Soil degradation is accelerated when perennial crops are converted to annual row crops, primarily due to increased soil disturbance from tillage. Subsequent heavy rainfall may induce soil settling, reduce macroporosity and increase hardsetting upon drying. An experiment involving plow and no-tillage and two simulated rainfall treatments ('wet' and 'dry') was conducted on Kingsbury clay loam soil in northern New York in 1992 and 1993 to study their effects on soil structure under maize (Zea mays L.) after conversion from alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.), and to evaluate the use of spectral analysis of micropenetrometer observations for studying soil aggregation. Undisturbed soil cores were collected from the row and trafficked and non-trafficked interrow positions at the 0.05 and 0.15 m depths and used for laboratory measurement of soil strength and pore system properties. These well-structured soils show a high contribution (up to 0.15 m3m-3) of macropores to the total porosity of the soil. Soil strength was generally slightly higher for no-till (NT) than plow till (PT), although only significant in 1992. Soil strength in the surface layer did not change significantly with drying. Spectral density patterns did not show strong treatment effects, although distinct peaks reflect 3.0-3.5 mm stable structural units within macroaggregates. Simulated rainfall treatments and tillage treatments generally did not strongly affect measured soil properties, presumably due to stable soil structure. Structurally stable clay loam soils show little effect of tillage or settling on soil physical properties in the first years after alfalfa to maize conversion, and have good potential for long-term annual crop production if properly managed. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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