacing the topsoil from the 0–15 cm layer with the subsoil from the 15–30 cm layer (T1); replacing the topsoil from the 0–20 cm layer with the subsoil from the 20–40 cm layer and subsoiling at the 40–55 cm layer (T2); replacing the topsoil from the 0–20 cm layer with the subsoil from the 20–40 cm layer and subsoiling at the 40–70 cm layer (T3); and conventional surface rotary tillage within 15 cm as the control (CK).
[Results] The results indicated that the soil bulk densities at the 20–40 cm layer in T2 were 0.13 g·cm− 3and 0.15 g·cm− 3 lower than those obtained from CK in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The total nitrogen (N) and the available phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) contents from the 20–40 cm layer in T2 and T3 were significantly higher than those in CK and T1. The amount of soil water stored in the 0–40 cm layer of T2 at the squaring stage of cotton was 15.3 mm and 13.4 mm greater than that in CK in 2014 and 2015, respectively, when the weather was dry. Compared with CK, T2 increased cotton lint yield by 6.1 and 10.2 percentage points in 2014 and 2015, respectively, which was due to the improved roots within the 20–60 cm layer, the greater number of bolls per plant and the higher boll weight in the T2 treatment.
[Conclusions] The results suggested that soil replacement plus subsoiling would be a good alternative to current practices in order to break through the bottleneck constraining cotton production in northern China. Replacing the topsoil in the 0–20 cm layer with the soil from the 20–40 cm layer plus subsoiling at the 40–55 cm layer would be the most effective method.
[Title] Soil replacement combined with subsoiling improves cotton yields
[Authors] LI Pengcheng, WANG Shulin, QI Hong, WANG Yan, ZHANG Qian, FENG Guoyi, ZHENG Cangsong, YU Xueke, LIN Yongzeng & DONG Helin
Journal of Cotton Research. 2019; 2:25