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Visual assessment of soil structure: Part II. Implications of tillage, rotation and
traffic on sites in Canada, China and Germany
Lothar Mueller a,*, Bev D. Kay b, Bill Deen c, Chunsheng Hu d, Youming Zhang d, Maren Wolff e,
Frank Eulenstein f, Uwe Schindler a
Leibniz-Zentrum fuer Agrarlandschaftsforschung (ZALF) Muencheberg, Institut fuer Bodenlandschaftsforschung, Eberswalder Strasse 84, D-15374 Muencheberg, Germany
University of Guelph, Canada, Department of Land Resource Science, Guelph, Canada N1G 2W1
University of Guelph, Canada, Department of Plant Agriculture, Guelph, Canada N1G 2W1
Center for Agricultural Resources Research, Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, The Chinese Academy of Sciences, 286 Huaizhong Rd., Shijiazhuang 050021, Hebei, China
Leibniz-Zentrum fuer Agrarlandschaftsforschung (ZALF) Muencheberg, Forschungsstation Landwirtschaft in Dedelow, Steinfurther Str. 14, 17291 Prenzlau, Germany
Leibniz-Zentrum fuer Agrarlandschaftsforschung (ZALF) Muencheberg, Institut fuer Landnutzungssysteme, Eberswalder Strasse 84, D-15374 Muencheberg, Germany


Article history: The aim of the paper was to utilize methods of visual structure assessments in conjunction with soil
Received 2 April 2008 physical measurements for the analysis of the impact of tillage, rotation and traffic on topsoil structure.
Received in revised form 5 September 2008 The study was conducted in long-term-experiments on the Elora rotation (ER) and Elora Landscape (EL)
Accepted 25 September 2008
sites in Canada, the Luancheng (LS) site in China and the Dedelow (DT) site in Germany. Texture of soils
ranged from loamy sand (DT) to sandy loam (EL, ER) to silt loam (LS), climate ranged from clearly sub-
Keywords: humid (LS), slightly sub-humid (DT) to humid (EL, ER). Two common variants of tillage were compared on
Soil structure
all sites: (1) Moldboard Ploughing (MP) and (2) No-Till (NT). Within the plots, wheeltracks were analysed
separately on ER and DT sites.
Crop yield On ER site, different rotation variants were sampled. On EL site, large alfalfa and corn plots and the
driveway in between were sampled at different slope positions. Methods of visual structure analysis of
Peerlkamp, Diez and Shepherd were tested along with measurements of dry bulk density (DBD), initial
infiltration rates and soil penetrometer and shear resistance. Both visual structure assessment and
measurements indicated significant differences between variants of tillage and traffic on DT and ER sites.
Differences between alfalfa (good structure) and corn rotation (less favourable structure) were also
significant on EL and ER sites. Soils in Germany and Canada were partly compacted, under wheeltracks in
particular. Most favourable topsoil structure conditions were found under MP plots, most unfavourable
structure was detected under wheeeltracks and NT plots. On LS site in China (loess soil, lower weights of
machinery) visual structure was overall favourable and no significant differences between tillage
variants were found. However, MP plots indicated the beginning of subsoil compaction.
Crop yields confirmed differences between tillage variants. Yields of cereals were significantly higher
(350–800 kg ha1) under MP as compared with NT on ER and DT sites due to a better air capacity.
It may be concluded that (i) results of visual assessments were coincident with those of soil physical
measurements and can complement them, (ii) under intensively mechanised soil management in sub-
humid to humid regions, NT can lead to sub-optimum topsoil structure states, (iii) subsoil compaction is a
risk of MP on all soils, and (iv) controlled traffic and the inclusion of perennials into the rotation may be
advantageous for soil structure.
ß 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction measurements to characterize soil structure status are dry

bulk density (DBD) or parameters physically related to DBD such
Soil structure is a crucial aspect of soil quality (Jackson et al., as total volume of pores and macropores (Håkansson and Lipiec,
2003; Karlen, 2004; Kay et al., 2006). Commonly used soil physical 2000; Logsdon and Karlen, 2004; Dam et al., 2005; Filipovic et al.,
2007). Measures of soil strength such as penetration resistance
or shear strength have also been used as indicators of soil
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +49 33432 82233; fax: +49 33432 82280. compaction (To and Kay, 2005; Sharratt et al., 2006; Filipovic et al.,
E-mail address: (L. Mueller). 2007; Whalley et al., 2007). However, in cohesive soils compaction

