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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Management Practices to Mitigate Global Climate Change, Enhance Bio-Energy Production, Increase Soil-C Stocks & Sustain Soil Productivity...

Location: Soil Plant Nutrient Research (SPNR)

Title: Nitrogen and harvest effects on soil properties under rain-fed switchgrass and no-till corn over 9 years: implications for soil quality

Authors
item Stewart, Catherine
item Follett, Ronald -
item Pruessner, Elizabeth
item Varvel, Gary
item Vogel, Kenneth
item Mitchell, Robert

Submitted to: Global Change Biology Bioenergy
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: September 23, 2013
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Nitrogen fertilizer and harvest management will alter soils under bioenergy production. The long-term effects of the timing, harvest, and residue removal rates remain relatively unknown. Compared to no-tilled corn (Zea mays L.), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is predicted to have a greater positive effect on soil properties (i.e. soil organic C [SOC], soil microbial biomass (SMB-C), and soil aggregation) due to its perennial nature and deep-rooted growth form, but few explicit field comparisons exist. Both no-till corn (NT-C) and switchgrass increased SMB-C, SOC, and aggregate stability over the nine years, reflecting improvement from previous conventional management. However, the soils under switchgrass had double the percent aggregate stability, 1.3 times more microbial biomass, and a 5-8% decrease in bulk density in the 0-5 and 5-10 cm depths compared to NT-C. Cumulative soil P loss was significantly greater beneath NT-C (-14.79 kg P ha-1) compared to switchgrass (-9.30 kg P ha-1) after 9 years. When all measured soil parameters were included in the Soil Management Assessment Framework (SMAF), switchgrass improved soil quality indicators (SQI) over time and NT-C decreased soil quality (0-30cm), or had no effect. NT-C residue removal of 50% decreased SQI. Long-term N and harvest management studies that include a diverse set of field measurements - biological, chemical, and physical – are necessary to accurately assess bioenergy impacts on soils.

Technical Abstract: Nitrogen fertilizer and harvest management will alter soils under bioenergy production. The long-term effects of the timing, harvest, and residue removal rates remain relatively unknown. Compared to no-tilled corn (Zea mays L.), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is predicted to have a greater positive effect on soil properties (i.e. soil organic C [SOC], soil microbial biomass (SMB-C), and soil aggregation) due to its perennial nature and deep-rooted growth form, but few explicit field comparisons exist. We assessed soil properties over 9-years for a rain-fed study of N fertilizer rate (0, 60, 120, and 180 kg N ha-1) and harvest management on switchgrass (harvested at Aug. and post-frost) and no-till corn (with and without stover removal) in eastern, NE. We measured SOC, aggregate stability, microbial biomass, bulk density (BD), pH, P and K in the top 0-30 cm. Both no-till corn (NT-C) and switchgrass increased SMB-C, SOC, and aggregate stability over the nine years, reflecting improvement from previous conventional management. However, the soils under switchgrass had double the percent aggregate stability, 1.3 times more microbial biomass, and a 5-8% decrease in bulk density in the 0-5 and 5-10 cm depths compared to NT-C. Cumulative soil P loss was significantly greater beneath NT-C (-14.79 kg P ha-1) compared to switchgrass (-9.30 kg P ha-1) after 9 years. When all measured soil parameters were included in the Soil Management Assessment Framework (SMAF), switchgrass improved soil quality indicators (SQI) over time and NT-C decreased soil quality (0-30cm), or had no effect. NT-C residue removal of 50% decreased SQI. Long-term N and harvest management studies that include a diverse set of field measurements - biological, chemical, and physical – are necessary to accurately assess bioenergy impacts on soils.

Last Modified: 12/18/2014