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Can precrops uplift subsoil nutrients to topsoil? (2021)

Han E., Li F., Perkons U., Küpper P., Bauke S., Athmann M., Thorup-Kristensen K., Kautz T., Köpke U.

Plant and Soil, 463 (1-2), 329-345




Precrops exhibit vigorous deep root growth, especially when grown perennially. However, their contribution to accumulate essential nutrients derived from deeper soil layers in the topsoil has not been quantified. We determined the vertical distribution of phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) affected by contrasting root systems of 3 precrops and their effects on subsequently grown spring wheat.


Three precrops (lucerne, chicory and tall fescue) were grown for 1, 2 and 3 years prior to spring wheat cultivation. We measured plant available soil P and K from 0 to 30 cm to 75–105 cm of soil depth after precropping. Root growth and crop performance of spring wheat as affected by precropping were measured in two repeated trials.


We observed maximum 22-fold higher root-length density (RLD; cm cm− 3) of taprooted chicory compared with fibrous-rooted tall fescue in the subsoil. There were significant increases in plant available K in the topsoil by 27 mg kg− 1 over the precrop duration between 1 and 3 years. Grain yield of subsequently grown spring wheat was significantly increased by 10 % and 14 % from 1 year to 3 year-treatments of lucerne and chicory, respectively. Similarly, significant increases in P uptake (7 % and 19 %) and K uptake (21 and 14 %) of spring wheat was noted for the same treatments.


Our data suggest that there is potential for the yield of short-season cereals to be improved by increased soil nutrient bioavailability in the topsoil derived from deeper soil layers by the deep roots of perennial precrops.

Sustainable Subsoil Management