Sustainable biochar effects for low carbon crop production: A 5-crop season field experiment on a low fertility soil from Central China

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Xiaoyu Liu, Institute of Resource, Ecosystem and Environment of Agricultural,Nanjing Agricultural University, Nanjing, China
Biochar’s effects on improving soil fertility, enhancing crop productivity and reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) emission from croplands had been well addressed in numerous short-term experiments with biochar soil amendment (BSA) mostly in a single crop season / cropping year. However, the persistence of these effects, after a single biochar application, has not yet been well known due to limited long-term field studies so far. Large scale BSA in agriculture is often commented on the high cost due to large amount of biochar in a single application. Here, we try to show the persistence of biochar effects on soil fertility and crop productivity improvement as well as GHGs emission reduction, using data from a field experiment with BSA for 5 crop seasons in central North China. A single amendment of biochar was performed at rates of 0 (C0), 20 (C20) and 40 t ha-1 (C40) before sowing of the first crop season. Emissions of CO2, CH4 and N2O were monitored with static closed chamber method throughout the crop growing season for the 1st, 2nd and 5th cropping. Crop yield was measured and topsoil samples were collected at harvest of each crop season. BSA altered most of the soil physic-chemical properties with a significant increase over control in soil organic carbon (SOC) and available potassium (K) content. The increase in SOC and available K was consistent over the 5 crop seasons after BSA. Despite a significant yield increase in the first maize season, enhancement of crop yield was not consistent over crop seasons without corresponding to the changes in soil nutrient availability. BSA did not change seasonal total CO2 efflux but greatly reduced N2O emissions throughout the five seasons. This supported a stable nature of biochar carbon in soil, which played a consistent role in reducing N2O emission, which showed inter-annual variation with changes in temperature and soil moisture conditions. The biochar effect was much more consistent under C40 than under C20 and with GHGs emission than with soil property and crop yield. Thus, our study suggested that biochar amended in dry land could sustain a low carbon production both of maize and wheat in terms of its efficient carbon sequestration, lower GHGs emission intensity and soil improvement over 5 crop seasons after a single amendment.