Estimating crop N uptake from organic residues using a new approach to the 15N isotope dilution technique
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Experiments were conducted to test a new approach to the 15N isotope dilution technique for estimating crop N uptake from organic inputs. Soils were pre-labelled with 15N fertiliser and a carbon source. These were then incubated until there was stabilisation of the 15N abundance of the inorganic N pool and resumption of inorganic N concentrations. Residues were then applied to the soils and planted with ryegrass (Lolium perenneL.) to determine the nitrogen derived from the residue (Ndfr) using the isotope dilution equations. This method was compared with the direct method, i.e. where 15N-labelled residues were added to the soil and Ndfr in the ryegrass calculated directly. Estimates of percentage nitrogen derived from the residue (%Ndfr) alfalfa (Medicago sativaL.) in the ryegrass, were similar, 22 and 23% for the direct and soil pre-labelling methods, respectively, in the Wechsel sandy loam. Also, estimates of the %Ndfr from soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr) residues in the Krumbach sandy loam were similar 34% (direct) and 36% (soil pre-labelling approach). However, in the Seibersdorf clay loam, the %Ndfr from soybean was 49% using the direct method and 61% using the soil pre-labelling method; yet Ndfr from common bean residue was 46% using the direct approach and 40% using the pre-labelling, not significantly different (P > 0.05). The soil pre-labelling approach appears to give realistic values for Ndfr. It was not possible to obtain an estimate of Ndfr using the soil pre-labelling method from the maize residues (Zea mays L.) in two of the soils, as there was no increase in the total N of the ryegrass over the growing period. This was probably due to microbial immobilisation of inorganic N, as a result of the wide C:N ratio of the residue added. The results suggest that the new soil pre-labelling method is feasible and that it is a potentially useful technique for measuring N release from a wide range or organic residues, but it requires further field-testing.
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