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Fine root development of alfalfa as affected by wheel traffic

, : Fine root development of alfalfa as affected by wheel traffic. Agronomy Journal 82(3): 618-622

Root development in alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) is dependent of many factors including the soil environment which is influenced by crop management procedures. Soil compaction, which is unavoidable under current management procedures, can have a detrimental effect on root development. The purpose of this field experiment was to compare the effects of controlled and conventional traffic management on alfalfa fine root growth in a Wasco sandy loam (coarse loamy, mixed, nonacid thermic Typic Torriorthent). No wheel traffic and traffic only before planting were compared to two conventional systems that varied in the amount of traffic applied during crop production. Twenty months after planting, there was a significant decrease in fine root density (FRD) from single passes of traffic after each harvest down to a 0.45-m depth while several passes after each harvest significantly decreased FRD down to 1.8-m depth. Regardless of treatment, root density was greatest in the upper 0.1 m of soil decreasing to 1.8 m in the first summer. By the second summer FRD showed bimodal distribution with significantly fewer roots at 0.3 to 0.6 m compared to layers above and below this depth. Seasonally there was a significantly higher root density during the winter than the summer in the upper 0.3 m of soil. The results of this study shows that alfalfa fine roots more thoroughly exploit the soil volume in the absence of wheel traffic and that compaction from traffic diminished root growth to different depths depending on its intensity.


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