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Reclamation of virgin black alkali soils

Wursten, J.L., Powers, W.L.
Agronomy journal 1934 v.26 no.9 pp. 752-762
animal manures, land restoration, Secale cereale, Medicago sativa, alkaline soils, virgin soils, soil analysis, field experimentation, exchangeable cations, soil salts, soil amendments, calcium, sodium, carbonates, bicarbonates, chlorides, sulfates, sulfur, gypsum, soil pH, nitrogen content, phosphates, hay, crop yield, Oregon
The progress made in reclamation of hard virgin black alkali soil, and its restoration toward a normal fertile state as determined by crop yields and soil analyses, is reported for the oldest alkali experiment field in the Northwest. Sulfur, gypsum, and manure are used in various combinations and amounts as supplements to deep drainage and copious irrigation. Rye, sweet clover, and alfalfa are repeatedly seeded until a good stand of alfalfa is established. The check plats are treated identically as are the treated plats in every case with the exception of chemical treatments. As yet not much improvement has been noticed in the check plats which indicates that black alkali soils cannot be reclaimed by irrigation and drainage alone in any reasonable length of time. The check plats contain about 4 times as much alkali salts as the treated plats. The reaction has been reduced to about pH 7.6 on some of the more favorably treated plats, while it is still on the order of pH 9.0 on the check plats. Base exchange studies reported show that the clay-complex on the treated plats contains mainly calcium and very little sodium, while on the check plats this situation is just reversed. There is a good correlation between the crop yields secured and the amount of calcium on the exchange complex of the soil. Sulfur has proved to be the most effective and economical single chemical treatment if used in sufficient amounts. Sulfur and gypsum used in combination are more effective than either used alone. Manure alone is rather ineffective, but 500 to 1,500 pounds of sulfur per acre used in combination with manure is very effective. One thousand pounds of sulfur per acre used with manure would perhaps give the most economical returns per unit invested. Gypsum even when used in very large amounts has been less effective than sulfur Some of the better treated plats have given yields which compare well with those secured on the good neutral soil of the locality. The treated plats in general are giving fair yields, while as yet it has been practically impossible to get a stand on the check plats. The results obtained clearly indicate that reclamation of virgin black alkali soil is possible by the use of chemical treatments together with drainage and irrigation.