Reducing tillage has been widely promoted to reduce soil erosion, maintain soil health, and sustain long-term food production. The effects of reducing tillage on crop nutritional quality in organic and conventional systems, however, has not been widely explored. One possible driver of crop nutritional quality might be the changing soil nitrogen (N) availability associated with reduced tillage in various management systems. To test how reducing tillage affects crop nutritional quality under contrasting conventional and organic farming systems with varied N inputs, we measured nutritional quality (protein, fat, starch, ash, net energy, total digestible nutrients, and concentrations of Ca, K, Mg, P, and S) of maize, wheat, oats, and soybeans harvested from a long-term trial comprised of three farming systems under two tillage regimes: a conventional grain system (CNV); a low-input organic grain system (LEG); and an organic, manure-based grain + forage system (MNR) under conventional full-tillage (FT) and reduced-till (RT) management. Although maize and wheat yields were 10–13% lower under RT management, grain quality metrics including protein, fat, starch, energy, and mineral concentrations were not significantly affected by reducing tillage. Differences in nutrient quality were more marked between farming systems: protein levels in maize were highest in the MNR system (8.1%); protein levels in soybeans were highest in the LEG system (40.4%); levels of protein (12.9%), ash (2.0%), and sulfur (1430 ppm) in wheat were highest in the CNV system, and oat quality was largely consistent between the LEG and MNR systems. As grain quality did not significantly respond to reducing tillage, other management decisions that affect nutrient availability appear to have a greater effect on nutrient quality.
Pearsons, K.A.; Omondi, E.C.; Heins, B.J.; Zinati, G.; Smith, A.; Rui, Y. Reducing Tillage Affects Long-Term Yields but Not Grain Quality of Maize, Soybeans, Oats, and Wheat Produced in Three Contrasting Farming Systems. Sustainability 2022, 14, 631. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14020631