0167-1987/$ – see front matter ß 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Please cite this article in press as: Mueller, L., et al., Visual assessment of soil structure: Part II. Implications of tillage, rotation and traffic
on sites in Canada, China and Germany. Soil Tillage Res. (2008), doi:10.1016/j.still.2008.09.010
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processes cannot be sufficiently explained by changes in DBD or It was found that simple visual assessment methods of the
soil strength alone (Horn, 1990, 2003; Dexter et al., 2004). Peerlkamp type may provide reliable information on the structural
Measures of water and air permeability may give better indication status of topsoils. Results were further improved using the New
of soil physical status (Lipiec et al., 2006; Schjønning et al., 2007). Zealand VSA (Shepherd, 2000) or the Werner method (Werner and
Some authors (Dexter, 2004; Keller et al., 2007) use parameters of Thaemert, 1989), which is based on different single parameters of
the water retention curve (WRC) to characterize soil structure visual structure. Better visual soil structure scores were associated
status. with lower DBD and higher yield of cereals. The extent to which
Whether soil structure is optimum or not depends on the these results apply to soils under a contrasting management
process being considered. Optimum soil structure for plant root practices remain to be identified.
development, biological activity and gas exchange, solute trans- The objectives of this study were to
port, engagement of soils by machinery and other processes may
differ. A suitable structure status for biological processes of root (i) Ascertain the implications of different tillage, rotation and
development seems to be largely dependent on the relationship of traffic effects for visual soil structure on representative loamy
water and air filled pores in soil (Werner and Paul, 1999; Kay et al., and silty soils in a humid to sub-humid climate and
2006), placing emphasis on the air capacity (AC) of soils (ii) analyse the ascertained differences between most contrasting
(macropores > 10 mm). An AC of 0.15 m3 m3 seems to be very tillage variants (Ploughing (MP) and NT by functional para-
suitable for development of plants in temperate humid and sub- meters of soil structure and crop yield.
humid climates (Kay et al., 2006) whilst 0.10 m3 m3 are critical for
topsoils and 0.05 m3 m3 for subsoils (Kundler, 1989, p. 56). The 2. Materials and methods
range of soil macropores is most sensitive to soil management
procedures and alterations of DBD and total porosity are mainly 2.1. Site characterisation
alterations of macroporosity. Thus, DBD is a crucial variable in
studies of soil structure. The AC is defined by free drainage The study included sites of long-term-experiments (>10 years)
conditions. The volumetric air content can be lower than AC if in Canada, China and Germany.
impeded drainage by groundwater or temporarily perched water In Canada, field analyses were conducted in autumn 2005 on
table occurs. two long-term-experiments located at the Elora Research Station
Crop rotation and tillage strategies must produce optimum of the University of Guelph in southern Ontario. The climate is
soil structure for high and sustainable crop yields (Hulugalle characterised by a mean annual temperature of 6 8C and an annual
et al., 2007). Conservation Tillage (CT), including Reduced Tillage precipitation of 846 mm, with a mean temperature of 16.1 8C and
(RT) or No-Till (NT) are technologies that contrast with precipitation of 392 mm in the period of May to September (Vigier
conventional Moldboard Ploughing (MP). The aim of CT is to et al., 2003). The dominant soil is an Albic Luvisol according to the
enhance agricultural productivity, improve biodiversity, save FAO system (ISSS-ISRIC-FAO, 1998), of loam to silt loam texture
resources and mitigate human impacts on climate change (Bauer (Yang and Kay, 2001).
et al., 2006; Harper et al., 2007; Yan et al., 2007; Madejón et al., Soil quality indicators were analysed for differing rotations and
2007; Chivenge et al., 2007; Lal et al., 2007). Impacts of tillage tillage treatments from the Elora Rotation (ER) experiment.
system on soil structure, however, are often impredictable and Rotation treatments were split into two tillage variants: MP of
not in accordance with expectations (Logsdon and Cambardella, 20 cm and NT. From the total experiment, main rotation variants
2000). were selected and sampled on blocks No. 2 and 4 in the last year of
Conflicting results may be due to several reasons including both the rotation (Fig. 1). These rotations were:
local natural conditions (Hamza and Anderson, 2005), adequacy of
indicators (Mueller et al., 2008) and the sampling strategy (1) Continuous corn (Zea mays L.), C–C–C–C.
(Logsdon et al., 1999) including the interpretation of parameters. (2) Continuous alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.), replanted in 4 years,
Thus common rules on basic soil physical measurements, e.g. to A–A–A–A.
answer the question ‘‘Is this particular soil at optimum structure or (8) Corn–corn–soybean–soybean (Glycine max L. Merr.), C–C–S–
is it compacted and has a need for tillage?’’ do not exist. S.
Reported effects of tillage on crop yields are also inconsistent. (12) Corn–corn–soybean–winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)
Diaz-Zorita et al. (2004) found NT was advantageous and tillage with interseeded red clover (Trifolium pratense L.), C–C–S–
generally affected crop yields negatively. In the study of Ordóñez WWRC.
Fernández et al. (2007) no significant effects on crop yields were
found, but there was a slight tendency of yield increase by NT in On every plot, wheeltracks and the area between them were
dry years but no significant differences in wet years. Wang et al. sampled separately. The experiment was located on a site that was
(2007) found crop yields under NT equivalent to or higher than relatively uniform in topography and soil texture. Details on this
those from conventional tillage methods, especially in dry years. trial are given in Meyer-Aurich et al. (2006a,b).
However, during wet years yields tended to be lower (10–15%) The Elora Landscape (EL) site contains both a 2 years corn–
with NT. On sandy loam soil in central Canada higher DBD under barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) rotation (sampled in the corn phase of
NT was found but crop yield was not significantly different over 11 the rotation) and a permanent alfalfa plot (sampled in the 4th year)
years (Dam et al., 2005). Tsuji et al. (2006) reported that yields of separated by a grassed strip, which was also used for agricultural
summer crops were higher under NT and RT in comparison with traffic. This site covers a medium-steep catena (slope of 8–
MP, and yields of winter crop yields were significantly reduced 10 m 100 m1). Soil quality indicators were analysed from this
under NT. experiment to determine the effect of extreme variants of crops
Lal et al. (2007) concluded NT was effective in combination with and slope position.
crop residue as mulch. NT farming can reduce yield in poorly In China, work was conducted at the Luancheng Agro-
drained, clayey soils when springtime is cold and wet. Ecosystem Experimental Station (LS) of Shijiazhuang Institute
In part 1 of our study the suitability of visual structure (Hebei Province). The annual mean temperate is 12.2 8C and
indicators has been evaluated (Mueller et al., 2008) on three sites. precipitation is 537 mm. The soil is a Haplic Cambisol (Eutric,

