Utilization of Woody Biomass and Manure as Agricultural Soil Amendments in Nebraska

Animal Manure Management March 21, 2017 Print Friendly and PDF
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Purpose 

While Eastern Redcedar are native to Nebraska and much of the Central U.S., the ability of these trees to thrive in many soils and under a broad range of climatic conditions has contributed to their designation as an invasive species. Cedar tree proliferation negatively impacts agriculture by reducing groundwater availability, compromising grazing land, impeding forage production for cattle, and altering surface water flows. Agricultural crop and livestock producers depend on affordable access to water, healthy and productive soils, and quality grazing land to remain profitable. Land treatment practices that return organic matter to soil improve soil health, which in turn positively impacts crop productivity, soil water holding capacity, soil fertility, and grazing land forage quality and productivity. This project is investigating the use of two readily available by-products in Nebraska, livestock manure and cedar tree wood chips,  as amendments on agricultural land to improve soil productivity metrics. The overall goal of this project is to demonstrate a value-added use for woody biomass to offset the cost of tree management activities and encourage landowner management of cedars.

What did we do? 

Crop year 2016 was the first year of the Woody Biomass and Manure Project. Six treatments were applied to 12-m x 10-m plots within cooperators’ fields following the 2015 harvest:

1. woody biomass (WB1), 6 ton/ac

2. woody biomass (WB2), 12 ton/ac

3. woody biomass with liquid N (WBLN), 6 ton/ac

4. woody biomass with swine manure (WBSM), 6 ton/ac

5. woody biomass with cattle manure (WBCM), 6 ton/ac

6. control (Cont), no amendments

Manure and liquid nitrogen treatments received less than 30 lbs ac-1 of N in the fall. The experiment is a completely randomized block design with four replications of each treatment, for a total of 24 plots, at each of the sites. Since the plots were established within existing crop fields, the producers were encouraged to continue their current management strategies. Both sites were irrigated, and fertilizer was applied uniformly across all plots using the pivot throughout the growing season.

Soil was sampled for chemical and biological properties in the spring and fall of 2016 and sent to a commercial lab for analyses. Rye was sampled by hand harvesting 0.25 square feet from four locations within each plot for a total of 1 square foot. Corn was sampled by hand harvesting six plants from each plot. Stand counts were also completed. WATERMARK sensors were installed at three depths (1, 2, and 3 ft) in two replications of four treatments (WBCM, WB1, WB2, Cont) at both sites. Additionally, temperature sensors were installed at a depth of 1 ft. A total of 16 plots were monitored (8 plots per site with 2 replications of 4 treatments).

What have we learned? 

Soil biological and chemical characteristics have not been affected during the first year. There were no differences in the amount or type of soil microbes due to treatment. WBCM and WBLN had greater soil nitrate than WB1 and WBSM early in the spring. Additionally, WBCM had greater soil K than the other treatments. Other than these two instances, there were no differences in organic matter, pH, and macronutrients. However, this is not surprising since measurable changes in soil properties typically occur over many years and manure application rate was relatively low. More importantly, though, is that microbial populations were not decreased by the cedar mulch.

Cedar mulch applications did not decrease biomass yield of corn and rye when applied with nitrogen. In fact, in the rye, WBLN had the greatest biomass yields followed by WBCM, WB1, WBSM, and Cont. WB2 had the lowest rye biomass, which was probably due to nitrogen tie-up by the wood chips due to the initially higher C:N ratio. There was no treatment effect for corn biomass or stand counts.

At the site planted to corn at a depth of one foot, the three woody biomass treatments monitored (WB1, WB2, and WBCM) were significantly wetter and cooler than the control from mid-June until mid-July. WBCM was also wetter at a depth of two feet than the control. Unfortunately, due to rodent activity, statistical analyses at the rye site and other times of the growing season are not possible. The differences in soil moisture and temperature are probably due to shading and the physical barrier to evaporation that the wood chips supply. The increased soil moisture under the woody biomass treatments could reduce irrigation.

Future Plans  

In order to apply for competitive funding, we need more supporting data. We are going to increase monitoring of soil moisture and temperature, so that three replications of all six treatments are monitored at both sites. Additionally, a greenhouse study will be conducted to provide water quality data and rate of decomposition of the wood chips.

Corresponding author, title, and affiliation       

Linda Schott, Extension Graduate Research Assistant, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Corresponding author email   

linda.rae.schott@gmail.com

Other authors   

Amy Schmidt, Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Amy Timmerman, Associate Extension Educator, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Adam Smith, Assistant Forester, Nebraska Forest Service

Additional information               

More information can be found at: manure.unl.edu

Acknowledgements       

This project is funded by the Nebraska Forest Service. We would like to thank the Middle Niobrara Natural Resource District, especially Mike Murphy, Travis Connot, and Zach Peterson, for their assistance to this project. We would also like to thank the Nebraska Forest Service, especially Richard Woollen, Adam Smith, and Heather Nobert, for their assistance to this project. Additionally, this project would not be possible without our two farmer cooperators, Leonard Danielski and Greg Wilke.

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USDA / NIFA

This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.