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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: National Soil Dynamics Laboratory

2008 Annual Report

1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
There is an urgent need to develop organic waste management systems in the southeastern United States that preserve and improve the soil resource and provide for environmental quality. The objectives of this project are to:.
1)Develop soil phosphorus loading capabilities, following application of animal manure, for soils of the southeastern United States with differing chemical and physical characteristics;.
2)Determine the impact of long-term application of poultry litter and other organic waste on soil quality in the southeastern United States;.
3)Develop best management practices for manure application to row crops (corn and cotton) that maximize production while minimizing offsite environmental impacts in the southeastern United States;.
4) Develop improved knowledge of waste management impacts on manure-derived nutrient interactions (phosphorus solubility and nitrogen mineralization) at the soil surface; and.
5)Develop and assess performance of equipment for applying poultry litter in a shallow subsurface bands in pastures and row crops.

1b.Approach (from AD-416)
Soils are the primary resource for agricultural production and their protection and improvement are essential for agriculture in the United States. Application of organic waste to soil can potentially improve soil conditions and provide nutrients needed for plant production. However, poor methods of application of organic waste can lead to nutrient loss from agricultural land by runoff and leaching. These potential non-point source nutrient losses can contribute to environmental degradation, eutrophication of surface waters, and possible human health risks. Because of this growing environmental concern regarding organic waste disposal, field and laboratory studies will be established to develop improved methods to utilize waste products for soil and crop benefits while minimizing environmental degradation. In order to develop effective solutions, basic understanding of these processes must be further developed. Laboratory and field studies will be conducted to determine functional relationships of soil processes and soil dynamics, especially for P and N. Studies will investigate the effects of animal waste application on soil P loading. Relationships for benchmark soils will be developed between soil test P levels in soils receiving animal manure applications and runoff losses of P and N using rainfall simulation plots and small watersheds in the southeastern United States. Studies will be initiated to develop best management practices for manure application and to determine the long-term impact of manure application on soil properties in the southeastern United States. Efforts will also be made to develop equipment and assess its performance for applying poultry litter in a shallow trench in pastures and row crops to reduce nutrient loss potential from the litter. Management practices and fundamental knowledge developed in the course of this project should result in greater production and environmental benefit, with reduced nutrient losses, now and in the future.

3.Progress Report
Because of the growing environmental concern regarding organic waste disposal, new field and laboratory studies were established this year to develop improved methods to utilize waste products for soil and crop benefits while minimizing environmental degradation. We have initiated a new series of field studies in the Sand Mountain region of Alabama to evaluate the impact of fertilizer and poultry litter application methods as affected by tillage systems on crop production and trace gas losses to the atmosphere. A four-trench litter applicator implement was designed, constructed, and used for applying poultry litter in five field experiments, one in each of five states.

NP 206, Components: 2.4.1, 2.4.2, 4.3.4; Problem Area: 3.4, 4.1a, 4.2.

1. Determined benefits of shallow subsurface band application of poultry litter:

Poultry litter is typically land-applied by broadcast surface application, but this method has a high potential for undesirable transport of litter nutrients off the field into streams, rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. An experimental four-trench litter applicator field implement that applies litter in shallow subsurface bands in soil was used in five field experiments. When the poultry litter is applied in subsurface bands, compared to traditional broadcast surface application, results show that phosphorus and nitrogen nutrients in water running off field plots are reduced by 80 to 95% and that yield and fiber quality of cotton increases. Use of the implement by producers and others who apply litter to fields is expected to reduce pollution of streams, rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. A patent for this equipment has been filed.

NP 206, Component 2.4.2, Problem Statement 4.2.