Please cite this article in press as: Mueller, L., et al., Visual assessment of soil structure: Part II. Implications of tillage, rotation and traffic
on sites in Canada, China and Germany. Soil Tillage Res. (2008), doi:10.1016/j.still.2008.09.010
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Fig. 1. Sketch of sampled plots on the Elora Rotation (ER) and Elora Landscape (EL) experimental fields (Canada, Province Ontario). Rotation: (1) Continuous corn (C–C–C–C).
(2) Continuous alfalfa (A–A–A–A). (8) Corn–corn–soybean–soybean (C–C–S–S). Corn–corn–soybean–winter wheat with interseeded red clover (C–C–S–WWRC).

Siltic) (WRB, 2006) developed on deep loess (silt loam texture). 2.2. Soil structure evaluation
Typical landuse is a wheat-corn double cropping system under
irrigation (Zhang et al., 2002; Hu et al., 2005). The tillage variants From the total set of methods of soil structure scorings and
that were sampled for this study were NT and MP. The large plots measurements (Mueller et al., 2008), the following were applied on
were not randomised (Fig. 2) but the soil was very uniform over the all sites:
area of the total field.
In Germany, representative plots of main tillage variants of (i) The Peerlkamp method (Peerlkamp, 1967), which is based on
the long-term tillage trial No. 751 of the Research Station the comparison of aggregates and pores with description
Agriculture in Dedelow (DT) were sampled (Fig. 2). The climate scores. The best soil structure has a score of 10 and worst has a
is characterised by a mean annual temperature of 8.4 8C and a score of 1. A description of loam and clay soils with scores at
precipitation of 498 mm. Dominant soils are classified as Haplic the extremes of the scale are: 1–2 ‘‘Plough layer consists
Luvisol (Arenic) (WRB, 2006) with a texture of loamy sand to entirely of big clods, smooth dense crack faces, roots only in
sandy loam. The rotation consists mainly of cereals, such as cracks’’, 9–10 ‘‘Plough layer all porous crumbs, very few dense
winter wheat and corn. Tillage variants were MP and NT. Within aggregates’’ (Peerlkamp, 1967).
the total trial the block of lowest soil heterogeneity was pre- (ii) The Diez score (Diez and Weigelt, 1997), which is based on a
selected based on available large-scale maps (Koszinski and comparison of aggregates with those in sample photographs.
Rogasik, 2007, unpublished data). Sampled plots were also not The best structure has a score of 1 and worst has 5.
randomised. (iii) The soil structure test of the VSA procedure (Shepherd, 2000)
The history and pattern of field traffic were different on sites. in which soil fragmentation and friability are examined after a
The ER, El, and DT sites had a high degree of mechanisation and drop shatter test. An unconfined large sample of bulk soil
high traffic intensity comparable with many farms in the region fragments was dropped from a height of 1 m. Scores rank from
for many years. The DT site in particular was highly pre- 2 (best) to 0 (worst).
compacted in the subsoil before establishing the trial in 1983. (iv) The porosity test using the VSA procedure (Shepherd, 2000) in
The LS site had a lower degree of mechanisation and was not which soil is fragmented by hand and the structure compared
precompacted before starting the trial. At the ER and DT sites, to that in sample photographs. Scores rank from 2 (best) to 0
the main traffic was in preferential lanes in the center of the (worst).
plots. However, lanes of all machines do not match and thus the
sampled regions outside of the preferential lanes were The VSA procedure was conducted on samples from a soil depth
considered as random traffic areas. The EL and LS sites also of 0 to 20 cm. The Peerlkamp and Diez tests were performed on
had random traffic areas. samples from 0 to 5, 5 to 10, 10 to 25 and 25 to 35 cm depths.

