Plant and Soil

, Volume 333, Issue 1–2, pp 117–128 | Cite as

Maize yield and nutrition during 4 years after biochar application to a Colombian savanna oxisol

  • Julie Major
  • Marco Rondon
  • Diego Molina
  • Susan J. Riha
  • Johannes Lehmann
Regular Article


The application of biochar (biomass-derived black carbon) to soil has been shown to improve crop yields, but the reasons for this are often not clearly demonstrated. Here, we studied the effect of a single application of 0, 8 and 20 t ha−1 of biochar to a Colombian savanna Oxisol for 4 years (2003–2006), under a maize-soybean rotation. Soil sampling to 30 cm was carried out after maize harvest in all years but 2005, maize tissue samples were collected and crop biomass was measured at harvest. Maize grain yield did not significantly increase in the first year, but increases in the 20 t ha−1 plots over the control were 28, 30 and 140% for 2004, 2005 and 2006, respectively. The availability of nutrients such as Ca and Mg was greater with biochar, and crop tissue analyses showed that Ca and Mg were limiting in this system. Soil pH increased, and exchangeable acidity showed a decreasing trend with biochar application. We attribute the greater crop yield and nutrient uptake primarily to the 77–320% greater available Ca and Mg in soil where biochar was applied.


Biochar Colombia Crop yield Exchangeable acidity Maize Oxisol Tropical savannas 



We would like to express our appreciation to Pedro Herrera, Gonzalo Rojas and Maria del Pilar Hurtado for their friendship and dedicated help in the field. Support for J. Major was provided by a Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and by the Saltonstall Fellowship from the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Cornell University. Field and laboratory work was supported by grants from Cornell’s Center for the Environment, the Bradfield award from Cornell’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Cornell’s National Science Foundation (NSF)—Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, as well as research travel grants from Cornell’s Graduate School. The Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) funded the establishment and management of all field operations for this work.

Supplementary material

11104_2010_327_MOESM1_ESM.doc (42 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 41 kb)


