Summer fallow – the practice of keeping a field out of production during the growing season – is a common practice in dryland wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) cropping systems to conserve soil water resources. Fallow also depletes soil carbon stocks and thereby soil quality. The area of summer fallow has decreased by tens of millions of hectares since the 1970s in the northern North American Great Plains as producers have recognized that avoiding fallow usually confers both economic and soil conservation benefits. Observed summertime cooling across parts of this region has coincided with fallow reduction, suggesting that the role of fallow in atmospheric processes needs to be ascertained. We measured carbon dioxide, latent heat, and sensible heat flux across a winter wheat – spring wheat – fallow sequence in Montana, USA to determine the effects of dryland crop management on ecosystem carbon resources and energy partitioning at the surface-atmosphere interface. Winter wheat and spring wheat fields were carbon sinks (Fc = −203 ± 52 g [Formula presented]2 m−2 and −107 ± 29 g [Formula presented]2 m−2), respectively, during the April to September study period, but the fallow field was a carbon source of 135 ± 73 g [Formula presented]2 m−2. Evapotranspiration in the wheat crops was over 100 mm greater than the 275 ± 39 mm observed in the fallow field during the study period. Modeled maximum daily atmospheric boundary layer height was on average 210 m higher and up to 900 m higher in fallow compared to the spring wheat field with more crossings of the modeled atmospheric boundary layer and lifted condensation level, suggesting that regional studies of the effects of fallow on near-surface temperature and moisture are necessary to understand the effects of fallow reduction on regional climate dynamics. Results demonstrate that fallow has a detrimental impact to soil carbon resources yet is less water intensive, with consequences for regional climate via its impacts on atmospheric boundary layer development and global climate via its carbon metabolism.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Animal Science and Zoology
- Agronomy and Crop Science