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Soil & Tillage Research 146 (2015) 4752

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Soil & Tillage Research


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/still

Long-term effects of different organic and inorganic fertilizer


treatments on soil organic carbon sequestration and crop yields on the
North China Plain
Z.C. Yang a,b , N. Zhao a, *, F. Huang a , Y.Z. Lv a
a
b

College of Resources and Environment, China Agricultural University, Beijing 100193, PR China
Institute of Agricultural Integrated Development, Beijing Academy of Agricultural and Forest Science, Beijing 100097, PR China

A R T I C L E I N F O

A B S T R A C T

Article history:
Received 28 December 2013
Received in revised form 24 June 2014
Accepted 29 June 2014

The aim of the study is to analyze the effects of different fertilization of organic and inorganic fertilizers
on soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration and crop yields after a 22 years long-term eld experiment.
The crop yields and SOC were investigated from 1981 to 2003 in Dry-Land Farming Research Institute of
Hebei Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences, Hebei Province, China. The dominant cropping
systems are winter wheatsummer corn rotation. There were totally sixteen treatments applied to both
wheat and corn seasons: inorganic fertilizers as main plots and corn stalks as subplots and the main plots
and subplots all have four levels. The results revealed: after 22 years, mixed application of inorganic
fertilizers and crop residuals, the SOC and crop yields substantially increased. Higher fertilizer
application rates resulted in greater crop yields improvement. In 20022003, wheat and corn for the
highest fertilizer inputs had the highest yield level, 6400 kg ha1 and 8600 kg ha1, respectively.
However, the SOC decreased as the excessive inorganic fertilizer input and increased with the rising
application of corn stalks. The treatment of the second-highest inorganic fertilizer and the highest corn
stalks had the highest SOC concentration (8.64 g C kg1). Pearson correlation analysis shows that corn
and winter wheat yields and the mineralization amount of SOC have signicant correlation with SOC at
p < 0.05 level.
2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Keywords:
Wheat
Corn stalks
Long-term experiment
Soil organic carbon sequestration
Crop yields

1. Introduction
The food security in China is very important because the large
population and the better living standard need more food. The
North China Plain (NCP) is one of the most important agricultural
regions, where about 35 million ha of croplands are located and at
least 14 million ha of land area is dominated by the cropping
system of winter wheatsummer corn rotation (Liu et al., 2003).
Winter wheat and summer corn cultivated on the NCP account for
48% and 59% of the countrys total, respectively (Liu and Mu, 1993).
Therefore, the soil quality and crop yields of NCP have great
implications for Chinas food supply.
Manure application to soil had been a common practice
adopted at NCP for many centuries. It can enrich soil and hence
ensure crop yields. But recently organic manure application has
almost disappeared because the application of organic manure
in arable cropping system is both labor-demanding and

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +86 1062731431.


E-mail address: zhao.nan.466158602@163.com (N. Zhao).
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.still.2014.06.011
0167-1987/ 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

cost-inefcient. Another factor may be due to the increased use


of inorganic fertilizers and biocides and consequential considerable increase of soil productivity in a relatively short time (Ellis and
Wang, 1997). However, the application of inorganic fertilizer could
reduce soil fertility and crop productivity in the long run
(Yaduvanshi, 2001; Khan et al., 1986). Soil degradation is
threatening food security (Oldeman et al., 1990), and will increase
the emission of CO2. The rising level of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere is highly correlated with global warming. Therefore
soil quality and its importance for sustainable agricultural
development has received growing attention in recent years
(Dumanski and Pieri, 2000; Zhang et al., 2003).
Many researchers are concerned with the ways of addressing
soil degradation to achieve a sustainable agriculture and CO2
abatement. Numerous researches had shown that manure
applications can increase crop yields and soil organic matter
(SOM), and improve the soil quality as well (Blair et al., 2006).
As the rapid development of agricultural machinery, the
practice of returning crop stalks to farm eld has become one of
the main sources of organic fertility required by cropland.
Returning crop stalks like green manure can reduce soil erosion

