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Influence of Poultry Litter Biochar on Soil Properties and Plant Growth

Revell, Ken T.1; Maguire, Rory O.1; Agblevor, Foster A.2

doi: 10.1097/SS.0b013e3182564202
Technical Article

Biochar created from poultry litter is a way to produce a value-added soil amendment that is lighter and less expensive to transport out of manure nutrient excess areas, but effects on soil properties are unknown. Two studies were conducted with a Sandy loam and a Silt loam. First, lettuce seeds were germinated across biochar incorporation rates from 0% to 100% biochar, and second, a greenhouse trial was conducted in which peppers were grown in soils with up to 5% biochar by weight. Elemental analysis was completed on the biochar, and soils were analyzed for bulk density, water-holding capacity, pH, cation exchange capacity, and extractable nutrients. Biochar increased lettuce germination by almost 50% in the Sandy loam at low rates but became toxic at rates greater than 2.5% in both soils probably due to salt toxicity. Water-holding capacity increased linearly with biochar additions. For example, adding 15% biochar nearly doubled the water-holding capacity of the Sandy loam from 15% to 27%. The biochar had a pH of 9.3, and additions increased the pH of both soils. Total phosphorus (P) in the biochar was 43 g kg−1, and although almost none of this was water soluble in the pure biochar, the Mehlich 1 P and Olsen P were greatly increased in biochar amended soils. Biochar consistently increased the cation exchange capacity only at high rates. Biochar made from poultry litter showed several benefits as a soil amendment, but application rates would be limited by soil test P and pH.

1Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia.

2Biological Engineering Department, Utah State University, Logan, Utah.

Address for correspondence: Dr. Rory O. Maguire, Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA. E-mail:

Received December 6, 2011.

Accepted for publication March 1, 2012.

Financial Disclosures/Conflicts of Interest: The authors received a grant from the Blue Moon Foundation.

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.