The effects of dairy cattle manure and mineral N fertilizer on irrigated maize and soil N and organic C
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This work was aimed at providing a sustainable approach in the use of manure in irrigated maize crop under Mediterranean climatic conditions. To this end, the effect of continuous annual applications of dairy cattle manure, combined or not with mineral N fertilizer, on the following parameters was studied: grain yield, grain and plant N concentration, N uptake by plant, N use efficiency, and soil N and organic carbon. The experiment was conducted in a furrow-irrigated sandy soil under dry Mediterranean conditions during seven years. Three different rates of cattle manure (CM): 0, 30 and 60 Mg ha−1, were applied each year before sowing. These CM rates were combined with four mineral N rates (0, 100, 200 and 300 kg N ha−1) applied at sidedress. On average, the highest grain yields during the 7 years were obtained with the combination of CM at 30 Mg ha−1 and mineral fertilizer and with CM at 60 Mg ha−1 without mineral fertilizer. With CM at 30 Mg ha−1, mineral fertilizer increased yields during most of the growing seasons, meanwhile with CM at 60 Mg ha−1, there was not any significant effect of the joint application of mineral fertilizer on yields. Overall, best results were obtained exceeding maximum rates according to present legislation. The mean apparent nitrogen recovery (ANR) fraction during the 7 seasons was 29% for N exclusively applied as CM. Overall, increased N rates applied as CM resulted in decreased ANRs. However, ANR with CM at 30 and 60 Mg ha−1 increased during the first two seasons. This increased ANR ascribed to mineralization of residual organic N applied in previous seasons explained the increasing yields observed in the treatments along the study. The application of CM during 7 years increased the soil organic carbon in the first 30 cm by 5.7 and 9.9 Mg ha−1 with CM at 30 and 60 Mg ha−1, respectively, when compared to the initial stock. Thus, manure-based fertilization could be an alternative to mineral fertilizer in order to achieve high maize yields while improving soil quality under dry Mediterranean conditions.