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Environmental Geochemistry and Health 26: 97–103, 2004.

Ó 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

Soil quality evolution after land use change from paddy soil to vegetable landw

Z.H. Cao 1,4, J.F. Huang 2, C.S. Zhang3 & A.F. Li 2

The Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing, China
Soil and Fertilizer Service Station, Jiaxing Zhejiang, China
The Academy of Agricultural Science, Jiaxing Zhejiang, China
Author for correspondence (tel.: +86-25 86881057; fax: +86-25 86881000; e-mail: zhcao@issas.ac.cn)

Received 17 February 2003 Accepted form 18 August 2003

Key words: acidification, N and P over accumulation, paddy soil, salinization, soil quality, vegetable land

A survey was done in 15 typical villages, 150 soil and 86 vegetable plant samples were taken in Jiaxin
prefecture of the Taihu Lake region, northern Zhejian province. Results indicate that after 15–20 years land
use changed from the paddy rice–wheat (or oilseed rape) double cropping system, to a continuous vegetable
land has caused soil quality dramatic change. (1) Acidification: average soil pH was 5.4; about 61% of total
samples were pH < 5.5. It was 0.9 units lower than 10 years ago with same upland vegetable cultivation
and was 1.2 units lower than soil pH of paddy rice–wheat (or oilseed rape) rotation. (2) Fertilizer salt
accumulation: the average salt content was 0.28%, among these about 36.2% of the total samples contained
more than 0.3%. (3) Nitrate N and available phosphorus (P) over accumulation: on average it was 279 mg
NO3-N/kg, and 45–115 mg P/kg. Nitrate N four times higher and available P 4–10 times more than it is in
present paddy rice–wheat rotation soils respectively. This has caused wide concern because of possible
groundwater and well drinking water pollution by leached nitrate N and the P losses to water by runoff
from vegetable lands induce surface water eutrophication.

1. Introduction
proved living standards and increased urban
There is an increasing trend of land use change populations. Thirdly, government encouraged
from paddy rice to upland vegetables (or other farmers to increase their income by land use
land cash crops, such as fruits and flower planta- change. Because the price of food grain is much
tion etc.), with or without plastic film covering, lower than the price of vegetables and fruits at
since the end of last century in east and southeast present in China.
China. For example it was only 2000 hm2 in Jiaxin However, after 3–5 years land use change
prefecture, Zhejiang province in 1997, but it was (3–4 years for plastic film covered vegetable land,
5467 hm2 in 2001. This large-scale land use change and 5–8 years for open vegetable land), farmers
was driven by several factors. First, China solved found that vegetable yields were gradually
its food security problem at the end of 80s, due to decreasing, with some plants showing abnormal
reform policy accelerated food production since growth and deformed fruits. Various ‘plant dis-
1978. Second, there was a dramatic increase in eases’ which were not easy to control by usual
demand for vegetables and fruits due to both im- pesticides were reported. Preliminary survey indi-
cated that these abnormal growth phenomena
This work is the part of the National Important Basic were more severe in the old vegetable planting
Research Plan Project (No. G1999011806). areas than the newly developed areas, in plastic
98 Z.H. CAO ET AL.

