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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 #306661

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: Efficacies of designer biochars in improving biomass and nutrient uptake of winter wheat grown in a hard setting subsoil layer

Author
item Sigua, Gilbert
item Novak, Jeffrey - Jeff
item Watts, Donald - Don
item Johnson, Mark - Us Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
item Spokas, Kurt

Submitted to: Chemosphere
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/10/2015
Publication Date: 6/22/2015
Publication URL: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/chemosphere
Citation: Sigua, G.C., Novak, J.M., Watts, D.W., Johnson, M.G., Spokas, K.A. 2015. Efficacies of designer biochars in improving biomass and nutrient uptake of winter wheat grown in a hard setting subsoil layer. Chemosphere. 142:176-183.

Interpretive Summary: For more than 150 years, Norfolk soils of the southeastern U.S. have been cultivated for row crops, particularly winter wheat, corn and cotton. Most of these agricultural soils are highly weathered Ultisols. These soil characteristics severely limit fertility and crop productivity, which leaves few management options for improvements. Incorporation of pyrolyzed organic residues or “biochars” can provide an alternative recalcitrant carbon source. However, biochar quality and effect can be inconsistent because different biochars react differently in soils. We hypothesized that addition of different designer biochars will have variable effects on biomass and nutrient uptake of winter wheat. The objective of this study was to investigate the effects of designer biochars on biomass productivity and nutrient uptake of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum, L) in a Norfolk’s hard setting subsoil layer. Biochars were added to Norfolk’s hard setting subsoil layer at the rate of 40 megagram/hectare (Mg/ha). The different sources of biochars were: plant-based (pine chips, PC); animal-based (poultry litter, PL); 50:50 blend (50% PC:50% PL); 80:20 blend (80% PC:20% PL); and hardwood (HW). Our results supported our hypothesis that addition of different designer biochars will have variable effects on biomass and nutrient uptake of winter wheat. Our study also demonstrated the favorable and beneficial effects of different designer biochars on biomass productivity and nutrient uptake of winter wheat grown in Norfolk soils with hard setting subsoil layer. Application of 80:20 blends of PC and PL was found to be superior over other blends with the exception of PL because of its favorable effects on biomass productivity and nutrient uptake of winter wheat. Application of PL at a high rate resulted in significant reduction of aboveground biomass, belowground biomass and total biomass by about 75%, 82% and 79%, respectively when compared with the control plants. Overall, our results showed promising significance for improving soil fertility and tilth of Norfolk’s hard setting subsoil layer since biochars did improve the aboveground, belowground and total biomass of winter wheat.

Technical Abstract: In the Coastal Plains region of the United States, the hard setting subsoil layer of Norfolk soils results in low water holding capacity and nutrient retention, which often limits root development. In this region, the Norfolk soils are under intensive crop production that further depletes nutrients and reduces organic carbon (OC). Incorporation of pyrolyzed organic residues or “biochars” can provide an alternative recalcitrant OC source. However, biochar quality and effect can be inconsistent because different biochars react differently in soils. We hypothesized that addition of different designer biochars will have variable effects on biomass and nutrient uptake of winter wheat. The objective of this study was to investigate the effects of designer biochars on biomass productivity and nutrient uptake of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum, L) in a Norfolk’s hard setting subsoil layer. Biochars were added to Norfolk’s hard setting subsoil layer at the rate of 40 Mg/ha. The different sources of biochars were: plant-based (pine chips, PC); animal-based (poultry litter, PL); 50:50 blend (50% PC:50% PL); 80:20 blend (80% PC:20% PL); and hardwood (HW). Aboveground and belowground biomass and nutrient uptake of winter wheat varied significantly (p = 0.0001) with the different designer biochar applications. The greatest increase in the belowground biomass of winter wheat over the control was from 80:20 blends of PC:PL (81%) followed by HW (76%), PC (59%) and 50:50 blends of PC:PL (9%). However, application of PL resulted in significant reduction of belowground biomass by about 82% when compared to the control plants. The average uptake of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, aluminum, iron, copper and zinc in both the aboveground and belowground biomass of winter wheat varied remarkably with biochar treatments. Overall, our results showed promising significance for the treatment of a Norfolk’s hard setting subsoil layer since designer biochars did improve the aboveground biomass, belowground biomass and nutrient uptake of winter wheat.