Fig. 2. Sampled NT and MP plots on tillage trials of the Luancheng Agro-Ecosystem Experimental Station (China, Hebei Province) and the Dedelow Research Station (Germany)
(MP = Moldboard Ploughing, NT = No-Till).

Please cite this article in press as: Mueller, L., et al., Visual assessment of soil structure: Part II. Implications of tillage, rotation and traffic
on sites in Canada, China and Germany. Soil Tillage Res. (2008), doi:10.1016/j.still.2008.09.010
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2.3. Soil physical measurements

DBD was determined on undisturbed soil cores of 100 cm3 at

four depths (0–5, 5–10, 10–25 and 25–35 cm). Soil moisture
content and DBD were measured by drying the cylinder soil
samples at 105 8C. The initial field infiltration rate method
simulated a heavy rain of 30 mm. A cylinder of 7.5 cm length
was pushed 4.5 cm vertically into the soil. The above ground 3 cm
of the cylinder was filled with water and the time required for
infiltration was measured.
Relating data of visual soil structure and measured
DBD to critical soil ecological states in terms of available
volumetric air content (AV), different variants of AV at free
soil drainage (suction 30 kPa, pF 2.5) have been calculated Fig. 3. Peerlkamp scores of No-Till and Moldboard Ploughing variants at different
using a typical measured WRC of every site (To and Kay, depths.
2005; Zhang et al., 2002; Schindler and Mueller, 2006;
Mueller et al., 2008). Three variants of AV were considered, 3. Results
an optimum state (AV = 15 m3 100 m3), a sub-optimum state
(AV = 10 m3 100 m3) and a critical state (AV = 5 m3 100 m3). 3.1. Implications of tillage, rotation and traffic effects for visual soil
Measured water contents at 30 kPa were 26.2 m3 100 m3 at structure and soil physical data
ER site, 29.1 m3 100 m3 at LS site and 26.3 m3 100 m3 at DT
site. 3.1.1. Tillage effects
The calculation of the desirable DBD at a given variant of AV was Tillage had a significant impact on soil structure as character-
done by the formula, which is being used for the calculation of the ized by visual soil tests. Fig. 3 shows the Peerlkamp scores for the
compaction status of soil for extension purposes in Germany (Horn NT and MP plots on ER, DT and LS sites. Peerlkamp scores of seven
et al., 2002, page 10): or higher indicate favourable structure conditions whilst scores
less than five are indicating unfavourable soil structure states
1 (Peerlkamp, 1967). On all sites, visual topsoil structure was best
DBD ¼ ð100  AVÞððWV  DBD1 Þ þ ð100DP 1 ÞÞ : (1)
within the upper 5 cm and was not different between tillage
variants at this depth.
Significant differences in topsoil structure (deeper than 5 cm)
where DBD* = DBD at a desired air content AV* (Mg m3),
occurred between NT and MP on the DT and ER sites (pairwise
AV* = desired volumetric air content (m3 100 m3), WV* = volu-
Wilcoxon tests). Both of these sites had experienced high field
metric water content (m3 100 m3) at a given drainage status of
traffic intensity for some years. Thus their structure looked
soil, in, this case suction 30 kPa, pF 2.5, DBD = measured DBD
unfavourable (large blocky aggregates), indicating clear precom-
(Mg m3), DP = particle density (Mg m3).
paction. The relatively low structure score on the ER site in
This calculation is based on the assumption that changes of the
comparison with DT site was probably influenced by the date of
water content with DBD are very small at free drainage conditions
sampling (ER site after harvest, DT site in spring). At the LS site,
(suction 30 kPa, pF 2.5) and also at slightly impeded conditions
both topsoil (<25 cm) and subsoil (>25 cm) structure were
(suction 6 kPa, pF 1.8) if extremely loose soil conditions are
favourable but at 25–30 cm there was a significantly smaller
excluded (Hartge, 1978, p. 155).
Peerlkamp score under MP plots (pairwise Wilcoxon tests). Other
methods like VSA procedures showed the same tendencies, but due
2.4. Plant measurements to a smaller number of replications, the differences were not
Crop yields and harvest index were measured as part of ongoing Both soil physical parameters and visual scores averaged over
experiments at ER, EL and DT sites. Yields of the latest 4 (ER site) to the total topsoil are shown in Table 1. High tillage intensity
5 years (DT site) were averaged over years and variants of soil decreased DBD, enhanced air content and diminished penetration
tillage. resistance and shear strength on the ER and DT sites. This was
associated with a more friable looking structure and more suitable
2.5. Data processing and statistics soil structure scores. There was a tendency of better structure at
high tillage intensity (MP plots) at ER and DT sites. The clearest
Measured parameters were assessed by the calculation of differences were observed at the DT site whilst ploughed soil on
means and frequency distributions of data using different both other sites had experienced a consolidation over the
procedures of the statistical package SPSS Inc. (1993). The vegetation period.
variability of soil parameters was described in terms of However, as many parameters of Table 1 had been averaged
standard deviation and confidence intervals of the mean. Soil over the total topsoil, the number of statistical replications got
structure scores were ordinal-scaled data and tested by smaller and the differences were not significant in many cases.
nonparametric tests applying the procedure NPAR TESTS (SPSS
Inc., 1993). Statistical differences between means of stratified 3.1.2. Rotation effects
data were tested in case of paired observations by the Wilcoxon The visual soil structure under alfalfa was significantly better
test. (SPSS Inc., 1993). Metrically scaled data were tested by than under corn (Wilcoxon test, pairwise). Fig. 4 shows results of
variance analysis applying the procedure ANOVA of SPSS. the Peerlkamp test along different depths of the topsoil averaged
Differences of group means were tested for significance using over both Elora (EL + ER) sites. Though sampling was in the last
the robust Welch test or the t-test in case of paired samples year of the rotation, e.g. 4 years after last ploughing, all scores
(SPSS Inc., 1993). under alfalfa were higher than 5, and the average was between 6