48

Z.C. Yang et al. / Soil & Tillage Research 146 (2015) 4752

2.2. Soil sampling and chemical analyses

and ameliorate soil physical properties (MacRae and Mehuys,


1985; Smith et al., 1987), enhance SOM and fertility (Doran and
Smith, 1987; Power, 1990), increase capacity of nutrient retention
(Drinkwater et al., 1998; Dinnes et al., 2002), and decrease global
warming potential (Robertson et al., 2000). This study was carried
out based on the results of a long-term winter wheatsummer corn
eld experiment conducted from 1981 to 2003. The objectives of
the study were (1) to assess effects of inorganic and corn stalks on
yields and yield trends of both winter wheat and corn, (2) to
monitor the changes in soil organic carbon (SOC) content under
continuous winter wheatcorn cropping with different soil
fertility management practices, and (3) to identify reasons for
yields and SOC trends.

Soil samples were collected from the top soil layer (020 cm)
of each plot once a year after the corn crop harvest, and then were
air dried and subsequently ground to pass a 0.25 mm sieve. Soil
organic matter was determined by a standard potassium
dichromate digest method, and total N was measured with the
Kjeldahl method. To determine the available P, soil samples were
rst extracted with HClO4-H2SO4 solution and 0.5 mol L1
NaHCO3 (pH 8.5), respectively. Subsequently, the Olsen P method
was used. Available K was extracted with an ammonium acetate
solution (NH4OAc, 1 mol L1) and then determined with a ame
photometer.

2. Methods and materials

2.3. Incubation soil: C mineralization

2.1. Description of the long-term experiment

The samples for incubation were taken in October each year


after corn harvest. Samples (10 g) of whole soil were incubated in
triplicate in 500 mL glass jars. During the incubation, soil samples
were wetted to eld capacity. Small glass bottles were tted within
the jars containing 10 mL of 0.25 M NaOH to trap the CO2 evolved.
Jars were sealed and stored in a dark room at 27  C. C evolution was
determined by pipetting 5 mL of the C-containing NaOH, and
autotitrating with 0.15 M HCl after precipitation of carbonates with
8 mL of 3 M BaCl2 (De Neve and Hofman, 2000).

The experiment was carried out at the Dry-Land Farming


Research Institute of Hebei Academy of Agricultural and Forestry
Sciences, Hengshui (37420 N, 115 420 E, altitude of 31 m above sea
level), Hebei Province, China from 1981 to 2003. The soil is alluvial
soil (Soil taxonomy of USDA, 1999) with particle composition of
sand 27.2%, silt 55.1%, and clay 17.7%. Selected soil properties were
measured at the start of the experiment (in Table 1). The annual
average precipitation was 411 mm with nearly all occurring
between June and September (Fig. 1 in Supplementary data) and
the annual average temperature was 12.5  C.
The experiment utilized the split-plot design with inorganic
fertilizers as main plots and corn stalks as subplots. The main plots
and subplots all had four levels of treatments, which were
expressed as A and B, respectively. So there were totally sixteen
treatments with three replicates each treatment, which were set as
(A1, A2, A3, A4)*(B1, B2, B3, B4). The four levels of main plots were:
A1 (no fertilizer), A2 (N 90 kg ha1 and P2O5 60 kg ha1), A3
(N 180 kg ha1 and P2O5 120 kg ha1), A4 (N 360 kg ha1 and P2O5
240 kg ha1). The four levels of subplots were B1 (no fertilizer), B2
(corn stalks 2250 kg ha 1), B3 (corn stalks 4500 kg ha 1), B4 (corn
stalks 9000 kg ha 1). The larger the number attached to treatment
appellations indicated a higher level of fertilizer input, either of
inorganic or organic fertilizers. Phosphorous was applied as basal
fertilizers once and for all prior to sowing of winter wheat in
October. Nitrogen was divided into two halves, one for winter
wheat and the other for summer corn. Half of the N that was
allocated to winter wheat was applied as basal fertilizers just prior
to its sowing, while the remaining half was top-dressed. All Nfertilizers that were allocated for corn were top-dressed. As for
application method, basal fertilizers were applied before crop
sowing and were mixed with soil by plowing, and top-dressing was
applied to the soil surface before the tillage stage. Prior to the next
round of planting, corn stalks were spread on the soil surface and
incorporated into the soil through plowing with adequate
irrigation that was applied during crop growth season.
Winter wheat was grown at the end of October and harvested in
early June, followed immediately by the sowing of corn in mid-June,
which was harvested in mid-October. Winter wheat and summer
corn required irrigation according to their specic water-demanding
stages. To control growth-reducing factors, hand weeding and other
plant protection measures were applied as needed.

