Vol.4, No.5B, 35-40 (2013) Agricultural Sciences
Effect of tillage systems on soil properties, humus
and water conservation
Teodor Rusu1*, Ioan Pacurar1, Marcel Dirja1, Horea Mihai Pacurar1, Ioan Oroian1,
Smaranda Adina Cosma2, Marinela Gheres2
1University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine Cluj-Napoca, Romania; *Corresponding Author: trusu@usamvcluj.ro
2University Babes – Bolyai Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Received 2013
Human action upon soil by tillage determines
important morphological, physical-chemical and
biological changes, with different inte nsities and
evaluative directions. Nowadays, it is interna-
tionally accepted the fact that global climatic
changes are the res ults of human intervention in
the bio-geo-chemical water and material cycle,
and the sequestration of carbon in soil is con-
sidered an important intervention to limit these
changes. Carbon sequestration in soil is net
advantageous, improving the productivity and
sustainability. The more the organic content in
soil is higher the better soil aggregation is. The
soil without organic content is compact. This
reduces its capacity to infiltrate water, nutrients
solubility and productivity, and that way it re-
duces the soil capacity for carbon sequestra-
tion. Organic matter is an extremely important
constituent of soils and is vital to many of the
hydrological, biological and chemical reactions
required for sustaining plant life. We present the
influence of conventional plough tillage system
on soil, water and organic matter conservation
in comparison w ith an alternative minimum tillage
system (paraplow, chisel plow and rotary har-
row). The application of minimum tillage systems
increased the organic matter content 0.8% to
22.1% and water stabile aggregate content from
1.3% to 13.6%, in the 0 - 30 cm depth, as com-
pared to the classical system. For the organic
matter content and the wet aggregate stability,
the statistical analysis of the data showed, in-
creasing positive significance of minimum sys-
tems. While the soil fertility and the wet aggre-
gate stability were initially low, the effect of
conservation practices on the soil features re-
sulted in a positive impact on the water perme-
ability of the soil. Availability of soil moisture
during the crop growth resulted in better plant
water status. Subsequent release of conserved
soil water regulated proper plant water status,
soil structure, and lowered soil pene-trometer
Keywords: Soil Tillage; Water Management; Car-
bon Sequestration
Soil Tillage Conservation (STC) are considered major
components of agricultural technology for soil conserva-
tion strategies and part of Sustainable Agriculture (SA).
STC involves reducing the number of tillage to direct
sowing and plant remains at the soil surface in the ratio
of at least 30%. STC aims to ensure an appropriate
aerohydric regim for the biological activity and balance
in nutrient solubilisation [2,4,6]. Plant debris left on the
soil surface or superficial incorporated contributes to
increased biological activity and is an important source
of CO2. STC restore soil structure and improve overall
soil drainage, allowing more rapid infiltration of water
into soil [1,5]. The result is a more productive soil, better
protected against wind and water erosion and requires
less fuel for preparing the germinative bed [13,15,16].
Research conducted, throughout the world show that not
so much the chosen rotation affects the amount of carbon
sequestered but rather the influence of rotation on the
recovery of soil structure, affecting both productivity and
reduce erosion [8]. A large amount of CO2 produced in
the soil and released into the atmosphere, resulting from
aerobic processes of mineralization of organic matter
(excessive lossening) is considered not only a way of
increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, but also a loss of long-
term of soil fertility. This indicates an accelerated miner-
alization of soil organic matter and degradation of soil
pedogenetical process. STC significantly modify the
amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. Thus,
Derpsch and Moriya, 1998 [1] calculated a quantity of
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/as/
T. Rusu et al. / Agricultural Sciences 4 (2013) 35-40
400 million tones of carbon stored in arable soils in the
US, in 2020 (if no-tillage system will be applied on 76%
of the arable land), with influence on the conservation of
soil fertility and climate change.
The purpose of this paper was to evaluate the soil
properties, especially water and soil organic matter con-
servation, in classic soil tillage systems versus three
minimum soil tillage variants in the pedoclimatic condi-
tions in Cluj-Napoca (46º46'N, 26º36'E), Romania. Con-
ventional tillage means, in Romania as elsewhere, the
autumn plough tillage at approximately 20 - 25 cm, fol-
lowed by disc harrow work in the spring and sowing
fertilizer and seed via drill. This practice accounts for a
number of problems such as soil degradation, erosion,
compaction and waterway pollution [7,12,14]. While
conventional soil tillage (basic working, preparation of
the germinal layer, maintenance of the field etc.) results
in immediate positive effects, some negative effects also
manifest themselves. One of the main objectives for the
soil tillage system is to create an optimal physicochemical
state of the soil and to preserve this state over the whole
vegetation period. This study, conducted under different
bioclimatic conditions, shows that the soil tillage system
directly influences soil properties [9-11,17-19].