Please cite this article in press as: Mueller, L., et al., Visual assessment of soil structure: Part II. Implications of tillage, rotation and traffic
on sites in Canada, China and Germany. Soil Tillage Res. (2008), doi:10.1016/j.still.2008.09.010
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partially explain lack of significant difference between scores for

(C–C–S–S) and (C–C–S–WWRC).
Peerlkamp results were confirmed by structure and porosity
scores by the VSA procedure and Diez scores. As the drop shatter
test was conducted for the total topsoil and not for different
depths, their number of replications was too low for statistical

3.1.3. Traffic effects

ER, EL, and DT sites were characterised by high traffic intensity
over several years. Wheeltracks showed significantly worse
structure features than the adjacent soil on all rotations. These
were lower visual soil structure scores, increased DBD and
diminished infiltration rates (Fig. 5). Though some bars in Fig. 5
do overlap, pairwise tests showed significance of all parameters
within the upper 25 cm (Table 2)

Fig. 4. Peerlkamp structure scores of alfalfa and corn (ER + EL site, MP plots, random 3.2. Topsoil aeration status at different tillage intensity

The topsoil aeration status was characterised by bulk densities

and 7. Differences between alfalfa and corn in Fig. 4 were and corresponding volumetric air contents (AV) at extreme
significant at 0.05 level (Wilcoxon test of paired samples). Under variants of tillage intensity in terms of NT and MP variants on
permanent corn, soil structure looked particularly unfavourable at all three sites. Fig. 6 shows the range of measured DBD in the upper
depth of 5–25 cm. Results of Fig. 4 were observed under random 25 cm and at the upper subsoil (25–35 cm) along with DBD’s at
traffic conditions, clearly recognisable wheeltracks were excluded volumetric air contents of 5, 10 and 15 m3 100 m3 at free drainage
from this consideration. (suction 30 kPa). Corresponding visual soil structure scores
The soil structure under corn–corn–soybean–soybean (C–C–S– (Peerlkamp scores in Fig. 6) differed between sites.
S) and corn–corn–soybean–winter wheat with interseeded red
clover (C–C–S–WWRC) gave intermediate scores (mean Peerlkamp 3.2.1. ER site
scores of 5), between the high values for alfalfa and the low values From Fig. 6a it was clear that to provide an optimum topsoil AV
for corn. Lack of uniformity of red clover stands over the plots could of 15 m3 100 m3, the DBD should be less than 1.5 Mg m3 and the

Table 1
Tillage effects on soil physical measurements and visual soil structure assessments.

