Effect of cultivation on maize response to nitrogen fertilizer : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master in Applied Science in Soil Science, Institute of Natural Resources, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Continuous cultivation of arable soils results in the decline of 'soil quality' in terms of structural degradation and nutrient depletion. It decreases soil organic matter content, induces the leaching and gaseous losses of N through enhanced nitrification and denitrification, resulting in the depletion of nitrogen content of the soils. This will affect N availability, soil moisture retention, soil aeration and the activity of soil microorganisms. The objective of this study is to examine the effect of cultivation on the response of maize to N fertiliser. A glass house experiment was conducted using four soils. The soils included a permanent pasture soil and three maize / barley grown soils which have been cultivated for 6, 17 and 34 years. Maize plants were grown at six levels of N applied as urea (0 - 500 kg N/ha). The dry matter yield response to N application indicated higher maize growth for the pasture soil than for the cultivated soils at all levels of N application. Even at the highest level of N application (500 kg N/ha) the maize dry matter yield for the cultivated soil did not reach that for the unfertilised pasture soil. This indicates that N alone was not limiting the dry matter yield among the cultivated soils. It was hypothesised that the differences in the physical conditions among these soils may also be responsible for differences in dry matter yield. In the second experiment, pasture and the 34 year cultivated soils were incubated with poultry manure for eight weeks. The addition of poultry manure was to improve the physical conditions of the soil. A glasshouse experiment was then conducted to examine the effect of poultry manure addition on the growth of maize at five levels of N (0-400 kg N/ha) applied as urea. There was a clear visual indication of an improvement in the structure of the cultivated soil due to the incorporation of poultry manure. Addition of poultry manure increased the dry matter yields of maize plants both in the cultivated and the pasture soils. The dry matter yield of plants in the cultivated soils (in the presence of manure addition) was higher than the pasture soils at low levels of N application and similar yields were obtained at the higher rates of N application. Oxygen diffusion rate (ODR) values were higher for the pasture soil than the cultivated soil. The addition of poultry manure in the initial stages, however, decreased the ODR values in both soils which is attributed to the increased consumption of oxygen by the easily decomposable organic carbon in the poultry manure. With increasing time after incubation the ODR values slowly increased in the poultry manure treated soils indicating an improvement in soil structure. The study clearly demonstrated that the impact of cultivation on maize yield was partly due to poor soil physical conditions.