Highfield Ley Arable

  • Experiment Code: R/RN/1
  • Experiment Site: Rothamsted
  • Objectives: To study the effects of various three-year leys on the fertility of the soil as measured by a sequence of three arable test crops.
  • Description: The site was originally permanent grassland since 1838 (>100 years). Some plots stayed in permanent grass, others went into continuous arable cropping and some alternated between leys and arable. Yields are no longer measured but SOM continues to be measured. Available P and K in soil have been measured periodically. The main comparisons have been of four rotations, each of six years duration. The arable with lay rotation includes a one-year ley cut for hay. The other three have had three-year leys of different species and different management, followed by three arable crops and are referred to as 'test crops'. Highfield Ley Arable runs in contrast to Fosters Ley Arable which has the same soil type but a different cropping history (having been in continuous cropping for several centuries).
  • Date Start: 1948
  • Date End: Ongoing

Key Contacts

  • Andy MacDonald

  • Role: Principal Investigator
  • Organisation: Rothamsted Research
  • Address: West Common, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, AL5 2JQ, United Kingdom
  • Margaret Glendining

  • Role: Data Manager
  • ORCID: 0000-0002-6466-4629
  • Organisation: Rothamsted Research
  • Address: West Common, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, AL5 2JQ, United Kingdom
  • Sarah Perryman

  • Role: Data Manager
  • Organisation: Rothamsted Research
  • Address: West Common, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, AL5 2JQ, United Kingdom

Funding

Experimental Design

Description

  • Plots of four rotations with reseeded grass and permanent grass were laid down in randomised blocks of five or six plots each. There were 12 blocks, two in each phase of a six-year cycle. The whole experiment was started over three seasons 1949, 1950 and 1951 and blocks due to start in 1952, 1953 and 1954 started three years earlier with 'dummy' test crops. Each plot was 0.088 acre.

Design

  • Period: 1949 - 1954

Crops

Crop Years Grown
Lucerne
Grass Leys
Wheat
Potatoes
Barley

Crop Rotations

Rotation Crops
Lucerne ( - ) Default Title
Grazed ley ( - ) Default Title
Cut grass ( - ) Default Title
Arable with hay ( - ) Default Title

Measurements

Variable Unit Collection
Frequency
Material Description Crop
Soil Total Carbon
Plant Available Phosphorous
Plant Available Potassium
Yield Components

Description

  • Various changes were made in this period; Spring oats were introduced instead of barley as the third treatment crop of the 'arable with hay' rotation in order to lessen risk of infection of wheat by take-all or eyespot diseases. Dressings of fertiliser K were applied before the first treatment crops were sown and to the R and G plots. This was because soil and plant analyses had shown plots growing hay, cut grass and lucerne lost more K than grazed plots, which would affect the yield of test crops. Plots were further split to measure potash and phosphate responses in test-crop potatoes that followed different leys. From 1958, the standard applications of P and K were revised and corrective dressing applied.

Design

  • Period: 1955 - 1960

Crops

Crop Years Grown
Lucerne
Grass Leys
Wheat
Potatoes
Oats

Measurements

Variable Unit Collection
Frequency
Material Description Crop
Soil Total Carbon
Plant Available Phosphorous
Plant Available Potassium
Yield Components

Description

  • Various changes were made during this period; Sugar beet replaced potatoes as the second treatment crop of the 'arable with hay' rotation. The test of FYM to second treatment crop was omitted from 1961 (to minimise soil born pathogens such as cyst-nematodes). All sub-plot tests of manures to treatment crops were discontinued to allow more elaborate tests on the test-crops; wheat and barley received N at four rates. From 1962, no more plots were sown to 'grazed ley' or 'cut grass'. Instead two new three-year rotations were introduced: i. All-grass receiving fertiliser ii. Clover-grass receiving no fertiliser. From 1962 FYM was ploughed in (previously applied in furrows before planting). From 1962 potatoes were planted by machine. From 1963 certain plots of reseeded grass were ploughed up and put into test-crop sequence and then into 'arable with hay' treatment-crops.

Design

  • Period: 1961 - 1967

Crops

Crop Years Grown
Grass Leys
Grass Clover Leys
Wheat
Sugarbeet
Oats

Measurements

Variable Unit Collection
Frequency
Material Description Crop
Soil Total Carbon
Plant Available Phosphorous
Default Title plant available potassium
Yield Components

Description

  • Two phases were maintained to study the effects of treatments on changes in soil organic matter. In one of these, the reseeded plots ploughed up in 1964 were sown down again in 1973 to restore the original pattern. The other four phases the normal test crop sequence was followed by continuous wheat cropping to study soil-borne diseases.

