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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Soil, Water & Air Resources Research

Title: Biochar impact on Midwestern mollisols and maize nutrient availability

item Rogovska, Natalia
item Laird, David
item Fleming, Pierce
item Karlen, Douglas - Doug
item Rathke, Samuel

Submitted to: Geoderma
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/8/2014
Publication Date: 5/20/2014
Citation: Rogovska, N.P., Laird, D.L., Fleming, P.D., Karlen, D.L., Rathke, S. 2014. Biochar impact on Midwestern mollisols and maize nutrient availability. Geoderma. 230-231:340-347.

Interpretive Summary: Allelopathy is the direct or indirect negative effect of one plant species on another. It has been reported to be one factor causing lower yields for continuous corn compared to corn grown in rotation with other crops. Biochar (that is charcoal) is a co-product created when biomass (plant residues) is converted into energy under low levels of oxygen. This field study showed that applying biochar could prevent very high rates of corn residue from adversely affecting the next corn crop, probably by absorbing compounds that can contribute to allelopathy. These results support previous laboratory studies and provide producers and scientists one method to help control potential allelopahic conditions. They may also help create a market for biochar resulting from bioenergy production.

Technical Abstract: Biochar applications have been shown to increase crop yields on acidic and low activity soils in the tropics but fewer positive yield responses have been reported for temperate soils. We hypothesized that even without a yield response, applying biochar to a Midwestern Mollisol could improve soil quality and plant nutrient availability because of the carbon it supplies and its conditioning effect. Eighteen small field plots (23.7 m2) on a glacial-till derived soil were established by incorporating 0 to 96 Mg ha-1 of hardwood biochar to a depth of 30 cm. Several soil quality indicators, plant nutrient availability, uptake, and yield of two consecutive maize (Zea mays L.) crops were monitored. Biochar application significantly increased soil pH, readily available water (RAW) content (defined as volumetric water available between -10 kPa and -100 kPa), and soil organic C (SOC). It decreased bulk density (BD), but had no consistent effect on soil infiltration rates, CEC, or nutrient uptake. Biochar application did increase grain yield during the first year by 11 to 55% following very high stover application rates (3.5x the typical amount), presumably because biochar mitigated adverse effects of allelochemicals released from the decomposing maize residue. There was no detectable biochar effect on maize yield during the second year when the crop was limited by severe drought.

Last Modified: 10/15/2017
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