Positive effects of apple branch biochar on wheat yield only appear at a low application rate, regardless of nitrogen and water conditions
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The agriculture industry is under intense pressure to produce more food with a lower environmental impact, while also mitigating climate change. Biochar has the potential to improve food security while improving soil fertility and sequestering carbon. The aim of our research was to evaluate the effects of apple branch biochar on wheat yield and soil nutrients under different nitrogen (N) and water conditions.
Materials and methods
Durum wheat was grown for nearly 6 months in pots with silt clay soil supplemented with apple branch biochar. The biochar was applied at five rates (0, 1, 2, 4, and 6% w/w; B0, B1, B2, B3, and B4), and N fertilizer was applied at three rates (0, 0.2, and 0.4 g kg−1; N0, N1, and N2). From the jointing to maturation stages, the soil water content was controlled at two rates to simulate sufficient water and drought conditions (75 and 45% of field capacity; W1 and W2). After harvest, we investigated grain yield and soil nutrient status.
Results and discussion
The application of biochar alone had a positive effect on wheat production and soil nutrients, especially under sufficient water conditions. Compared with the addition of N fertilizer alone, the addition of biochar at B1 and B2 combined with N fertilizer under sufficient water conditions increased the crop yield by 7.40 to 12.00%, whereas this was not the case under drought stress. Furthermore, regardless of water conditions, compared with N fertilizer application alone, a high rate of biochar application (B3 and B4) led to a significant decrease in the grain yield of approximately 6.25–21.83%. Biochar had strong effects on soil nutrients, with NO3− and available phosphorus contents and the C:N ratio exerting the greatest effects on wheat yield.
The effects of biochar on wheat production and soil nutrients varied with the biochar application rate, N fertilizer application rate, and water conditions. Drought stress weakened or offset the positive effect of biochar on crop production, especially under the high-N level (N2) conditions. The optimum application combination was 1% (or possibly even less) apple branch biochar (B1) and moderate N fertilizer (N1).
KeywordsApple branch biochar Application rate Drought Nitrogen Wheat yield
This work was supported by the National Key Technology R&D Program of China (2016YFC0501605 and 2015BAD22B01).
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