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Fate of potassium fertilisers applied to clay soils under rainfed grain cropping in south-east Queensland, Australia

Bella, M.J., Moody, P.W., Harch, G.R., Compton, B. and Want, P.S. (2009) Fate of potassium fertilisers applied to clay soils under rainfed grain cropping in south-east Queensland, Australia. Australian Journal of Soil Research, 47 (1). pp. 60-73.

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Article Link(s): http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/SR08088

Publisher URL: http://www.publish.csiro.au

Abstract

Negative potassium (K) balances in all broadacre grain cropping systems in northern Australia are resulting in a decline in the plant-available reserves of K and necessitating a closer examination of strategies to detect and respond to developing K deficiency in clay soils. Grain growers on the Red Ferrosol soils have increasingly encountered K deficiency over the last 10 years due to lower available K reserves in these soils in their native condition. However, the problem is now increasingly evident on the medium-heavy clay soils (Black and Grey Vertosols) and is made more complicated by the widespread adoption of direct drill cropping systems and the resulting strong strati. cation of available K reserves in the top 0.05-0.1 m of the soil pro. le. This paper reports glasshouse studies examining the fate of applied K fertiliser in key cropping soils of the inland Burnett region of south-east Queensland, and uses the resultant understanding of K dynamics to interpret results of field trials assessing the effectiveness of K application strategies in terms of K availability to crop plants.

At similar concentrations of exchangeable K (K-exch), soil solution K concentrations and activity of K in the soil solution (AR(K)) varied by 6-7-fold between soil types. When K-exch arising from different rates of fertiliser application was expressed as a percentage of the effective cation exchange capacity (i.e. K saturation), there was evidence of greater selective adsorption of K on the exchange complex of Red Ferrosols than Black and Grey Vertosols or Brown Dermosols. Both soil solution K and AR(K) were much less responsive to increasing K-exch in the Black Vertosols; this is indicative of these soils having a high K buffer capacity (KBC). These contrasting properties have implications for the rate of diffusive supply of K to plant roots and the likely impact of K application strategies (banding v. broadcast and incorporation) on plant K uptake.

Field studies investigating K application strategies (banding v. broadcasting) and the interaction with the degree of soil disturbance/mixing of different soil types are discussed in relation to K dynamics derived from glasshouse studies. Greater propensity to accumulate luxury K in crop biomass was observed in a Brown Ferrosol with a KBC lower than that of a Black Vertosol, consistent with more efficient diffusive supply to plant roots in the Ferrosol. This luxury K uptake, when combined with crops exhibiting low proportional removal of K in the harvested product (i.e. low K harvest index coarse grains and winter cereals) and residue retention, can lead to rapid re-development of stratified K profiles.

There was clear evidence that some incorporation of K fertiliser into soil was required to facilitate root access and crop uptake, although there was no evidence of a need to incorporate K fertiliser any deeper than achieved by conventional disc tillage (i.e. 0.1-0.15 m). Recovery of fertiliser K applied in deep (0.25-0.3 m) bands in combination with N and P to facilitate root proliferation was quite poor in Red Ferrosols and Grey or Black Vertosols with moderate effective cation exchange capacity (ECEC, 25-35 cmol(+)/kg), was reasonable but not enough to overcome K deficiency in a Brown Dermosol (ECEC 11 cmol(+)/kg), but was quite good on a Black Vertosol (ECEC 50-60 cmol(+)/kg).

Collectively, results suggest that frequent small applications of K fertiliser, preferably with some soil mixing, is an effective fertiliser application strategy on lighter clay soils with low KBC and an effective diffusive supply mechanism. Alternately, concentrated K bands and enhanced root proliferation around them may be a more effective strategy in Vertosol soils with high KBC and limited diffusive supply. Further studies to assess this hypothesis are needed.

Item Type:Article
Corporate Creators:Plant Science, Crop and Food Science , Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI)
Business groups:Agri-Science, Crop and Food Science
Additional Information:© CSIRO.
Keywords:K fertiliser; potassium; Vertosol.
Subjects:Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Soils. Soil science > Soil chemistry
Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Fertilisers
Deposited On:16 Apr 2009 04:03
Last Modified:11 Oct 2011 07:03

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