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Coal char effects on soil chemical properties and maize yields in semi‐arid region

Dinesh Panday, Maysoon M. Mikha, Xiaocun Sun, Bijesh Maharjan
Agrosystems, geosciences & environment 2021 v.4 no.1 pp. e20145
Zea mays, adverse effects, coal, combustion, composted manure, corn, environment, irrigation, pH, sandy loam soils, semiarid zones, soil amendments, soil organic carbon, urea, Nebraska
Soil amendments with high carbon (C) content can be effective in semi‐arid regions where soils are characterized by low C. A field study was conducted in 2016–2018 to evaluate the effect of char on soil chemical properties and irrigated maize (Zea mays L.) yields in sandy loam fertilized with urea or composted manure. Carbon‐rich char used was a product of coal combustion residue from a local factory in western Nebraska. The experiment was arranged in a split‐plot randomized complete block design in four replications with char (0, 6.7, 13.4, 20.1, and 26.8 Mg C ha⁻¹) as main and N treatment (0, 90, 180, and 270 kg urea‐N ha⁻¹ and 33.6 and 67.2 Mg ha⁻¹ of composted manure) as subplot factors. A handheld spectral sensor was used to determine normalized difference red edge (NDRE) at growth stages (V6, V8, V10, and R1) in 2017 and 2018. After 2 yr, char increased Fe, reduced pH at lower rates, and increased K and Mg at higher rates in top 20 cm soil but did not affect crop yields. Char applied at ≥13.4 Mg C ha⁻¹ increased soil organic C by ≥8% and composted manure increased soil P and K compared to the control. There was a strong correlation of NDRE with N rates and grain yields at V8 and V10. This study found no adverse effect of char on soil properties. However, more site‐specific research is needed before char can be used as a regular soil amendment in semi‐arid regions.