Ash and biochar amendment of coarse sandy soil for growing crops under drought conditions

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Appropriate soil amendments may increase plant available water and crop yields on coarse sandy soils under drought conditions. In this study, we applied straw ash or straw biochar from gasification to a Danish coarse sandy subsoil to assess the effects on soil water retention, evapotranspiration and crop yields. Spring barley (2016, 2017) and winter wheat (2018) were grown over three years in columns containing 25cm of organic matter-rich topsoil, 80 cm of amended coarse sandy soil (1.5%, 3%, 6% wt. ash or 1% wt. biochar or control soil) and 45 cm of un-amended subsoil. Precipitation, evaporative demands and soil moisture were recorded across the growth seasons, with 2018 having severe drought conditions. This year evapotranspiration levels increased with increasing ash and biochar content (by 54% and 33% for the 6% ash- and 1% biochar-amended soils, respectively), and plant dry matter increased by 18% in both the 1% biochar- and 6% ash-treated soils compared to the untreated control. A linear relationship was established between in situ field capacity and ash dosage (R2=.96), showing an increase of 2.2% per percentage (wt.) of ash added, while the 1% biochar treatment increased the capacity by 3.5%, indicating a higher efficiency than for ash. However, we did not find significant positive effects on grain yields. The results show that ash and biochar have the potential to significantly increase soil water retention, evapotranspiration and total dry matter yield in drought conditions, but that this may not correspond to an increase in grain yield.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSoil Use and Management
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)1280-1292
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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