Trees' role in nitrogen leaching after organic, mineral fertilization: a greenhouse experiment

M L López-Díaz, V Rolo, G Moreno
Journal of Environmental Quality 2011, 40 (3): 853-9
New sustainable agriculture techniques are arising in response to the environmental problems caused by intensive agriculture, such as nitrate leaching and surface water eutrophication. Organic fertilization (e.g., with sewage sludge) and agroforestry could be used to reduce nutrient leaching. We assessed the efficiency of establishing trees and pasture species in environmentally sensitive, irrigated Mediterranean grassland soils in controlling nitrate leaching. Four vegetation systems-bare soil, pasture species, cherry trees [ (L.) L.], and pasture-tree mixed plantings-and five fertilization treatments-control, two doses of mineral fertilizer, and two doses of organic fertilizer (sewage sludge)-were tested in a greenhouse experiment over 2 yr. In the experiment, the wet and warm climate characteristics of Mediterranean irrigated croplands and the plant-to-plant and soil-to-plant interactions that occur in open-field agroforestry plantations were simulated. Following a factorial design with six replicates, 120 pots (30-cm radius and 120 cm deep) were filled with a sandy, alluvial soil common in the cultivated fluvial plains of the region. The greatest pasture production and tree growth were obtained with sewage sludge application. Both pasture production and tree growth decreased significantly in the pasture-tree mixed planting. Nitrate leaching was negligible in this latter treatment, except under the highest dose of sewage sludge application. The rapid mineralization of sludge suggested that this organic fertilizer should be used very cautiously in warm, irrigated Mediterranean soils. Mixed planting of pasture species and trees, such as , could be a useful tool for mitigating nitrate leaching from irrigated Mediterranean pastures on sandy soils.

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