A field experiment is described in which three rates of pig and cow slurry were applied to a ryegrass sward over a period of 16 years. The experiment included control plots and plots receiving fertilizer supplying 200 kg N, 32 kg P and 160 kg K/ha per year.
The slurry nutrient concentrations were similar to published values. Pig slurry was more variable than cow slurry and both varied significantly from year to year. Slurry was applied at 50, 100 or 200 m3/ha per year, with each rate divided into three equal applications.
Even the highest slurry application rate did not depress herbage yield, which showed a typical response curve to the amount of soluble nitrogen applied. The ammoniumnitrogen content of slurry (61% on average) gave an adequate measure of its effect on herbage yield when it was applied three times per year in spring and summer.
Recovery of phosphorus in the herbage averaged 30% from pig slurry, 40% from cow slurry and 66% from-fertilizer. Pig slurry supplied more phosphorus than did cow slurry, and herbage phosphorus content was significantly correlated with the amount applied. Much of the slurry phosphorus may have been organically bound and not available to plants in the short term.
Recovery of potassium from pig slurry and fertilizer was nearly 90% and from cow slurry about 70%. Cow slurry supplied potassium in excess of crop requirements so that it accumulated in the soil under the largest dressing. Soil phosphorus reserves declined under the smallest dressing of cow slurry but were maintained at higher application rates. The pig slurry produced a marked accumulation of phosphorus under the largest dressing. The substantial accumulations of phosphorus and potassium from pig and cow slurry respectively gave marked penetration of the soil below 10 cm depth only at the highest application rate. The data suggest that at rates typical of farm practice significant losses of phosphorus and potassium from the rooting zone would be unlikely to occur.
The main invading plant species were Agrostis stolonifera L. and Poa spp. Small slurry dressings produced a similar botanical composition to that of plots given fertilizer. Increasing slurry application rates decreased the proportion of L. perenne and increased that of A. stolonifera but only under the largest dressing did L. perenne fall to a small proportion of the sward and A. stolonifera become very dominant. L. perenne made maximum contribution to herbage dry-matter yield early in the season while the proportion of A. stolonifera increased as the season progressed.
Under these conditions even extremely large slurry dressings did not depress herbage yield and may not necessarily have reduced herbage quality despite marked changes in sward botanical composition.