2. Developed alternative greenhouse substrate component for annual bedding plant production.

A study was conducted at Auburn University in Auburn, AL, and the USDA-ARS Southern Horticultural Laboratory in Poplarville, MS, to evaluate Clean Chip Residual (CCR) as an alternative greenhouse substrate component for annual bedding plant production. CCR is a by-product of in-field forest operations, which generate “clean chips” used in paper manufacturing. CCR is composed of the remaining material (wood, needles and bark) and is either sold for fuel or spread back across the harvested area. Processed CCR was used in this study and compared to traditional greenhouse substrate to grow three annual species, ‘Blue Hawaii’ ageratum, ‘Vista Purple’ salvia and impatiens. Similarities among treatments in this study indicate that CCR is a potentially viable substrate option for use as a component/replacement for pine bark or peat moss in greenhouse production. (See publication)

NP 206, Component 4.3.4, Problem Statement 3.4.

3. Analyzed nitrate and ammonium losses from surface-applied organic and inorganic fertilizer Studied:

Understanding the timing and amount of nutrient losses from both manufactured and organic fertilizers is critical in designing best management practices. A series of studies have been conducted to compare surface losses of nutrients from animal manures and commercially available manufactured fertilizers. The findings of this research indicate that surface losses of nitrate nitrogen from manufactured fertilizers were significantly greater than losses from animal manures. No differences were noted for ammonium losses. The findings of this study will benefit both public and private entities whose functions are to educate, regulate, and develop and design management practices for the safe application and use of animal manures.

NP 206, Components 2.4.1, Problem Statement 4.1a.

4. Non-Composted municipal solid waste processing byproduct improves U.S. Army training land reclamation.

The costs to the U.S. Army for handling, management, and disposal of non-hazardous solid waste are significant and are expected to increase. A new garbage processing technology has been developed that sterilizes and separates garbage and produce a light cellulose pulp called Fluff®. The U.S. Army also has large areas that have been damaged due to extensive army training and often lack sufficient topsoil, organic matter, and nutrients necessary for successful revegetation. A study was conducted at Fort Campbell, KY, and Fort Benning, GA, to evaluate the non-composted Fluff as a soil amendment for improving soil quality, plant growth, and revegetation success on training lands. The addition of Fluff improved available plant nutrients and soil pH levels, reduced soil compaction, and increased soil concentration of C and N. Because no adverse environmental effects were detected and Fluff improved soil physical and nutrient conditions as well as improving grass establishment, Fluff could be considered a viable and beneficial alternative to current waste management practices.

NP 206, Component 4.3.4, Problem Statement 3.4.

5.Significant Activities that Support Special Target Populations

6.Technology Transfer

Number of Non-Peer Reviewed Presentations and Proceedings8
Number of Newspaper Articles and Other Presentations for Non-Science Audiences7

Review Publications
Watts, D.B., Torbert III, H.A., Prior, S.A. 2007. Mineralization of N in soils amended with dairy manure as affected by wetting/drying cycles. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis. 38:2103-2116.

Mitchell, C.C., Torbert III, H.A., Kornecki, T.S., Tyson, T.W. 2007. Temporary Storage of Poultry Broiler Litter. Research Journal of Agronomy. 1(4):129-137.

Baker, B.J., King, K.W., Torbert III, H.A. 2007. Runoff Losses of Dissolved Reactive Phosphorus From Organic Fertilizer Applied to Sod. Transactions of the ASABE. 50:449-454.

King, K.W., Torbert III, H.A. 2007. Nitrate and Ammonium Losses from Surface Applied Organic and Inorganic Fertilizer. Journal of Agricultural Science. 145(3):1-9.

Griffin, T.S., Honeycutt, C.W., Albrecht, S.L., Sistani, K.R., Torbert Iii, H.A., Wienhold, B.J., Woodbury, B.L., Hubbard, R.K., Powell, J.M. 2008. Nationally coordinated evaluation of soil nitrogen mineralization rate using a standardized aerobic incubation protocol. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis. 39:257-268.

Kurtener, D., Torbert III, H.A., Krueger, E. 2008. Evaluation of Agricultural Land Suitability: Application of Fuzzy Indicators. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. 5072:475-490.

Boyer, C.R., Fain, G.B., Gilliam, C.H., Gallagher, T.V., Torbert III, H.A., Sibley, J.L. 2008. Clean Chip Residual: A New Substrate Component for Growing Annuals. HortTechnology. 18:423-432.

Last Modified: 4/20/2014
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