Fate of potassium fertilisers applied to clay soils under rainfed grain cropping in south-east Queensland, Australia

Bell, M. J., Moody, P. W., Harch, G. R., Compton, B. and Want, P. S. (2009) Fate of potassium fertilisers applied to clay soils under rainfed grain cropping in south-east Queensland, Australia. Australian Journal of Soil Research, 47 1: 60-73. doi:10.1071/SR08088

Author Bell, M. J.
Moody, P. W.
Harch, G. R.
Compton, B.
Want, P. S.
Title Fate of potassium fertilisers applied to clay soils under rainfed grain cropping in south-east Queensland, Australia
Journal name Australian Journal of Soil Research   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0004-9573
Publication date 2009-01-01
Year available 2009
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1071/SR08088
Open Access Status Not yet assessed
Volume 47
Issue 1
Start page 60
End page 73
Total pages 14
Place of publication Collingwood, VIC, Australia
Publisher C S I R O Publishing
Language eng
Abstract Negative potassium (K) balances in all broadacre grain cropping systems in northern Australia are resulting in a decline in the plant-available reserves of K and necessitating a closer examination of strategies to detect and respond to developing K deficiency in clay soils. Grain growers on the Red Ferrosol soils have increasingly encountered K deficiency over the last 10 years due to lower available K reserves in these soils in their native condition. However, the problem is now increasingly evident on the medium-heavy clay soils (Black and Grey Vertosols) and is made more complicated by the widespread adoption of direct drill cropping systems and the resulting strong stratification of available K reserves in the top 0.05-0.1m of the soil profile. This paper reports glasshouse studies examining the fate of applied K fertiliser in key cropping soils of the inland Burnett region of south-east Queensland, and uses the resultant understanding of K dynamics to interpret results of field trials assessing the effectiveness of K application strategies in terms of K availability to crop plants. At similar concentrations of exchangeable K (K exch), soil solution K concentrations and activity of K in the soil solution (ARK) varied by 6-7-fold between soil types. When K exch arising from different rates of fertiliser application was expressed as a percentage of the effective cation exchange capacity (i.e. K saturation), there was evidence of greater selective adsorption of K on the exchange complex of Red Ferrosols than Black and Grey Vertosols or Brown Dermosols. Both soil solution K and ARK were much less responsive to increasing Kexch in the Black Vertosols; this is indicative of these soils having a high K buffer capacity (KBC). These contrasting properties have implications for the rate of diffusive supply of K to plant roots and the likely impact of K application strategies (banding v. broadcast and incorporation) on plant K uptake. Field studies investigating K application strategies (banding v. broadcasting) and the interaction with the degree of soil disturbance/mixing of different soil types are discussed in relation to K dynamics derived from glasshouse studies. Greater propensity to accumulate luxury K in crop biomass was observed in a Brown Ferrosol with a KBC lower than that of a Black Vertosol, consistent with more efficient diffusive supply to plant roots in the Ferrosol. This luxury K uptake, when combined with crops exhibiting low proportional removal of K in the harvested product (i.e. low K harvest index coarse grains and winter cereals) and residue retention, can lead to rapid re-development of stratified K profiles. There was clear evidence that some incorporation of K fertiliser into soil was required to facilitate root access and crop uptake, although there was no evidence of a need to incorporate K fertiliser any deeper than achieved by conventional disc tillage (i.e. 0.1-0.15m). Recovery of fertiliser K applied in deep (0.25-0.3m) bands in combination with N and P to facilitate root proliferation was quite poor in Red Ferrosols and Grey or Black Vertosols with moderate effective cation exchange capacity (ECEC, 25-35cmol(+)/kg), was reasonable but not enough to overcome K deficiency in a Brown Dermosol (ECEC 11cmol(+)/kg), but was quite good on a Black Vertosol (ECEC 50-60cmol(+)/kg). Collectively, results suggest that frequent small applications of K fertiliser, preferably with some soil mixing, is an effective fertiliser application strategy on lighter clay soils with low KBC and an effective diffusive supply mechanism. Alternately, concentrated K bands and enhanced root proliferation around them may be a more effective strategy in Vertosol soils with high KBC and limited diffusive supply. Further studies to assess this hypothesis are needed.
Keyword Soil Science
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Grant ID DAQ00471
Institutional Status Non-UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collection: Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation
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