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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Correspondence to Johannes Lehmann.

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Responsible Editor: Elizabeth (Liz) A. Stockdale.

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Major, J., Rondon, M., Molina, D. et al. Maize yield and nutrition during 4 years after biochar application to a Colombian savanna oxisol. Plant Soil 333, 117–128 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-010-0327-0

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Keywords

  • Biochar
  • Colombia
  • Crop yield
  • Exchangeable acidity
  • Maize
  • Oxisol
  • Tropical savannas