film covered land than in open field, and in con- method); for soil pH (soil/distilled water or 1 M
tinuous planting fields than in crop rotation land. KCL solution ¼ 1:5, pH meter); total soluble salt
This paper presents results of a field survey in (soil/distilled water ¼ 1:5, filtered, evaporated,
Jiaxin prefecture at southeast bank of the Thaihu dried 4 h at 105 °C and weighed). Ca2+, and
Lake. The purposes are to figure out the soil Mg2+ (EDTA complexing titration method), K+,
quality change since the land use transition. and Na+ (flame photometer method); HCO 3
(electrometer titration method), Cl) (AgNO3
titration method), SO2 4 (EDTA indirect com-
2. Methods of field survey and analytical plexing titration method), NO 3 (cooperated cad-
procedures mium reduction method); available B (boiled
water extraction – azomethine-H – C17H15O9S2N,
2.1. Sampling methods colorimeter method at 420–430 nm), available Zn,
Mn, Cu, Fe (DTPA–CaCl2–TEA at pH 7.3
Soil survey was placed in the Jianxin, Jianshan and extraction, ICP-AES method) – according to the
Pinghu three counties of Jisxin prefecture, Zheji- methods described by Sparks et al. (1996), Liu
ang Province. About 10 hm2 of vegetable upland (1996), Lu (2000).
from each county were selected according to soil Water sample analysis for N1O 3 (ultraviolet
types and similar years of land use change. On photometer method of A ¼ A220–A2755 at 220 nm
average four samples were taken from each hectare and 275 nm), Plant tissue samples for N, P, K and
land. There were two dates of surface soil sam- Ca, Mg, S, and some micro-nutrients analysis was
pling: one at the end of vegetable harvest on June also according to the methods described by Sparks
and the other when abnormal plant growth ap- et al. (1996), Liu (1996), Lu (2001).
peared. Five points which evenly distributed in
cross line, 0–15 cm depth surface soil were sam-
pled and integrated, stepwise sub-sampling to
form a 1 kg soil sample was taken to laboratory 3. Results and discussion
for further analysis. A soil sample was taken at
same time from nearby paddy or vegetable field 3.1. Soil acidification
with normal plant growth as a check. Ground
water samples were also taken when it was neces- The average soil pH of 128 vegetable soil samples
sary for NO3-N testing. was 5.4; as compared with the historical data of
Soil analysis data from the second national soil these vegetable lands, with an average soil pH of
survey (1981–1983) are cited for the purpose of 6.3 during the second national soil survey. It was
comparison with our results. reduced by about 0.9 unit of soil pH, and clearly
Plant tissues were also sampled when abnormal indicates a trend of soil acidification due to con-
growth was observed. Whole plants including tinuous vegetable production. The detailed soil pH
roots, stem, leaves and fruits were taken. Normal distribution of 128 vegetable soil samples as shown
growth plant was also sampled as check for labo- in Table 1.
ratory analysis. As for the traditional summer paddy rice/winter
wheat (oil seed rape) rotation, the soil pH was not
2.2. Analysis methods significantly changed in the same period. For
example, it was pH 6.5–7.4 with an average pH of
Soil analysis for total N (Kjeldahl method), P 6.8 during the second national soil survey (Agri-
(molybdenum method), K (flame photometer culture and Forestry Bureau, Jiaxin Prefecture,

Table 1. Vegetable land soil pH distribution of 128 samples (1999–2000).

Soil pH value 3.5–4.0 4.1–4.5 4.6–5.0 5.1–5.5 5.6–6.0 6.1–6.5 6.6–7.0 >7.1

No. of samples 1 11 32 33 26 15 7 3
% of total sample 0.78 8.59 25.00 26.56 20.31 11.72 5.47 2.34

Table 2. Soil pH change under various crop plantation.

Crop plantation No. samples Soil pH Location History of land use

Plastic covered vegetable 20 4.3 Pinghu 6 years

Open field vegetable 20 5.4 Pinghu 10 years
Open field vegetable 15 5.2 Jiaxin 20 years
Paddy rice/Wheat rotation 15 6.6 Jiaxin >40 years

Table 3. Soluble salt content in ploughed layer soil under plastic covered plantationa.

Salt % <0.1 0.1–0.2 0.2–0.3 0.3–0.4 0.4–0.5 >0.5

No. of samples 3 32 18 10 12 8
% of total samples 3.6 38.6 21.7 12.0 14.5 9.6
Measured by oven dried residue methods.