  1. Aberg G (1995) The use of natural strontium isotopes as tracers in environmental-studies. Water Air Soil Pollut 79:309–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Asai H, Samson BK, Haefele SM, Songyikhangsuthor K, Homma K, Kiyono Y, Inoue Y, Shiraiwa T, Horie T (2009) Biochar amendment techniques for upland rice production in Northern Laos 1. Soil physical properties, leaf SPAD and grain yield. Field Crops Res 111:81–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baligar VC, Bennett OL (1986) Outlook on fertilizer use efficiency in the tropics. Fertil Res 10:83–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bergmann H (1986) Ernährungsstörungen bei Kulturpflanzen: Visuelle und analytische Diagnose. VEB Gustav Fischer Verlag, JenaGoogle Scholar
  5. Blackwell P, Riethmuller G, Collins M (2009) Biochar application to soil. In: Lehmann J, Joseph S (eds) Biochar for environmental management: science and technology. Earthscan, London, pp 207–226Google Scholar
  6. Bol R, Amelung W, Friedrich C, Ostle N (2000) Tracing dung-derived carbon in temperate grassland using 13C natural abundance measurements. Soil Biol Biochem 32:1337–1343CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown R (2009) Biochar production technology. In: Lehmann J, Joseph S (eds) Biochar for environmental management: science and technology. Earthscan, London, pp 127–146Google Scholar
  8. Cahn MD, Bouldin DR, Cravo MS, Bowen WT (1993) Cation and nitrate leaching in an Oxisol of the Brazilian Amazon. Agron J 85:334–340Google Scholar
  9. Chan KY, Xu Z (2009) Biochar: nutrient properties and their enhancement. In: Lehmann J, Joseph S (eds) Biochar for environmental management: science and technology. Earthscan, London, pp 85–106Google Scholar
  10. Chan KY, Van Zwieten L, Meszaros I, Downie A, Joseph S (2007) Agronomic values of greenwaste biochar as a soil amendment. Aust J Soil Res 45:629–634CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cheng CH, Lehmann J, Thies JE, Burton SD, Engelhard MH (2006) Oxidation of black carbon by biotic and abiotic processes. Org Geochem 37:1477–1488CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cheng CH, Lehmann J, Engelhard M (2008) Natural oxidation of black carbon in soils: changes in molecular form and surface charge along a climosequence. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 72:1598–1610CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Diels J, Vanlauwe B, van der Meersh MK, Sanginga N, Merck RJ (2004) Long term soil organic carbon dynamics in a subhumid tropical climate: 13C data and modeling with ROTHC. Soil Biol Biochem 36:1739–1750CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ernani PR, Miquelluti DJ, Fontoura SMV, Kaminski J, Almeida JA, Garrity DP (2006) Downward movement of soil cations in highly weathered soils caused by addition of gypsum. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal 37:571–586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Garrity DP (2004) Agroforestry and the achievement of the millenium development goals. Agroforest Syst 61:5–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gaskin JW, Steiner C, Harris K, Das KC, Bibens B (2008) Effect of low-temperature pyrolysis conditions on biochar for agricultural use. T Asabe 51:2061–2069Google Scholar
  17. Glaser B, Lehmann J, Zech W (2002) Ameliorating physical and chemical properties of highly weathered soils in the tropics with charcoal—a review. Biol Fert Soils 35:219–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Goldberg ED (1985) Black carbon in the environment: properties and distribution. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  19. Jenkinson DS, Ayanaba A (1977) Decomposition of carbon-14 labeled plant material under tropical conditions. Soil Sci Soc Am J 41:912–915CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kimetu J, Lehmann J, Ngoze SO, Mugendi DN, Kinyangi JM, Riha S, Verchot L, Recha JW, Pell AN (2008) Reversibility of soil productivity decline with organic matter of differing quality along a degradation gradient. Ecosystems 11:726–739CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Krull E, Swanston CW, Skjemstad JO, McGowan JA (2006) Importance of charcoal in determining the age and chemistry of organic carbon in surface soils. J Geophys Res Biogeosciences 111:G04001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lehmann J, Rondon M (2006) Bio-char soil management on highly weathered soils in the humid tropics. In: Uphoff NT et al (eds) Biological approaches to sustainable soil systems. CRC/Taylor & Francis, Boca Raton, pp 517–530CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lehmann J, Weigl D, Peter I, Droppelmann K, Gebauer G, Goldbach H, Zech W (1999) Nutrient interactions of alley-cropped Sorghum bicolor and Acacia saligna in a runoff irrigation system in Northern Kenya. Plant Soil 210:249–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lehmann J, da Silva JP Jr, Rondon M, Cravo MS, Greenwood J, Nehls T, Steiner C, Glaser B (2002) Slash-and-char—a feasible alternative for soil fertility management in the central Amazon? 17th World Congress of Soil Science, Bangkok, Paper No. 449Google Scholar
