Plant and Soil

, Volume 408, Issue 1–2, pp 1–14 | Cite as

Compost vs biochar amendment: a two-year field study evaluating soil C build-up and N dynamics in an organically managed olive crop

  • M. Sánchez-García
  • M. A. Sánchez-Monedero
  • A. Roig
  • I. López-Cano
  • B. Moreno
  • E. Benitez
  • M. L. CayuelaEmail author
Regular Article


Background and aims

Despite the high interest in biochar as soil amendment, the number of field studies is still limited, being experiments with perennial crops in arid lands particularly lacking. This study evaluated the application of compost and biochar in a drip-irrigated organic olive crop in a calcareous soil in South-East Spain.


During two consecutive years, changes in soil total organic C (TOC), dissolved organic C (DOC) and water soluble N (WSN), mineral N (NH4 + and NO3 ), N2O emissions, denitrifying enzyme activity (DEA) and number of amoA gen copies were monitored.


Biochar increased TOC compared to the rest of treatments, whereas DOC and WSN significantly increased in plots amended with compost and the compost-biochar mixture. DEA, amoA-encoding genes and N2O emissions were highest with the compost-biochar mixture, but results were not always significant.


Our results show that, in these N-limited and deficit irrigated semi-arid agro-ecosystems, compost amendment has an impact on soil microbiological activity with a link to N availability. Biochar applied alone does not alter the N dynamics, but markedly builds-up soil C. In both cases only during the first year these effects were statistically significant. When applied in combination a synergistic effect was observed and the highest values of DEA, amoA gene copies and N2O emissions were detected.


Organic farming Nitrous oxide Olive mill waste compost Semi-arid 



This study was performed under the framework of the EU project FP7 KBBE.2011.1.2–02 FERTIPLUS co-funded by the European Commission, Directorate General for Research & Innovation, within the 7th Framework Programme of RTD, Theme 2-Biotechnologies, Agriculture & Food. ML Cayuela is supported by a “Ramón y Cajal” research contract from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. The authors are very grateful to Dr Claudio Mondini for revising the manuscript, to Dr. Nunzio Fiorentino and Dr. Jose A. Alburquerque for his help with field work, to Dr. Joris Eekhout for his aid preparing Fig. 1 and to Juan Molina, manager of “SAT Casa Pareja”, for providing the field site.

Supplementary material

11104_2016_2794_MOESM1_ESM.docx (190 kb)
Figure S1 (DOCX 190 kb)
11104_2016_2794_MOESM2_ESM.docx (25 kb)
Figure S2 (DOCX 24 kb)
11104_2016_2794_MOESM3_ESM.docx (18 kb)
Table S1 (DOCX 17 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Sánchez-García
    • 1
  • M. A. Sánchez-Monedero
    • 1
  • A. Roig
    • 1
  • I. López-Cano
    • 1
  • B. Moreno
    • 2
  • E. Benitez
    • 2
  • M. L. Cayuela
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Soil and Water Conservation and Waste ManagementCEBAS-CSIC, Campus Universitario de EspinardoMurciaSpain
  2. 2.Department of Environmental ProtectionEstación Experimental del Zaidín (EEZ), CSICGranadaSpain

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