Improving soil water storage with no-till cover cropping in the Mississippi River Alluvial Basin

Madhav Dhakal,Martin A. Locke, Krishna N. Reddy,Matthew T. Moore, R. Wade Steinriede,L. Jason Krutz


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Excessive tillage reduces soil water storage and increases surface runoff. Cover crops can modify the effect of tillage on soil water dynamics, but limited information is available for the Mississippi River Alluvial Basin. This study was conducted to determine whether soil-water dynamics could be manipulated through conservation production systems affecting surface residue management. Effects of tillage (conventional tillage [CT] vs. no-tillage [NT]) and cover cropping (no cover crop and Austrian pea [Pisum sativum L.] cover crop [CC]) on soil water balance during the CC season in sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L.) and cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) crops were modeled using the root zone water quality model for a site near Stoneville, MS, on "Commerce" silty-loam soil. Capacitance sensors measured soil volumetric water content to 120 cm during CC growth in 2019 and 2020. Field calibration of sensors reduced root mean square error from 0.05 to 0.03 m3 m-3. Pooled across years, NT increased volumetric water content in the 0-40 and 40-120 soil layers by 8.5% and 6.8%, respectively, compared to CT. Regardless of the CC treatment and cropping system, NT reduced surface runoff by 24.5% over its conventional counterpart, while soil water storage increased from 2.35 to 5.23 cm within the 1.2-m profile, resulting in a 17% increase in consumptive use of water (evapotranspiration). CC treatments did not impact soil water storage and consumptive water use. The results demonstrate that NT systems can affect water dynamics by increasing infiltration and soil water storage in the humid subtropical region of the United States. No-tillage reduced surface runoff and increased soil water storage in alluvial soil. Cover crop reduced runoff from no-till plots but not from conventional tillage. Cover crop produced substantial biomass with minimal risk of depleting soil water. No-tillage with cover cropping would improve soil water storage in the Mississippi River Basin.
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