Design

  • Period: 1968 - Now

Crops

Crop Years Grown
Lucerne
Grass Leys
Grass Clover Leys
Reseeded Grass
Wheat
Sugarbeet
Oats
Potatoes
Barley
Hay

Measurements

Variable Unit Collection
Frequency
Material Description Crop
Soil Total Carbon
Plant Available Phosphorous
Plant Available Potassium
Yield Components

Site: Highfield Ley Arable - Rothamsted

  • Experiment Site: Rothamsted
  • Description: The site was originally permanent grassland since 1838 (>100 years).
  • Management: Ploughing: At the start of the experiment ploughing was shallow, not more than 15cm deep but the depth was gradually increased to 23 cm as more powerful tractors were introduced. Liming: Lime has been applied as required since 1958. Ley management - permanent and re-seeded grass: Two-years sheep grazing followed by one-years hay 1949-57. Since 1958 grazing discontinued, cut repeatedly at early silage stage. Since 1991 grass leys were cut for hay in mid-summer; the hay was baled and removed.
  • Visit Permitted?: Yes
  • Visiting Arrangments: By arrangement with Dr Andy Macdonald, LTE Manager.
  • Elevation: 130 Metres
  • Geolocation:    51.802777, -0.366025

Soil

  • Type: Luvisol
    Batcombe series flinty silt or loam over clay-with-flints.

Datasets available

Rothamsted Ley Arable Soil Organic Carbon 1948-2008: Highfield
Soil data Summary data showing the effect of two contrasting farming systems, Highfield Ley Arable, which was originally permanent grassland and Fosters Ley Arable, which was originally long-term arable for several centuries, on their soil organic carbon (SOC) at Rothamsted over a 60-year time-period 1948-2008.
HSOC4808
Highfield Ley Arable - Metagenomic Study
Soil data Metagenomic sequence data from the Rothamsted Highfield experiments allows us to investigate the effects of extreme changes in land use over time and test the limits of soil. Applying modern techniques including shotgun metagenome sequencing, X-ray computed tomography and pore-scale hydrodynamic modelling reveals new insights into soil system behaviour, provides the knowledge base for a new theory of soil and fundamental evidence to support farmers' decisions relating to soil management.
METAGEN
Additional data is available through e-RAdata. Please register for access.

Picture Gallery

Key References

2017

  • Jensen, J. L. , Schjonning, P. , Watts, C. W. , Christensen, B. T. and Munkholm, L. J. (2017) "Soil texture analysis revisited: Removal of organic matter matters more than ever", PLoS ONE, 12, e0178039
    DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0178039

2016

  • Gregory, A. S. , Dungait, J. a. J. , Watts, C. W. , Bol, R. , Dixon, E. R. , White, R. P. and Whitmore, A. P. (2016) "Long-term management changes topsoil and subsoil organic carbon and nitrogen dynamics in a temperate agricultural system", European Journal of Soil Science, 67, 421-430
    DOI: 10.1111/ejss.12359

2009

  • Johnston, A. E. , Poulton, P. R. and Coleman, K. (2009) "Soil organic matter: its importance in sustainable agriculture and carbon dioxide fluxes", Advances in Agronomy, 101, 1-57
    DOI: 10.1016/s0065-2113(08)00801-8
  • Hirsch, P. R. , Gilliam, L. M. , Sohi, S. P. , Williams, J. K. , Clark, I. M. and Murray, P. J. (2009) "Starving the soil of plant inputs for 50 years reduces abundance but not diversity of soil bacterial communities", Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 41, 2021-2024
    DOI: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2009.07.011

1973

  • Johnston, A. E. (1973) "The effects of ley and arable cropping systems on the amounts of soil organic matter in the Rothamsted and Woburn ley-arable experiment", Rothamsted Experimental Station, Report for 1972, Part 2
    Get from eRAdoc: ResReport1972p2-131-159

1949

1885

  • Lawes, J. B. and Gilbert, J. H. (1885) "On some points in the composition of soils; with results illustrating the sources of the fertility of Manitoba Prairie soils", Journal of the Chemical Society, 47, 380-422 (Series 1/67)

For further information and assistance, please contact the e-RA curators, Sarah Perryman and Margaret Glendining using the e-RA email address: era@rothamsted.ac.uk