1991), and it was pH 6.3–7.6 with average pH of about 36% were higher than 0.3%. Vegetable plant
6.6 at present. This illustrates the stability of soil growth was seriously damaged by such a high salt
pH under a summer paddy rice/winter wheat (oil concentration and in very serious cases the plant
seed rape) cropping rotation system. died. Sometimes large amounts of salt accumu-
Data from Table 2 further indicate that under lated on the soil surface resulting in white color
plastic covered (or plastic greenhouse) plantation similar to natural saline soils.
conditions, more intensive crop production (5–6 Results from eight paired soil samples taken from
harvests per year), and very high application rate root zones with and without salt damaged vegeta-
of organic and inorganic N, P, K fertilizers in- ble plants are compared in Table 4. The results re-
duced very fast soil acidification. Open field vege- veal that salt damaged soil had about twice the
table production usually 2–3 harvests a year, also electrical conductivity, three times the salt content,
needs more fertilizer input than a traditional and twice the nitrate N than in undamaged soil.
paddy rice/wheat rotation system (Table 4), so that These accumulated soluble salts are not from
the soil pH of continuous vegetable land is also nature but from over-use of fertilizers. Data in
lower than paddy rice/wheat rotation system land. Table 5 shows that the application rate of fertil-
Both organic and inorganic fertilizers make the izers for vegetable plantation in plastic covered or
soil more acid due to nitrification and physiologi- plastic greenhouse land is 2–3 times the rate for
cal acidity. Strong acid soil condition is detri- open field vegetable production; and 4–5 times
mental to vegetable growth. higher than the rate used for the paddy rice/wheat
cropping rotation system. Higher rates of fertilizer
3.2. Soil salinization under plastic covered use with no leaching by natural rainfall, but high
plantation evaporation and transpiration under plastic cov-
ered or plastic greenhouse conditions have pro-
Soil parent materials in this region are alluvial fan moted soil secondary salinization.
by rivers and lakes; salt content in the plough layer
is usually lower than 0.1%. However the plough
layer salt content was 0.28% on average during Table 4. Comparison of the soil properties of tomato plant root
zones with and without salt damage (data is an average of eight
this survey of plastic film covered or plastic film
paired samples).
greenhouse plantation soil (Table 3).
Table 3 shows that most of the ploughed layer Soil Electric Sol. salt pH NO3-N
soils contained more than 0.2% soluble salt under properties cond. (ms/cm) (%) (H2O) (mg/kg)
plastic covered or plastic greenhouse plantation
Without damage 0.548 0.236 5.49 197
conditions, about 58% of total samples contained
With damage 0.968 0.738 5.38 394
soluble salt concentration higher than 0.2%, and
100 Z.H. CAO ET AL.

Table 5. Fertilizer application rate under various land use of plantation.

Fertilizer Ratea Manure Mineral N Mineral P (P2O5) Mineral K (K2O)

Plastic covered 111.3 1080 522 436.5

Open vegetable field 84.9 780 348 291
Paddy rice/wheat 7.5b 530 60 96
Rate: Manure in (tones/hm2), mineral N, P, K in (kg N, P2O5, K2O/hm2) respectively.
Manure is not widely used in cereal crops at present, but the rice straw and wheat or oilseed rape straw are encouraged
to feedback and burn are forbidden by law. Therefore 7.5 tons per hectare per year are calculated from many field
experiments, demonstration farms used various ways to return straw in rice–wheat rotation system in this region.

Table 6. Soil ions from soil under plants with and without physiological diseasea.

Soil ions % K+ Na+ Ca++ Mg++ 4 Cations 4 Anionsb CECc

With D. 0.0204 0.0073 0.0383 0.0096 0.0755 0.1100 18.65

Without D. 0.0096 0.0078 0.0317 0.0079 0.0570 0.1117 18.03
+)% +113.6 )7.20 +20.74 +21.23 +32.53 )1.51 + 3.44
With and without physiological disease soil samples were taken from root zones of two plastic greenhouses where
plants with and without disease appeared, n = 4.
b )
Four anions: HCO  
3 , Cl , SO4 , and NO3 .
CEC measured as me/100 g.

