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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Fate of applied biosolids nitrogen in a cut and remove forage system on an alluvial clay loam soil

Guixin Pu A C , Mike Bell B , Glenn Barry A and Peter Want B

A Land and Vegetation Science, Natural Resource Sciences, Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water, 80 Meiers Road, Indooroopilly, Qld 4068, Australia.

B Plant Science, Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, PO Box 23, Kingaroy, Qld 4610, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: grant.pu@nrw.qld.gov.au

Australian Journal of Soil Research 46(8) 703-709 https://doi.org/10.1071/SR08127
Submitted: 13 November 2007  Accepted: 1 August 2008   Published: 2 December 2008

Abstract

The fate of nitrogen (N) applied in biosolids was investigated in a forage production system on an alluvial clay loam soil in south-eastern Queensland, Australia. Biosolids were applied in October 2002 at rates of 6, 12, 36, and 54 dry t/ha for aerobically digested biosolids (AE) and 8, 16, 48, and 72 dry t/ha for anaerobically digested biosolids (AN). Rates were based on multiples of the Nitrogen Limited Biosolids Application rate (0.5, 1, 3, and 4.5NLBAR) for each type of biosolid. The experiment included an unfertilised control and a fertilised control that received multiple applications of synthetic fertiliser. Forage sorghum was planted 1 week after biosolids application and harvested 4 times between December 2002 and May 2003. Dry matter production was significantly greater from the biosolids-treated plots (21–27 t/ha) than from the unfertilised (16 t/ha) and fertilised (18 t/ha) controls. The harvested plant material removed an extra 148–488 kg N from the biosolids-treated plots. Partial N budgets were calculated for the 1NLBAR and 4.5NLBAR treatments for each biosolids type at the end of the crop season. Crop removal only accounted for 25–33% of the applied N in the 1NLBAR treatments and as low as 8–15% with 4.5NLBAR. Residual biosolids N was predominantly in the form of organic N (38–51% of applied biosolids N), although there was also a significant proportion (10–23%) as NO3-N, predominantly in the top 0.90 m of the soil profile. From 12 to 29% of applied N was unaccounted for, and presumed to be lost as gaseous nitrogen and/or ammonia, as a consequence of volatilisation or denitrification, respectively. In-season mineralisation of organic N in biosolids was 43–59% of the applied organic N, which was much greater than the 15% (AN)–25% (AE) expected, based on current NLBAR calculation methods. Excessive biosolids application produced little additional biomass but led to high soil mineral N concentrations that were vulnerable to multiple loss pathways. Queensland Guidelines need to account for higher rates of mineralisation and losses via denitrification and volatilisation and should therefore encourage lower application rates to achieve optimal plant growth and minimise the potential for detrimental impacts on the environment.

Additional keywords: mineralisation, denitrification, ammonia volatilisation, leaching.


Acknowledgments

The authors acknowledge the field assistance of Mr Gary Harch and that of Mr Allan Jeffery and Ms Teresa Cokley for conducting soil and plant analyses. This biosolids research was conducted as part of the National Biosolids Research Project, with additional financial support from the former South East Queensland Regional Organisation of Councils (SEQROC) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). Acknowledgement is also given to Dr Phil Moody for reviewing the manuscript.


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