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Biochar provided limited benefits for rice yield and greenhouse gas mitigation six years following an amendment in a fertile rice paddy

Liu, Xiaoyu, Zhou, Jiashun, Chi, Zhongzhi, Zheng, Jufeng, Li, Lianqing, Zhang, Xuhui, Zheng, Jinwei, Cheng, Kun, Bian, Rongjun, Pan, Genxing
Catena 2019 v.179 pp. 20-28
agricultural soils, application rate, biochar, crop rotation, fertilizer application, field experimentation, grain yield, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, long term effects, longevity, methane, nitrogen fertilizers, nitrous oxide, organic carbon, paddies, paddy soils, pollution control, potassium, rice, soil amendments, soil fertility, soil pH, wheat, China
Biochar soil amendment has been increasingly recommended for enhancing soil fertility and crop productivity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions in agricultural soils. However, a clear understanding of the cost benefits and longevity of the positive effects over long term would be a prerequisite for large scale biochar production and application in agriculture. In this study, the long-term effects of a single biochar amendment on soil fertility, crop yield and greenhouse gas emissions were assessed in a six-year field experiment of a fertile rice paddy from Southwest China. The field trial was established in 2010 and was managed under a rice-winter wheat rotation system throughout six years until 2016. The experiment employed a nested design with biochar soil amendment at application rates of 0, 20 and 40 t ha−1 without N fertilization, and 150 kg ha−1 with N fertilization, respectively. Soil properties and crop yields were measured and the emissions of CH4 and N2O were monitored during the rice cultivation period in the 1st, 2nd and 5th year since 2010. Soil pH, organic carbon, total N and available potassium content were all increased under biochar amendment and persisted throughout the six years. However, grain yields across the years were generally not affected by biochar amendment except a yield increase in 2015. This grain yield increase (18.3%) was reported in the wheat season of 2015, when biochar had been applied at 40 t ha−1 in plots along with N fertilizer. Biochar amendment reduced N2O emissions from the rice paddies only for the first two seasons following the single amendment. In conclusion, a single but high rate of biochar amendment provided limited and temporary benefits for improving grain yields and reduction of greenhouse gases in the fertile paddy soil.