Skip to main content
ARS Home » Southeast Area » Booneville, Arkansas » Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #265642

Title: Subsurface application of dry poultry litter: Impacts on common bermudagrass and other no-till crops

item Pote, Daniel
item Way, Thomas - Tom
item Kleinman, Peter
item Moore, Philip

Submitted to: Journal of Agricultural Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/8/2011
Publication Date: 2/2/2012
Citation: Pote, D.H., Way, T.R., Kleinman, P.J., Moore Jr, P.A. 2012. Subsurface application of dry poultry litter: Impacts on common bermudagrass and other no-till crops. Journal of Sustainable Forestry. 4(4):55-62.

Interpretive Summary: Poultry litter provides a rich organic source of crop nutrients that also helps neutralize soil acidity, but litter broadcast on the surface of pastures and other no-till systems loses substantial quantities of nutrients to the atmosphere and in storm runoff. Applying the litter in shallow trenches (bands) can prevent most nutrient losses with minimal disturbance of soil structure or plant roots; so research was conducted to determine the impacts of this subsurface method on crop yield and quality. Compared to surface-broadcast litter, subsurface applications generally increased forage digestibility and protein content, and they increased forage yield by as much as 40% under the growing conditions in this study. The study is of interest to scientists, extension personnel, agricultural producers, and the general public because subsurface application technology may soon provide a practical management option that helps farmers increase production efficiency, protect water quality, and prevent odor problems on millions of acres receiving poultry litter applications.

Technical Abstract: Poultry manure provides a rich organic nutrient source to fertilize crops and help neutralize soil acidity. However, the usual practice of broadcasting litter on the surface of pastures and other no-till systems can degrade water quality by allowing nutrients to be transported from fields in surface runoff, while much of the ammonium-N volatilizes and escapes into the atmosphere. In a previous study, we used a subsurface banding technique to move litter from the soil surface into the root zone with minimal disturbance of the grass, thatch, and soil structure; and found that nutrient losses decreased substantially. Because subsurface banding increased retention of nutrients and water in the soil, we conducted follow-up research to compare crop yield and quality from this litter application method to those from the conventional surface broadcasting method. The objectives were to determine effects of subsurface application on perennial forage yield, quality, and temporal yield distribution during the growing season. Field plots were located on silt loam soil (8-10% slopes) with well-established bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon L. Pers.). Poultry litter was applied (6.7 Mg ha-1, dry weight) by one of two methods: surface broadcast manually or subsurface banded using a tractor-drawn prototype implement. Each treatment was replicated three times. There were also three control plots that received no litter. Results showed that subsurface application generally increased forage quality and yield, especially in the latter part of the growing season when forage production from surface-applied litter began to decline. Under the growing conditions in this study, subsurface application increased mean forage yield by as much as 40%.