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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 #298822

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: Efficacy of biochar in improving root growth and water holding capacity of hard setting subsoil layer in coastal plains USA

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: 5/10/2014
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: In the Coastal Plains region of the United States, the Norfolk soil fertility is low. In this region, the Norfolk soils are under intensive crop production that further depletes nutrients and reduces organic carbon. Furthermore, the hard setting subsoil layer of Norfolk soils results in low water holding capacity, which often impedes root development. Optimum rooting is essential for plant growth and crop productivity. Incorporation of pyrolyzed organic residues or “biochars” is an important factor in sustaining soil fertility and improving soil physical conditions. Although results have been inconsistent, biochar amendments to soil results in improved soil quality characteristics. We hypothesized that biochar additions will enhance both the level of soil fertility and soil water holding capacity. A greenhouse study was conducted to investigate the effects of biochars on root growth of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum, L) and water holding capacity in a Norfolk’s hard setting subsoil layer (E horizon). Biochars were added to Norfolk’s E horizon at the rate of 40 tons per hectare. The different sources of biochars were: plant-based (pine chips); animal-based (poultry litter); blended (pine chips + poultry litter); and industrial wood waste (dynamo). Biochar additions to the Norfolk’s E horizon appear to improve both the root growth of winter wheat and water retention capacity. Dry root mass of winter wheat that were treated with industrial wood waste, plant-based and blended biochars was increased by 74%, 59% and 45% over the untreated winter wheat, respectively. The water holding capacity of Norfolk’s 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 for the Norfolk’s hard setting subsoil layer since biochars did improve both root growth and water holding capacity. Research scientists at the ARS-Florence location will expand their evaluation of biochar as a soil amendment by using other biochar-types and other crops to assess the long-term effects of biochars in improving soil and crop productivity.