Carbon sequestration in soil has clear advantages, such
as improving the productivity and sustainability. The
higher the organic content in soil is the better the soil
aggregation is. The soil without organic content is com-
pact. This reduces its capacity to infiltrate water, nutria-
ents solubility and productivity, and implicitly it reduces
the soil capacity for carbon sequestration [3,14]. Further-
more, it increases soil vulnerability to erosion through
water and wind. Soil carbon dioxide concentration dy-
namics can be presently continuously monitored using
the latest available sensors. Systems for soil gas meas-
urements offer crucial information regarding production,
consumption, and gas transportation, with major implica-
tions in quantitative and qualitative assessment of soil
respiration and soil aeration.
The influence of tillage soil system upon water supply
accumulated in soil was studied on several soil types
(Table 1, [20,22]) at the University of Agricultural Sci-
ences and Veterinary Medicine of Cluj Napoca. The ex-
perimental soil tillage systems were as follows:
Classic system: V1 – classic plough + disc – 2x (wit-
Minimum tillage systems: V2 – paraplow + rotary harrow,
V3 – chisel plow + rotary harrow, V4 – rotary harrow.
To quantify the change in soil properties under differ-
ent tillage practices, determinations were made for each
cultivar (maize - Zea mays L., soy-bean - Glycine hispida
L. Merr., wheat - Triticum aestivum L., spring rape -
Brassica napus L. var. oleifera D.C. / potato – Solanum
tubero sum L.) in four vegetative stages (spring, 5 - 6
leaves, bean forming, harvest). Soil parameters moni-
tored included soil water content (gravimetric method,
Aquaterr probe - Frequency domain reflectometry), soil
bulk density (determined by volumetric ring method us-
ing the volume of a ring 100 cm3), soil penetration (using
a Fieldscout SC900 Penetrometer), water stable aggre-
gates, soil permeability (using the Infiltrometer method)
and organic matter content. The average result values,
obtained in the vegetal phases were statistically analyzed,
using the last four cultivation years within the crop rota-
tion for every type of soil. The results were analyzed
using ANOVA and Duncan's test [21]. A significance
level of P 0.05 was established a priori. Measuring the
CO2 content in the soil was conducted through the gra-
dient method by using a new generation of sensors
(GMD20 and GMM220) capable of measuring in-situ
and quasi-instantaneous the concentration of gaseous CO2
in the soil at three depths: 4, 8 and 22 cm.
The soil tillage has as a main purpose a series of im-
mediate effects (with a positive part), results from the
objectives of the soil tillage themselves: basic working,
preparing the germinal layer, maintaining the field. Often
though the effects of the soil tillage over this one can
have an immediate negative part or lasting effects, re-
maining (positive or negative). Long-term field experi-
ments provide excellent opportunities to quantify the
long-term effects of soil tillage systems on accumulated
soil water. The hydrological function of the soil
Table 1. Initial select soil properties (0 - 20 cm) on different soil types at the experimental area near the University of Agricultural
Sciences and Veterinary Medicine, Cluj Napoca, Romania.
Type of soil
(WRB-SR, 1998) Clay content, % Humus, % WSA,
% pH P.m.m.,
mm T.m.m,
Chernozem cambic 43.1 3.52 78 6.73 500 8.8
Phaeozem tipic 43.2 3.92 76 6.71 500 8.8
Haplic luvisols 42.0 2.49 65 6.06 613 8.2
Fluvisol molic 41.6 3.01 61 7.25 613 8.2
WSA - Water stabilite macro-aggregation; P.m.m. - Precipitation medium multi-annual; T.m.m. - Temperature medium multi-annual.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/as/
T. Rusu et al. / Agricultural Sciences 4 (2013) 35-40 37
(especially the capacity to retain an optimum water
quantity, and then gradually make this available for plant
consumption) is one of the most important functions de-
termining soil fertility, productivity and soil evolution.
Intrinsic soil properties such as organic matter and tex-
ture, along with applied tillage practices combine to
modify the soil structure, porosity, permeability and wa-
ter capacity. This, in turn, is a critical factor in the water
cycle and affects water accumulation in the soil.
Statistical analysis of the results showed that the dif-
ferences in accumulated soil water depended on the
variants of soil tillage and type of soil. Soil texture and
structure have a strong effect on the available water ca-
pacity. The results clearly demonstrate that minimum
tillage systems promote increased humus content (0.8% -
22.1%) (Table 2) and increased water stabile aggregate
content (1.3% - 13.6%) at the 0 - 30 cm depth compared
to conventional tillage (Table 3).