The results in Table 6 show that accumulated (Zhu et al. 2000; Wang et al. 2001). In some cases
soluble salts in soil (mostly K, Ca, Mg and less Na) under rain-fed rice production, nitrate N levels in
were about 32.5% higher where plants showed groundwater can be higher than the limit set by the
physiological disorders compared with soil with WHO especially in the period between the dry
normal plants growth. The anions, Cl) and HCO 3 season and the wet season (Tripathi et al. 1997;
increased by 6 and 3%, respectively, and SO 4 de- Shreatha & Ladha 1998).
creased by about 8.5%, clearly responding to the However, after soil use change to continuous
heavy use of NH4HCO3 and KCL, little use of vegetable plantation, soil nitrate N is dramatically
(NH4)2SO4, and K2SO4 types of nitrogen and increased. On average it was about 48 mg/kg in
potassium fertilizers. open field vegetable land, but it was 254 mg/kg in
plastic film covered vegetable land in the Taihu
3.3. Soil nitrate N and available phosphorus Lake region. Of the 39 soil samples taken from
accumulation plastic film covered or plastic film greenhouse
vegetable land about 26% samples contained 100–
Soil nitrate nitrogen (NO3 -N) accumulation is a 200 mg/kg and about 60% samples contained
major concern after land use change from irrigated more than 200 mg/kg NO3 -N (Table 7). When soil
paddy rice/wheat (oilseed rape) cropping rotation, nitrate N is over 200 mg/kg, it will potentially
to continuous upland vegetable plantation. Gen- damage vegetable growth. When soil nitrate N is
erally nitrate nitrogen in paddy soil during flooded over 300 mg/kg (about 31% samples passed this
rice growing season is very low, but is relatively value in this survey), it will certainly induce plant
high during winter wheat season in this region growth problems.

Table 7. Soil nitrate N content of plastic film covered vegetable land.

NO3 -N (mg/kg) <100 100–200 200–300 300–400 >400

No. of samples 5 10 12 4 8
% of samples 12.8 25.6 30.8 10.3 20.5

Soil nitrate N is significantly correlated with field conditions) or leaching from the upper soil
electric conductivity of soil (water:soil ¼ 5:1), the layer down to the ground water. Higher phos-
correlation formula for 39 soil samples is given phorus (P) accumulation in vegetable land is a very
below: high potential risk to eutrification of the sur-
rounding surface water. According to Zhang et al.
Y ðsoil electric conductivityÞ (2003) that P losses from rice season by runoff was
¼ 0:188 þ 0:001895X ðNO 3 -NÞ; r 146–221 g P/hm2 in normal P application rate,
¼ 0:94 ðn ¼ 39Þ however, that it increased sharply to 400 g P/hm2
when P application rate increased to five times as
According to this survey and the above formula, usual rate. On the other hand, there is much more
the critical nitrate -N for plant normal growth is runoff flow in vegetable open field than in paddy
associated with an electrical conductivity of about rice field under same rainfall condition. It implies
0.6 mS/cm, which is somewhat lower than the that the P losses by runoff will be much higher in
value reported in Japan (1 mS/cm). vegetable lands than in paddy fields.
On average of the soil available phosphorus in Increased nitrate concentration in drinking wa-
plough layer of paddy rice–wheat rotation field is ter – the WHO suggested that drinking water
about 10–12 mg P kg)1 in this region (Wang et al., should not contain more than 50 mg NO 3 /I
2001, Zhang et al., 2003), however, it was ranged (WHO 1985) or 10 mg NO3 -N/I as recommended
from 45 to 115 mg P kg)1 (Table 8), on average in USA (Lagreid et al. 1999).
60–80 mg P kg)1. Results of the 10 high fertilizer The groundwater under about 22% of the cul-
application rate (HFR) soils and the seven middle tivated land in the EU has an NO 3 concentration
fertilizer application rate (MFR) soils showed above 50 mg NO /I (Mckenna 1998). Similar high
there is a very significant difference in the content concentrations in groundwater are also reported
of available nitrogen, phosphorus, and electrical from some irrigated areas of west Missisippi in the
conductivity, but no in the content of available USA (Spalding & Exner 1993), and also from
potassium and pH value. However, the content of northern China (Zhang et al. 1996).
soil available P is 4 times higher in MFR, and Most of the paddy soils in the Taihu Lake Re-
about 10 times higher in HFR vegetable soils than gion belong to clay loam and loam clay-heavy
in paddy rice–wheat rotation soils. textured type soils (Li 1992). Under a paddy rice/
wheat rotation system, nitrate leaching down to
the groundwater is not likely happen during the
4. Soil nitrate and phosphorus accumulation in rice season. There is a relatively high NO 3 con-
relation to water quality centration in leaching water during the wheat
season, but wheat and oilseed rape have deep and
Leaching of nitrate N from ploughed zone is a extensive root systems that effectively deplete the
main cause of low nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) soil soluble N. In total, it does not exceed the
and N loss from soil. Higher concentrations of WHO suggested limit, with the nitrogen applica-
nitrate N in the ploughed layer of vegetable land tion rates of 300 kg N/ha in rice and 225 kg N/ha
may induce more nitrogen runoff into surface in wheat (Wang et al. 2001).
watersheds (it may not be the major problem in Continuous vegetable cropping, with very
plastic film covered conditions, but it is in open intensive land use (3–4 harvests) requires very high