Parameter Site Tillage intensity Significance level Welch testa

High (MP) Low (NT)

Dry bulk density (DBD, Mg m3) ER 1.35 1.45 0.03*

LS 1.44 1.50 0.31
DT 1.41 1.60 0.03*

Infiltration rate (Vini, m d1) ER 7.39 5.39 0.47

LS 6.47 2.99 0.18
DT 5.64 2.24 0.35

Air volume during sampling (AV, m3 100 m3) ER 18.1 11.5 0.01*
LS 8.5 7.2 0.21
DT 15.4 10.1 0.06

Penetration resistance (MPa) DT 0.51 1.23 0.01*

Shear strength (MPa) DT 19.8 39.3 0.05*

Porosity score VSA ER 1.50 1.12 0.12

LS 1.38 1.19 0.25
DT 1.67 1.45 0.19

Peerlkamp score ER 5.34 4.61 0.22

LS 8.23 7.51 0.38
DT 7.19 5.18 <0.001***

Diez score ER 2.73 3.39 0.08

LS 2.00 2.27 0.30
DT 2.36 2.98 0.02*

Structure score VSA ER 1.81 1.83 0.85

LS 1.88 1.56 0.20
DT 1.83 1.75 0.50

ER = Elora Rotation, Elora, Ontario, Canada; LS = Luancheng, Hebei, China; DT = Dedelow, Germany; MP = Moldboard Ploughing, NT = No-Till, VSA = Visual Soil Assessment
(Shepherd, 2000).
In case of visual scores a quasi-metric scale had been assumed due to significant linear correlations between structure scores and DBD (Mueller et al., 2008).
Significant at <0.05.
Significant at <0.001.

Please cite this article in press as: Mueller, L., et al., Visual assessment of soil structure: Part II. Implications of tillage, rotation and traffic
on sites in Canada, China and Germany. Soil Tillage Res. (2008), doi:10.1016/j.still.2008.09.010
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Fig. 5. Topsoil structure parameters of wheeltracks as compared with adjacent soil.

15 data pairs of Elora landscape and Dedelow sites. All parameters were
standardised between 0 and 1 by Y* = (Yi  Ymin)(Ymax  Ymin)1.

Peerlkamp score greater than 4 at free drainage conditions. To

provide an air volume of 10 m3 100 m3 in the upper subsoil, it
should have a DBD less than 1.56 Mg m3 and a Peerlkamp score
also greater than 4. Currently both conditions were provided at
both variants of tillage. However, those drainage conditions (pF
2.5) are unlikely to be reached by gravitational drainage at this site
in a humid climate. At slightly impeded conditions (pF 1.8) DBD
should be less than 1.4 Mg m3 to reach an optimum AV of
15 m3 100 m3 in the topsoil. NT was not able to provide this.

3.2.2. LS site
The topsoil should have a DBD of 1.47 Mg m3 or less and a
corresponding Peerlkamp score of 7 and the upper subsoil a DBD of
1.55 Mg m3 and a Peerlkamp score of 6 to reach optimum AV
(Fig. 6b). This was mainly given, but some NT soil samples had
higher DBD. Current DBD in the upper subsoil of both tillage
variants have reached the optimum value on average and further
subsoil compaction should be avoided. In case of impeded drainage
(heavy rains, extended irrigation) aeration problems are probable
too at this site.

3.2.3. DT site
Optimum AV at free drainage was at DBD of 1.54 Mg m3 and
corresponding Peerlkamp scores of 6 in the topsoil and at DBD of
1.62 Mg m3 and Peerlkamp scores of 5 in the upper subsoil
(Fig. 6c). In the topsoil of NT this value has been exceeded and in
the upper subsoil it has been exceeded in many cases of both tillage
variants. Even at slightly impeded drainage (pF 1.8) MP would
provide optimum AV whilst NT plots would than have AV less than
10 m3 100 m3.
Fig. 6. (a) Measured dry bulk densities (DBD), corresponding visual soil structure
(Peerlkamp score) and air content AV* of soil, Elora site AV* = air content at free
Table 2 drainage status (suction: 30 kPa). (b) Measured dry bulk densities, corresponding
Data range and significance levels for soil structural responses shown in Fig. 5. visual soil structure (Peerlkamp score) and air content AV* of soil, Luancheng site
AV* = air content at free drainage status (suction: 30 kPa). (c) Measured dry bulk
Parameter Ymin Ymax Significance level of differences densities, corresponding visual soil structure (Peerlkamp score) and air content AV*
between means of random traffic of soil, Dedelow site AV* = air content at free drainage status (suction: 30 kPa).
areas and wheeltracks, Wilcoxon test

Peerlkamp score 3.2 7.4 0.009***

Structure score 1 2 0.004***
3.3. Crop yields at different tillage intensity
Porosity score 0.5 1.75 0.029**
DBD (Mg m3) 1.25 1.64 0.002*** Crop yields were significantly affected by year (weather),
Vini (m d1) 0.08 16.04 0.005*** rotation and tillage intensity. The variance analysis (Procedure
Significant at 0.01. ANOVA of SPSS) revealed significance of all three factors on the
Significant at 0.001. yield. Yield differences were significant at 0.05 level (Welch test).

