Distinct soil health indicators are associated with variation in maize yield and tile drain nitrate losses

Nan Li, David Bullock, Carrie Butts-Wilmsmeyer, Laura Gentry, Greg Goodwin, Jaeyeong Han, Nathan Kleczweski, Nicolas F. Martín, Patricia Paulausky, Pete Pistorius, Nicholas Seiter, Nathan Schroeder, Andrew J. Margenot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Associations between nitrogen (N) management and losses with soil health indicators (SHI) are widely presumed but relatively untested. An on-farm experiment conducted in central Illinois was conducted to test potential relationships of SHI with agroecosystem outcomes of maize (Zea mays L.) yield and N losses under bounding N-fertilization rates of 168 and 252 kg/ha. Chemical (n = 19), physical (n = 11), and biological (n = 14) SHI were measured at 24 locations within a 30 ha field at five timepoints (V3, V10, RT, R6, and post-harvest). Yields did not necessarily reflect N-fertilization rates, with lowest yields (14.5 Mg/ha) under 224 kg/ha. Flow-weighted nitrate-N concentrations were significantly higher under 168 kg N/ha (10.6 mg/L) relative to higher application rates, though cumulative tile nitrate-N loads were similar. SHI varied more by sampling location and time than by N fertilization rate. Depending on the time of sampling, distinct SHI were related to yield and tile N losses. Total soil carbon and permanganate oxidizable carbon (POXC) best explained yield variation, whereas POXC and sand content best explained variation in nitrate-N loss. Nematode indices helped explain variability in yield (Simpson and Shannon indices) and nitrate-N losses (maturity index), supporting recent propositions to integrate nematode measures into soil health assessments. This study provides a basis for expanding to multiyear assessments of SHI linkages with nutrient losses and crop productivity in the North Central United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1332-1347
Number of pages16
JournalSoil Science Society of America Journal
Issue number6
StateE-pub ahead of print - Aug 9 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science


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