Statistical analysis regarding the organic matter con-
tent of the studied systems shows significant positive
values on Haplic luvisols under paraplow and chisel tillage
as well on Typic Phaeozems under paraplow and rotary
harrow tillage. Multiple comparisons between systems
indicate advantages for using the paraplow on Phaeozems
(b), chisel on Haplic luvisols (b) and rotary harrow Molic
Fluvisol (b). Multiple analysis of soil classification and
tillage system on the hydric stability of soil structure
have shown that all variants with minimum tillage are
superior (a, b, c), having a positive influence on soil
structure stability.
The increase of organic matter content is due to the
vegetal remnants partially incorporated and adequate
biological activity in this system. In the case of humus
content and also the hydro stability structure, the statisti-
cal interpretation of the dates shows an increasing posi-
tive significance of the minimum tillage systems applica-
tion. The soil fertility and wet aggregate stability were
initially low, the effect being the conservation of the soil
features and also their reconstruction, with a positive
influence upon the permeability of the soil for water.
More aggregated soils permit more water to reach the
root zone. This not only increases productivity, it may
also reduce runoff, and thus erodibility potential.
Table 2. The influence of soil tillage system upon organic matter content (OM, %; 0 - 30 cm).
Type of soil Soil tillage systems Classic plough
+ disc –2x Paraplow
+ rotary harrow Chisel plow
+ rotary harrow Rotary harrow
OM, % 3.51 a 3.54 a 3.87 a 3.61 a
Chernozem cambic
Significance (%) wt.(100) ns(100.8) ns(110.2) ns(102.8)
OM, % 3.90 a 4.13 b 3.93 ab 3.98 ab
Phaeozem tipic
Significance (%) wt.(100) *(106.0)
ns(100.9) ns(102.2)
OM, % 2.48 a 2.94 ab 3.02 b 2.82 ab
Haplic luvisols
Significance (%) wt.(100) *(118.6) *(122.1)
OM, % 3.03 a 3.12 ab 3.09 ab 3.23 b
Fluvisol molic
Significance (%) wt.(100) ns(103.1) ns(102.0) ns(106.5)
Note: OM- organic matter; wt – witness, ns – not significant, * positive significance, 0 negative significance, a, ab, b, c - Duncan’s classification (the same letter
within a row indicates that the means are not significantly different.)
Table 3. The influence of soil tillage system upon water stability of structural macro-aggregates (WSA, %; 0 - 30 cm).
Type of soil Soil tillage systems Classic plough
+ disc –2x Paraplow
+ rotary harrow Chisel plow
+ rotary harrow Rotary harrow
WSA, % 74.33 a 79.00 b 78.67 ab 80.33 b
Chernozem cambic
Signification (%) wt. (100) * (106.3) ns (105.8) * (108.1)
WSA, % 80.00 a 82.33 b 81.00 ab 81.67 ab
Phaeozem tipic
Signification (%) wt. (100) * (102.9) ns(101.3) ns(102.1)
WSA, % 63.67 a 68.33 b 66.67 ab 72.33 c
Haplic luvisols
Signification (%) wt. (100) * (107.3) *(104.7) **(113.6)
WSA, % 71.33 a 76.00 b 75.33 b 76.33 b
Fluvisol molic
Signification (%) wt. (100) * (106.5) *(105.6) *(107.0)
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/as/
T. Rusu et al. / Agricultural Sciences 4 (2013) 35-40
The minimum soil tillage systems and the replacement
of ploughing by paraplow, chisel and rotary harrow work
minimise soil aeration. The bulk density values at 0 - 50
cm (Table 4) increased by 0 - 4.7% under minimum till-
age systems. This raise was not significant in any of the
experimental variants. Multiple comparing and classify-
cation of experimental variants align all values on the
same level of significance (a).
The soil resistance to penetration, presented as an av-
erage of determinations on the four types of soil, shows a
stratification tendency of soil profiles within the plough
variant, where values are under 1000 kPa up to the 20-22
cm depth and then suddenly increase over 3500 kPa be-
low this depth. The significant differences were deter-
mined in the minimum tillage systems at 10-20 cm,
where the values of resistance to penetration range be-
tween 1500 - 2500 kPa. Thus, in the variants worked
with minimum tillage system, the soil profile stratifica-
tion is significantly reduced.
After ten years of applying the same soil tillage system,
the data show that soil infiltration and soil water reten-
tion are higher when working with paraplow and chisel
plow variant with values of 5.54 (c) and 5.08 (b) l/m2/min,
respectively. By contrast, the amount of water retained
by traditional tillage was 4.25 (a) l/m2/min. The paraplow
and chisel plow treatments were more favourable for
infiltration and water retention. Positive effects on the
saturated hydraulic conductivity of the paraplow (35.7
cm/h) and chisel plow (31.5 cm/h) treated soils were
observed compared with the traditional tillage (29.4 cm/h)
of the soil.
