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Nutrient depletion in Ferralsols under hybrid sisal cultivation in Tanzania

Hartemink, A.E., Kekem, A.J. van.
Soil use and management 1994 v.10 no.3 pp. 103-107
Agave sisalana, nutrients, losses from soil, soil fertility, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, nutrient availability, leaves, nutrient content, nutrient uptake, crop management, long term experiments, chemical constituents of plants, Tanzania
Sisal production in Tanzania has declined sharply in the past two decades because of a decrease in the area grown and a decrease in yields. As sisal is cultivated without manuring, depletion of soil fertility is considered one of the main causes of the declining yields. This paper presents a balance of the macronutrients N, P, K, Ca and Mg for sisal grown in a plantation in NE Tanzania on deep, red clay soils (Ferralsols). Annual fibre yields declined from 2.5 t/ha in the 1960s to about 1 t/ha in the 1980s. Hybrid sisal is a demanding crop and in ten years, with a total fibre yield of 11 t/ha, about 260 kg of N, 40 kg of P, 385 kg of K, 890 kg of Ca and 330 kg of Mg are removed in the harvested leaves. A comparison of soils after two and three 10-yr cycles of sisal production showed that in the third cycle the pH decreased by 0.5 units and that exchangeable bases were decreased by fifty per cent or more. The amounts of K, Ca and Mg removed from the soil were similar to those in leaves. However, soil analyses could not detect changes in total N and available P, possibly because of the large amount of total N in the soil and the lack of precision in the N and P analyses. In the Ferralsols, potassium is likely to become deficient first, followed by magnesium and calcium. The soil has little available P, and an increase in soil acidity may decrease it further and also create aluminium and manganese toxicities. In order to maintain sisal production, fertilization with P, K, Ca and Mg is necessary, and to improve yields N must also be applied.