Please cite this article in press as: Mueller, L., et al., Visual assessment of soil structure: Part II. Implications of tillage, rotation and traffic
on sites in Canada, China and Germany. Soil Tillage Res. (2008), doi:10.1016/j.still.2008.09.010
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L. Mueller et al. / Soil & Tillage Research xxx (2008) xxx–xxx 7

Table 3
Grain and total plant yields at different tillage intensity on Elora and Dedelow sites.

Parameter Site Average by tillage intensity Significance level Welch test

High (MP) Low (NT)

Yield of cereals (kg ha1) DT 8,930 8,060 0.03*

ER 8,260 7,530 0.08

Above ground biomass (kg ha1) DT 16,110 14,150 0.01*

ER 11,050 10,040 0.29

DT = Dedelow, Germany; ER = Elora Rotation, Elora, Ontario, Canada; MP = Moldboard Ploughing, NT = No-Till.
Significant at 0.05.

Table 4
Grain yields of corn (kg ha1) at different rotation and tillage on Elora site.


C–C–C–C (4 years) C–C–S–S (2 years) C–C–S–WWRC (2 years)

Tillage intensity High (MP) 7656 8367 8548

Low (NT) 7303 8023 7701
Difference 353 344 841
** * *
Significance Welch test

MP = Moldboard Ploughing; NT = No-Tillage; C–C–C–C = Continuous corn, C–C–S–S = corn–corn–soybean–soybean, crop in the year of sampling underlined; C–C–S–
WWRC = corn–corn–soybean–winter wheat with interseeded red clover.
Significant at 0.05.
Significant at 0.01.

Yields are displayed in dependence of tillage (ER and DT sites, red clover as the soil of these variants was drier over the year as it
Table 3) and rotation  tillage (ER site only, Table 4) averaged over was during soil sampling.
the years. The results from the Elora and Dedelow sites are inconsistent
At the ER site, the rotation C–C–S–WWRC with ploughing had with the findings of Logsdon and Cambardella (2000) who
highest and the rotation C–C–C–C under NT had lowest corn yields. concluded from density measurements that under NT manage-
However, it should be noted that C–C–C–C produced the largest ment no soil compaction occurred in structured loamy soils.
amount of above ground biomass. Considering yields of corn, However, on the soil in China we found the same trend as the noted
rotation C–C–S–S was in between in case of MP. The soybean yield by Logsdon and Cambardella (2000). The results from Elora and
of this rotation was about 300 kg per hectare higher in the MP Dedelow sites are in agreement with Munkholm et al. (2003) who
variants as compared with NT. The yield difference between tillage found that periodic non-inversion soil loosening of the lower part
variants was significant at each rotation variant (Table 4). of the arable layer is needed on direct drilled sandy loam soil in a
On the EL site of relief and substrate inhomogeneity, crop yield moist and cool climate. In Ontario, NT resulted in larger soil
of corn was obviously more affected by rooting depth and water aggregates, compared with the mouldboard tillage on fine-
capacity in the rootzone. The largest yield (8781 kg ha1 corn, textured soil (Gregorich et al., 1993). Also, Lapen et al. (2004)
averaged over 6 years) was measured in the deep colluvium at the found in the same region of Ontario that conventional tilled soils
footslope at position 3.2 in Fig. 1, followed by the summit position that were not preferentially trafficked had the most favourable
(8622 kg ha1, position 1.2). The degraded slope position 2.2 aeration properties, and subsequently, greatest corn populations
(shallow topsoil and rooting depth) had a yield (7216 kg ha1) that and yields. NT soils were at greater risk of aeration limiting
was significantly smaller than all other positions. conditions, especially those in continuous corn and preferentially
trafficked. Lipiec et al. (2006) detected better structure in terms of
4. Discussion higher porosity and infiltration rates under ploughed soils as
compared to NT.
4.1. Effect of compaction and tillage on soil structure High tillage intensity by MP was suitable for the topsoil
structure but may be a common risk for the subsoil status. Tractor
Field soil structure status had been influenced by tillage and tyres running in the furrow cause severe and persistent subsoil
compaction effects, and these were clearly recognisable both by compaction (Chamen et al., 2003; Munkholm et al., 2005). This
methods of visual structure evaluation and by physical parameters. compaction was present on all sites, even beginning on the
Not all of the methods gave statistically significant results in all Luancheng site. A plough pan was beginning to be formed on the
cases. MP plots of this site that had not been ploughed before starting the
On Elora (humid climate) and Dedelow (sub-humid climate) experiment.
sites, unfavourable soil structure was found on some NT plots, The subsoil of Dedelow site had been compacted by MP over some
under continuous corn in particular. Those states were not only decades on all plots. Subsoil compaction is typical for many sites of
caused by self-consolidation of soil or by shrinkage tensile forces the humid temperate zone. On a Luvisol of silty loam, highest bulk
but also by consolidation due to recurring random traffic. In the density and further compaction were observed at the conventional
case of continuous corn, ploughing loosened soil, whilst NT did not plough variant in the layer 30–35 cm (Filipovic et al., 2007).
alleviate compaction zones. Thus, ploughing to improve unfavourable structure can only be
In some cases there was a higher resistance of the soil to an option if it is conducted as onland-ploughing (Munkholm et al.,
compaction. This was probable for the treatments with alfalfa or 2005).