Table 8. Soil quality under plastic film covered vegetable land affected by fertilizer application rate.

Sample no Avail. N Avail. P (mg kg)1) Avail. K EC (mS/cm) pH (H2O)

HFR 10 249.1 115.5 319.3 1.19 5.27

MFR 07 183.9 45.5 318.0 0.14 5.36
T -test 2.82a 3.14b 0.014 6.97b 0.35
t0.05 (15) = 2.131.
t0.05 (15) = 2.947.
102 Z.H. CAO ET AL.

application rates of fertilizer N, also most vegeta- it was 279 mg NO3 -N/kg, and about 30.8% of
ble crops have only shallow roots systems, there- the samples were higher than 300 mg NO3 -N/
fore NO 3 leaching can be substantial (Addiscott kg. It was 45–115 mg P/kg of soil available P. In
et al., 1996; Bija-Singh, 1996; Zhang et al., 1996.). continuous vegetable land, soil nitrate nitrogen
Ma et al. (1987) reported that 31% of well water content was four times higher, and available
from 51 wells sampled were exceeded the value of P content was 4–10 times higher than in the
10 mg NO 3 -N/l, Xing et al. (2001) reported that paddy rice–wheat soils. These may be of concern
the average NO 3 -N concentration was 7.89 mg/l regarding groundwater and well drinking water
(ranged from 0.31–43.37 mg/I) and that water pollution by leached nitrate N and surface water
from 28% of 40 wells sampled in this region was eutrophication promoted by P loads via runoff
over the limit suggested by USA. It has been found flow.
that the main form of nitrogen in well water is the
nitrate nitrogen; while ammonium nitrogen was
not detected in 87.5% of well water samples. Ni-
trate pollution in drinking water in this region is Acknowledgement
causing considerable concern.
In this region most paddy soils are heavy texture The national basic research plan project (973) and
type, and under present application rates of N Zhejiang Provincial and Jiaxin Prefecture Science
fertilizer for rice and wheat, and the NO foundation’s program supported this work. Au-
3 -N
concentration in leaching water has not yet ex- thors hopes to express sincerely thanks to those
ceeded the limit as suggested by the WHO or the coworkers: S.G. Ma, J.J. Fen, C.H. Xiang, C.X.
USA mentioned above. The higher NO Yang, X.L. Huang and Z.L. Qian for their excel-
3 -N con-
centration in well water in this region may reflect lent job done during the field survey and labora-
events of historical accumulation, or nitrate from tory analysis. Also hope to thanks the reviewers
other sources. for their valuable comments and marks made this
paper to be published.

5. Conclusion
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