Understanding carbon sequestration in north central Montana dryland wheat systems

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Agriculture


Agricultural management practices that reduce tillage and/or increase crop intensity have been shown to promote soil carbon sequestration in many regions of the Great Plains. Comparatively little information is available on the impact of these practices on soil organic carbon (SOC) in Montana's semi-arid climate. The objective of this research was to measure rates of change in SOC in cropland for north central Montana's Golden Triangle related to conversion of crop-fallow to annual cropping, conversion to no-till management, and the implementation of both simultaneously. A second objective was to measure differences in soil microbial biomass carbon (SMBC) as an "early indicator" for soil carbon accrual after six years of management. Field experiments were established at six farm sites in fall 2002. Soil organic C was not affected by the treatments at three of the six sites after six years (2002-2008). Three of the six sites had soil carbon accrual associated with annual cropping ranging from 0.19 to 0.53 Mg ha -1 yr -1. Only one site showed soil carbon accrual associated with no-till management, accruing 0.26 Mg ha -1 yr -1. It proved unreliable to make quantitative comparisons for samples from different collection times using SMBC because stored soil samples had diminished SMBC correlated with months in storage, making it impossible to compare accurately freshly obtained SMBC with earlier baseline values from stored soil samples. It was concluded that annual cropping is likely to increase SOC in many instances; however a longer study period may be required to understand SOC response to soil management in this region.




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