Please cite this article in press as: Mueller, L., et al., Visual assessment of soil structure: Part II. Implications of tillage, rotation and traffic
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8 L. Mueller et al. / Soil & Tillage Research xxx (2008) xxx–xxx

There would be an advantage of NT to avoid subsoil relate the ecological value of soil structure scores to biological
compaction. Ehlers et al. (2000) found on silty soils advantages processes in soils.
of RT intensity with depth. The denser topsoil containing more
vertical macropores was better able to prevent deep subsoil 5. Conclusions
compaction than the loose ploughed topsoil. However, high tire
loads of 5 Mg led to deep compaction and crop yield reductions in  Methods of visual soil structure evaluation were feasible tools to
all variants. provide fast semi-quantitative information on the status of
Since traffic is a reason for overconsolidation of soil and physical soil quality. Results of visual assessments were
unfavourable visual soil structure, NT practices may have a lasting coincident with those of measurements. They can complement
advantage against MP tillage only if strict controlled traffic is crucial measurements like DBD or penetration resistance.
performed (Ball et al., 1997; Chamen et al., 2003; Hamza and  Differences in soil structure by tillage and rotation and
Anderson, 2005; Raper, 2005; Chan et al., 2006; Braunack and compaction effects by agricultural machinery could be indicated
McGarry, 2006). If traffic is not controlled compacted zones can by visual structure assessments in conjunction with physical
remain persistent with NT. measurements.
Discussing tillage systems and implications for soil structure,  Field traffic and lack of tillage had significant negative impacts on
soil organic matter (OM) has to be taken into consideration. In soil structure at Elora and Dedelow sites. At Luancheng site
general, medium- to long-term cropping leads to a significant (Loess soil, low traffic intensity) soil structure was more
decline in OM content, fractions of OM and aggregate stability as favourable and not significant between NT and MP.
related to perennials. The inclusion of perennial fodder crops or  At the Elora site, a more favourable structure occurred under
grassland in rotations is a proper measure to recover soil alfalfa than under corn.
structure (Shepherd et al., 2001). Masri and Ryan (2006) found  At Luancheng site, the effect of compaction of the transition zone
better macrostructure and soil quality under cereal/legume between topsoil and subsoil due to MP became apparent.
rotations as compared with continuous wheat and wheat/fallow.  In accordance with the soil structure assessments and measure-
Also, Riley et al. (2008) indicated a decline in soil structure ments of physical soil quality, yields of cereals under MP were
quality after annual MP if no grass had been included into the 350–800 kg ha1 higher than under NT at Elora and Dedelow
rotation. sites.
 Unfavourable soil structure under NT continuous corn can be
4.2. Soil structural status and response of crops improved by inclusion of red clover and alfalfa into the rotation,
which could also increase carbon sequestration.
Our results confirmed a significant association between soil  As compaction of the upper topsoil and subsoil is a risk of MP on
structure and crop yield on both Pleistocene sites in a humid all soils, onland ploughing and controlled traffic will be
(Elora) and sub-humid (Dedelow) climate. Plots of highest tillage advantageous for soil structure.
intensity (MP) showed best visual structure. This was also
associated with a better soil aeration status (AV in the vicinity Acknowledgements
of optimum of 15 m3 100 m3 at free drainage) and consequently
with higher formation of biomass. Under wheeltracks and some NT Field work of authors from ZALF Muencheberg in Canada and
plots, very high densities limited the status of aeration and China had been supported by the German Federal Ministry of
hampered root development of plants. Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, project numbers 11/
MP plots provided better crop yields because of better AV at DT 04 and 8/06-07. Colleagues of Guelph University and Chinese
and ER sites. Academy of Science (CAS) and Chinese Academy of Agricultural
Air volumes of 15 m3 100 m3, which are the optimum for the Science (CAAS) provided support. Overall data were managed by
development of plants in loamy soils (Ruebensam and Rauhe, Mrs. Dipl Ing (FH) Ute Moritz of ZALF Muencheberg. Dr. S.
1968, p. 140, Kay et al., 2006), were provided by MP. In this context, Koszinski and Dr. H. Rogasik gave assistance to the sampling
the soil drainage status is of crucial importance for aeration strategy on Dedelow site. Authors wish to appreciate their thanks
conditions and management abilities of soils over the vegetation for all supporters.
period (Mueller et al., 1990, 2005). Except for free drainage
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