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Effect of inorganic fertilisers and organic amendments on soil aggregation and biochemical characteristics in a weathered tropical soil

Mangalassery, S., Kalaivanan, D., Philip, Prabha S.
Soil & tillage research 2019 v.187 pp. 144-151
Anacardium occidentale, NPK fertilizers, aggregate stability, biofertilizers, biomass, cakes, clay, clay fraction, crops, drought tolerance, enzyme activity, humid tropics, landscapes, laterites, microaggregates, microbial carbon, nitrogen, nutrient management, nutrients, organic foods, phosphorus, potassium fertilizers, poultry manure, rain, rock phosphate, sieving, silt, soil aggregation, soil biological properties, soil enzymes, soil organic matter, soil sampling, topography, trees, tropical soils, vermicomposting, water stable soil aggregates, weeds, wood ash
Highly weathered laterite soils are a characteristic feature of humid tropics with undulating topography and high rainfall. The crop of cashew (Anacardium occidentale L.) has been cultivated in such landscapes, mainly to prevent further degradation due to the drought hardiness of cashew and requirement of very limited soil disturbances for its cultivation. Providing proper nutrient management is important for balancing the nutrient removal by tree crops especially in poor fertile soils. A study was initiated, after 5 years of application of inorganic fertilisers and organic amendments to cashew in a weathered tropical soil, to evaluate the effects of organic and inorganic sources of nutrients on soil aggregation and biochemical characteristics. The experiment consisted of 11 treatments as Farm Yard Manure (FYM) alone; FYM + biofertiliser consortia; FYM, rock phosphate and wood ash; poultry manure; In situ composting using recyclable cashew biomass and weeds; In situ composting using recyclable cashew biomass and weeds + green manuring; vermicomposting of recyclable cashew biomass; FYM + organic cakes + recyclable cashew biomass + biofertiliser consortia; recommended dose of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium fertiliser (NPK fertiliser); recommended NPK fertiliser + FYM; and control without nutrient application. Soil samples were collected from surface 0–30 cm layer. The soil samples were fractionated into three aggregate sizes, i.e., >2 mm (large macroaggregates), 0.25–2 mm (small macroaggregates), 0.053 to 0.25 mm (microaggregates) and <0.053 mm (silt + clay size fraction) using wet sieving. The results indicated that the organic sources of nutrient application increased the proportion of large and small macroaggregates. The treatments receiving only inorganic nutrients and no nutrients contained significantly higher silt + clay fractions (47.7 and 45.5% respectively). A higher percentage of water stable aggregates (47.4–70.7%) and increased aggregate stability (mean weight diameter) (0.78–1.26 mm) was recorded with the application of organic sources of nutrients. Aggregates in the silt + clay size faction and microaggregates recorded significantly higher carbon compared to small and large macroaggregates. Compared to control, the application of different organic amendments increased the soil organic matter (SOM) by 2.2–12.7% in silt + clay size fraction; 14.6–37.0% in microaggregates; 18.4–51.7% in small macroaggregates and 17.7–50.9% in large macroaggregates. Our findings reinforce that the annual application of manures and amendments to weathered tropical soil is important to improve biological properties of soil in terms of soil enzyme activities, microbial carbon and nitrogen, and to prevent further degradation of soil under such fragile environment.