Nitrogen Utilization and Environmental Losses from Organic Farming and Biochar’s Potential to Improve N Efficiency.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Engil I Pereira, University of California Davis, Davis, CA, United States and Johan W U A SIX, ETH Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
The response of plant performance and nitrogen (N) dynamics to biochar amendments were studied across various levels of N input for two growing seasons in mesocosms representing an organic lettuce production systems. A silt loam soil was amended with pine chip (PC) and walnut shell (WS) biochar (10 t ha-1) in combination with five organic N fertilization rates 0%, 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% of 225 kg N ha-1. N output through harvest, leachate, and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions were determined to assess N utilization and environmental losses of biochar-amended soils. Analysis of plant performance indicate that PC and WS biochar did not provide any increases in plant biomass in soils that received less than business-as-usual fertilization rates. At 100% N fertilization rate, biochar amendments (both PC and WS) improved lettuce biomass production, which resulted in significant increases in NUE with no effects on N2O emissions. Furthermore, N losses via leaching were decreased by PC biochar at 100% N fertilization rates. Thus, due to increases in plant biomass and decreases in N losses via leachate, PC biochar significantly decreased the ratio of N lost over N exported in biomass. Findings from this study suggest that biochar can provide some beneficial effects to organic farming systems, however, not in all circumstances, given the effects seem to vary with biochar type and fertilization level.