On haplic Luvisols, a soil with a moderately devel-
oped structure and average fertility, the quantity of water
accumulated was 1% - 6% higher under paraplow (b),
chisel plow and rotary harrow tillage, compared to con-
ven- tional tillage (Table 5). On molic Fluvisols and
cambic Chernozems, soils with good permeability, high
fertility, and low susceptibility to compaction, accumu-
lated water supply was higher (representing 11% - 15%)
for all mini- mum soil tillage systems. In the four soils
tested, the paraplow was the better at water conservation
(as evi- denced by multiple comparisons and variants – b,
c), showing an increase in the water reserve in soil of
4.8% -12.3%.
Table 4. The effect of soil tillage system on the bulk density (BD, g/cm3, 0 - 50 cm).
Type of soil Soil tillage systems Classic plough
+ disc –2x Paraplow
+ rotary harrow Chisel plow
+ rotary harrow Rotary harrow
BD, g/cm3 1.32 a 1.38 a 1.37 a 1.36 a
Chernozem cambic
Signification (%) wt.(100) ns(104.7) ns(103.9) ns(103.3)
BD, g/cm3 1.22 a 1.23 a 1.25 a 1.22 a
Phaeozem tipic
Signification (%) wt..(100) ns(100.8) ns(101.9) ns(100.0)
BD, g/cm3 1.32 a 1.35 a 1.34 a 1.35 a
Haplic luvisols
Signification (%) wt. (100) ns(102.4) ns(101.7) ns(102.4)
BD, g/cm3 1.34 a 1.34 a 1.35 a 1.34 a
Fluvisol molic
Signification (%) wt..(100) ns(100.0) ns(100.6) ns(100.0)
Table 5. The effect of soil tillage system on the water supply accumulated in soil (W, m3/ha; 0 - 50 cm).
Type of soil Soil tillage systems Classic plough
+ disc –2x Paraplow
+ rotary harrow Chisel plow
+ rotary harrow Rotary harrow
W, m3/ha 936 a 1.051 b 1.047 b 1.039 b
Chernozem cambic
Signification (%) wt.(100) *(112.3) *(111.9) *(111.0)
W, m3/ha 842 a 882 b 875 a 859 a
Phaeozem tipic
Signification (%) wt..(100) *(104.8)
ns(103.9) ns(102.0)
W, m3/ha 850 a 901 b 870 a 859 a
Haplic luvisols
Signification (%) wt. (100) *(106.0) ns(102.3) ns(101.0)
W, m3/ha 878 a 1.010 c 998 b 987 b
Fluvisol molic
Signification (%) wt..(100) *(115.0) *(113.7) *(112.4)
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/as/
T. Rusu et al. / Agricultural Sciences 4 (2013) 35-40 39
Continuous measurement of CO2 concentrations and
gas flow calculations on the surface, by estimating the
diffusion coefficient of soil, reveals reduplication of the
amount issued in the case of the classic version plough.
An exceeding amount of CO2 produced in the soil and
released into the atmosphere, resulting from aerobic
processes of mineralization of organic matter (excessive
loosening) is considered to be not only a way of increas-
ing the CO2 in the atmosphere, but also a loss of long-
term soil fertility. This indicates an acceleration of the
mineralization process of soil organic matter and of the
pedogenetical process of soil degradation. Minimum
tillage systems significantly alter the amount of CO2 re-
leased into the atmosphere, reducing to less than half its
diffusion. Thus, based on the results achieved, it was
estimated an amount of 6.9 million tons/year of carbon
stored in arable soils of Romania, if the minimum tillage
system would be implemented on 50% of the arable land,
with influence on the soil fertility conservation and cli-
mate change.
Reduced tillage systems represent an alternative to
conventional tillage. This study demonstrated that increased
soil organic matter content, aggregation, and permeabil-
ity are all promoted by minimum tillage systems. The
implementation of such practices ensures a greater water
reserve even across different soil types. The practice of
reduced tillage is ideal for enhancing soil fertility, water
holding capacity, and reducing erosion. The advantages
of minimum soil tillage systems for Romanian pedo-
climatic conditions can be used to improve methods in
low producing soils with reduced structural stability on
sloped fields, as well as measures of water and soil con-
servation on the whole ecosystem.
Presently, it is necessary to make a change concerning
the concept of conservation practices and to consider a
new approach regarding the control of erosion. The ac-
tual soil conservation must be looke upon beyond the
traditional understanding of soil erosion. The real soil
conservation is represented by carbon management. We
need to focus on an upper level concerning conservation
by focusing on soil quality. Carbon management is nec-
essary for a complexity of matters including soil, water
management, field productivity, biological fuel and cli-
matic change.
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