  25. Lehmann J, da Silva JJP, Steiner C, Nehls T, Zech W, Glaser B (2003) Nutrient availability and leaching in an archaeological Anthrosol and a Ferralsol of the Central Amazon basin: fertilizer, manure and charcoal amendments. Plant Soil 249:343–357CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Liang B, Lehmann J, Solomon D, Kinyangi J, Grossman J, O’Neill B, Skjemstad JO, Thies J, Luizao FJ, Petersen J, Neves EG (2006) Black carbon increases cation exchange capacity in soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 70:1719–1730CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lobe I, Amelung W, Du Preez CC (2001) Losses of carbon and nitrogen with prolonged arable cropping from sandy soils of the South African Highveld. Eur J Soil Sci 52:93–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Major J (2009) Biochar application to a Colombian savanna Oxisol: fate and effect on soil fertility, crop production and soil hydrology. PhD Thesis, Cornell University, NYGoogle Scholar
  29. Major J, Lehmann J, Rondon M, Goodale C (2010) Fate of soil-applied black carbon: downward migration, leaching and soil respiration. Glob Chang Biol 16:1366–1379Google Scholar
  30. Mehlich A (1984) Mehlich-3 soil test extractant—a modification of Mehlich-2 extractant. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal 15:1409–1416CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Naude SM (1927) Information on Nessler’s reagent (in German). Z Phys Chem StoÉchiom Verwandtschlehre 125:98–110Google Scholar
  32. Pessenda LCR, Gouveia SEM, Aravena R (2001) Radiocarbon dating of total soil organic matter and humin fraction and its comparison with 14C ages of fossil charcoal. Radiocarbon 43:595–601Google Scholar
  33. Renck A, Lehmann J (2004) Rapid water flow and transport of inorganic and organic nitrogen in a highly aggregated tropical soil. Soil Sci 169:330–341CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rippstein G, Amezquita E, Escobar G, Grollier C (2001) Condiciones naturales de la sabana. In: Rippstein G et al (eds) Agroecologia y Biodiversidad de las Sabanas en los Llanos Orientales de Colombia. Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), Cali, pp 1–21Google Scholar
  35. Rondon M, Lehmann J, Ramirez J, Hurtado M (2007) Biological nitrogen fixation by common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) increases with bio-char additions. Biol Fert Soils 43:699–708CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. SAS Institute Inc. (2003) SAS version 9.1. Cary NCGoogle Scholar
  37. Schmidt MWI, Noack AG (2000) Black carbon in soils and sediments: analysis, distribution, implications, and current challenges. Glob Biogeochem Cycles 14:777–793CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Senesi N, Polemio M, Lorusso L (2005) Evaluation of barium, rubidium and strontium contents in commercial fertilizers. Nut Cycl Agroecosys 4:135–144Google Scholar
  39. Skjemstad JO, Clarke P, Taylor JA, Oades JM, McClure SG (1996) The chemistry and nature of protected carbon in soil. Aust J Soil Res 34:251–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Soil Survey Staff (1994) Key to soil taxonomy. Pocahontas Press, Blacksburg VA USAGoogle Scholar
  41. Steiner C, Teixeira WG, Lehmann J, Nehls T, de Macedo JLV, Blum WEH, Zech W (2007) Long term effects of manure, charcoal and mineral fertilization on crop production and fertility on a highly weathered Central Amazonian upland soil. Plant Soil 291:275–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Steiner C, Glaser B, Teixeira WG, Lehmann J, Blum WEH, Zech W (2008) Nitrogen retention and plant uptake on a highly weathered central Amazonian Ferralsol amended with compost and charcoal. J Plant Nutr Soil Sci 171:893–899CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Tiessen H, Cuevas E, Chacon P (1994) The role of soil organic matter in sustaining soil fertility. Nature 371:783–785CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. van Wambeke A (1992) Soils of the Tropics. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  45. Van Zwieten L, Kimber S, Downie A, Chan KY, Cowie A, Wainberg R, Morris S (2007) Papermill char: benefits to soil health and plant production. Proceedings of the Conference of the International Agrichar Initiative, 30 April–2 May 2007, Terrigal AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  46. Wang JJ, Harrell D, Henderson RE, Bell PF (2004) Comparison of soil-test extractants for phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese, and iron in Louisiana soils. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal 35:145–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Warnock DD, Lehmann J, Kuyper TW, Rillig MC (2007) Mycorrhizal responses to biochar in soil—concepts and mechanisms. Plant Soil 300:9–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Yamato M, Okimori Y, Wibowo IF, Anshori S, Ogawa M (2006) Effects of the application of charred bark of Acacia mangium on the yield of maize, cowpea and peanut, and soil chemical properties in South Sumatra, Indonesia. Soil Sci Plant Nutr 52:489–495CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zingore S, Manyame C, Nyamugafata P, Giller KE (2005) Long-term changes in organic matter of woodland soils cleared for arable cropping in Zimbabwe. Eur J Soil Sci 56:727–736Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julie Major
    • 1
  • Marco Rondon
    • 2
    • 3
  • Diego Molina
    • 2
    • 4
  • Susan J. Riha
    • 5
  • Johannes Lehmann
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Crop and Soil SciencesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT)CaliColombia
  3. 3.International Development Research CentreOttawaCanada
  4. 4.Centro de Investigaciones en Palma de AceiteVillavicencioColombia
  5. 5.Department of Earth and Atmospheric SciencesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

Personalised recommendations