Impact of using high-quality biological compost and compost extract on corn production, plant nutrient content, and soil quality

Project Overview

ONE13-186
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,926.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Dr. Elaine Ingham
Rodale Institute
Co-Leaders:
Dr. Gladis Zinati
Rodale Institute
Stacy Glackin
Rodale Institute

Annual Reports

Information Products

Turning brown gold into yellow gold (Article/Newsletter/Blog)

Commodities

  • Agronomic: corn

Practices

  • Crop Production: continuous cropping, municipal wastes, nutrient cycling, tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: biological control, compost extracts, weed ecology
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil microbiology, soil chemistry, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Intensive cultivation and continuous production of corn year after year on the same land weakens soil health and reduces corn production and, consequently, growers’ profits. Pennsylvania corn growers are always looking for improved practices that enhance crop yield and quality, and profitablility and sustainability of their livelihood. Since I joined Rodale Institute in 2011 as Chief Scientist, I have been showing growers, through research and demonstration projects, the advantages of using well-prepared compost and compost extracts with greater biology. A preliminary test showed that three applications of high-biology compost (high in beneficial fungi and protozoa) had increased kernal production by 10% over those produced conventionally without treatment. In partnering with one of our savy corn growers in Pennsylvania, Dan Hunsicker, who owns around 3,000 acres, we propose to conduct a research study on one of his corn fields to demonstrate, using standard grower practices, the effects of using high-biology compost with or without high-biology compost extract on corn kernal production, plant tissue nutrient content, weed suppression, and soil quality. We will disseminate project results to corn and grain growers and the community at large, through presentations at annual field days, workshops, and conferences and through reports, Rodale Institute web articles, trade magazines and via published manuscript.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    At Rodale Institute, I have developed compost containing a specified set of organisms (High biology-compost or HBC) and extract of that compost (HBCE) will be produced using methods based on the Indore Method of Sir Albert Howard. Each application of compost or extract will be assessed using direct shadowing microscope techniques to determine that the compost and extract applied contains the minimum level of desirable organisms.

    Our partner, Dan Hunsicker, on this grant proposal will be provided with these amendments to compare side by side with his standard treatments.

    Proposed treatments at Dan Hunsicker Field:
    1)Standards grower practice- (grower’s management practice: fertilizer and herbicide)- control treatment;
    2)Standard grower practice + HBC applied at planting at 1 ton/acre;
    3)Standard grower practice + 3 applications of HB compost-extract at 20 gallon/acre per application at a- planting,b- one month after planting, and c- two months after planting;
    4)Standard grower practice +HB compost (1 ton/ace) and 3 HB compost-extract applications (20 gallons/acre per application).

    The experimental design will include these four treatments in a randomized block design with three replications and will be conducted at one of Mr. Hunsicker corn fields.

    Analyses
    Samples collected for this study, for chemical analyses (compost, compost extract, and soil) as well as corn plant tissue analyses will be analyzed at the Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory (AASL) at PennState University.

    Compost and compost extract will be developed at Rodale Institute and provided to Dan Hunsicker at time of application. Compost and compost extracts will be assessed for chemical components (Total Carbon (TC), total organic carbon (TOC), Total N (TN), Total Phosphorus (TP), and available macro and micronutrients, pH, and EC.

    For biological components, three replicated samples will be collected before compost and compost-extract application and analyze for biology components.

    Biology will be assessed using direct microscope shadowing techniques to determine total bacteria, total fungi,active protozoa, and nematodes in the soil, compost and compost extracts. This will allow rapid assessment(assessment takes 15 to 25 minutes per sample) of presence of adequate and desirable levels of organisms. Since most beneficial fungi in soil have characteristics that distinguish them from un-desirable species (color,diameter, spores, or other distinguishing morphological characters), a reasonably useful determination of whether the compost or extract has mostly beneficial species of fungi can be made, and thus used to accept or reject the
    compost or extract for application to the grower fields.

    Soil sampling and analysis
    Initial sampling: Three replicated soil samples will be collected before compost application (prior to planting), airdried,sieved and sent to AASL to determine the background information on Total Carbon (TC), total organic carbon (TOC), Total N (TN), Total Phosphorus (TP), and available macro and micronutrients, pH, and EC. Three replicated moist soil samples will be collected before compost application to analyze for biology components using the microscope.

    At planting: Mid-late May 2013, after compost application and before applying the compost extract for certain treatments, three replicated soil samples from each treatment will be collected, air-dried, sieved and sent to AASL to determine TC, TOC, TN, TP, and available macro and micronutrients, pH, and EC. Three replicated soil samples (moist) will be collected from certain treated plots before compost extract application to analyze for biology components using the microscope.

    Mid June and July: Soil sampling after 4 weeks from planting corn and before applying second and 3rd application of compost extract from certain treatments. Three replicated soil samples will be collected, air-dried, sieved and sent for analyses to determine TC, TOC, TN, TP, and available macro and micronutrients, pH, and EC. Three replicated samples (moist) per treatment will be analyzed for biology components using the microscope.

    At harvest: For all treatments, three replicated soil samples will be collected, air-dried, sieved, and sent for analyses to determine TC, TOC, TN, TP, and available macro and micronutrients, pH, and EC. Moist soil samples from all treatments will be analyzed for biology components using the microscope.

    Plant tissue analysis
    Three replicated corn tissue samples will be collected at harvest to assess macro and micro-nutrient content in four treatments.

    Corn plant biomass and kernel yield
    Corn plants (5-10 plants) will assessed for biomass and kernel yield at harvest from three replications.

    Weed count
    Weed count population and biomass of weeds per treatment will be assessed at certain plant’s growing stage. The collected data from this project will be compiled and analyzed using statistical SAS package and organized into graphs and figures to develop articles for trade magazines, web articles, and a manuscript. The results will
    address the objectives listed above and will answer which of these treatments will improve soil and crop management of conventionally-grown corn.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.