Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 June 2017
Biochar application appears to be a promising method to improve soil physicochemical and biological properties by increasing soil carbon. Along with the influence of hardwood biochar on wheat growth, yield and soil quality for a period of two years, this study also evaluates the major soil parameters to be taken as minimum data set while assessing the impact of hardwood biochar in an acidic sandy loam soil. Five fertilizer treatments combining inorganic fertilizers and biochar were applied: unfertilized control (T1); 100% NPK (T2); 5 Mg ha−1 biochar (T3); 100% NPK + 5 Mg ha−1 biochar (T4); and 50% N + 100% PK + 5 Mg ha−1 biochar (T5). Biochar application (T3 vs. T1; T4 and T5 vs. T2) significantly increased leaf chlorophyll content, net photosynthesis rate, leaf N concentration and above and below-ground biomass, with improved wheat yield and grain quality (total grain protein and carbohydrate). Soil pH, water-holding capacity, available nutrients (N, P and K), organic carbon and its fractions also enhanced in biochar applied plots with reduced bulk density. Increased activities of soil enzymes urease, phosphatase, dehydrogenase, fluorescein di-acetate and arylsulphatase were recorded in biochar treatment along with significant increase in N recovery index (22%) and agronomic efficiency (40%). Multivariate analysis identified activity of phosphatase, pH and humic acid to fulvic acid ratio as the indicators to explain the total variance from biochar addition in acidic sandy loam soil under wheat cultivation. Soil quality index showed a significant improvement when biochar was added with reduced N doses (T5). This study confirms the efficacy of biochar as a soil conditioner when applied with reduced N fertilizer and would be a sustainable option to improve wheat production and soil quality in acidic sandy loam soils of northeast India.
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