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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Florence, South Carolina » Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #297636

Research Project: Improving Chemical, Physical, and Biological Properties of Degraded Sandy Soils for Environmentally Sustainable Production

Location: Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research

Title: Biochar impact on improving root growth and water retention capacity in Norfolk hard setting subsoil layer

item Sigua, Gilbert
item Novak, Jeffrey - Jeff
item Watts, Donald - Don
item Cantrell, Keri

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/3/2013
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: The Norfolk soil series is a well-drained soil used commonly for agricultural production in the Eastern Carolinas. Certain profile features such as a hard setting subsoil layer with high bulk density, low water holding capacity and meager soil fertility characteristics makes this soil less productive. These noted Norfolk profile features often impede root development to deeper subsoil depths that hold more soil water. Optimum rooting is essential for plant growth and crop productivity especially during drought periods. We hypothesized that biochar additions will ameliorate some of the restrictive profile features. A greenhouse study was conducted to investigate the effects of biochars on both root growth of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum, L) and water retention capacity in Norfolk’s hard setting subsoil layer (E horizon). Biochars consisting of plant-based (pine chips), animal-based (poultry litter), blended (pine chips + poultry litter), and industrial wood waste were added to Norfolk E horizon at the rate of 40 tons per hectare. Preliminary data revealed that biochar additions seem to potentially improve the root growth of winter wheat and water retention capacity of Norfolk’s subsoil (E horizon). Dry root mass of winter wheat treated with industrial wood waste, plant-based and blended biochars increased by 74%, 59% and 45% over the untreated winter wheat, respectively. The water retention capacity of Norfolk E horizon that were treated with blended, industrial wood waste, animal-based and plant-based biochars when compared with the untreated soils were increased by 133%, 119%, 76% and 41%, respectively. Overall, our results showed promising significance since biochars did improve root growth and water retention capacity of the Norfolk’s E horizon. Research scientists at the Agricultural Research Service-Florence location will expand their evaluation of biochar as a soil amendment by using other biochar-types and other crops to assess their long-term effects of biochars in improving soil and crop productivity in the Carolinas.