2.4. Statistical analysis


All ANOVA, regression, and multivariate analyses were conducted in SPSS 13.0. Treatments were analyzed by one-way ANOVA
and signicant differences between means were judged by
Turkey's post-hoc tests. To determine the key factor (s) affecting
yields and the quantitative relationships between them, stepwise
multiple regression analysis was applied using the criteria of
probability of p < 0.05 to accept.
3. Results and discussion
3.1. Wheat and corn yields and soil organic carbon content
In order to assess the effects of inorganic and corn stalks organic
nutrient sources on yields and yield trends of both winter wheat
and corn, we selected the treatments of A1B1, A1B4, A2B1, A2B4,
A3B1, A3B4, A4B1, A4B4 to analyze.
Yields in all treatments displayed similar changes, which
increased overtime for A2B1, A2B4, A3B1, A3B4, A4B1, A4B4
treatments, remained fairly steady for A1B1, A1B4 treatments, and
decreased in some years (Fig. 1). Yields uctuations were largest
for A4B4 and smallest for A1B1. In 20022003, some treatments of
wheat yield increased again and A4B4 treatment had the highest
yield, that is, about 6400 kg ha1. For corn yield, A4B4 treatment
also had the highest yield, about 8600 kg ha1. In the long run, the
decrease in yields of both wheat and corn was the strongest with
the A1B1 and A1B4. In both wheat and corn, yields of A2B1, A2B4,
A3B1, A3B4, A4B1, A4B4 were higher than those of A1B1, A1B4. The
treatments of A2B1, A2B4, A3B1, A3B4, A4B1, A4B4 substantially
increased the yields of wheat and corn, especially from 1999 to
2000. So the response of wheat and corn to inorganic and organic
fertilizers was distinct in the long term. By comparing the yield

Table 1
Characteristics of the 020 cm layers of the soil at the beginning of the experiment plot, Hengshui, China.
Soil layer
(cm)

Organic matter
(g kg1)

Available N
(g kg1)

Available P
(mg kg1)

Bulk density
(g cm3)

Field capacity
(%)

Wilting coefcient
(%)

pH

020

11.51

0.05

12

1.14

27.65

8.20

8.32

Z.C. Yang et al. / Soil & Tillage Research 146 (2015) 4752

[(Fig._1)TD$IG]

49

7000

-1

Wheat yield (kg ha )

6000

A1B1

A1B4

A2B1

A2B4

A3B1

A3B4

A4B1

A4B4

5000
4000
3000
2000
1000

19
82
19
83
19
84
19
85
19
86
19
87
19
88
19
89
19
90
19
91
19
92
19
93
19
94
19
95
19
96
19
97
19
98
19
99
20
00
20
01
20
02
20
03

Year

-1
Corn yield (kg ha
)

10000
9000

A1B1

A1B4

A2B1

A2B4

8000

A3B1

A3B4

A4B1

A4B4

7000
6000
5000
4000
3000
2000
1000

19
82
19
83
19
84
19
85
19
86
19
87
19
88
19
89
19
90
19
91
19
92
19
93
19
94
19
95
19
96
19
97
19
98
19
99
20
00
20
01
20
02
20
03

Year
Fig. 1. Winter wheat and corn yields during the 22 years eld experiment at Hengshui, China. A1 (no fertilizer), A2 (N 90 kg ha1 and P2O5 60 kg ha1), A3 (N 180 kg ha1 and
P2O5 120 kg ha1), A4 (N 360 kg ha1 and P2O5 240 kg ha1). The four levels of subplots were B1 (no fertilizer), B2 (corn stalks 2250 kg ha 1), B3 (corn stalks 4500 kg ha 1), B4
(corn stalks 9000 kg ha 1).

trends with precipitation trends (Fig. 1 in Supplementary data), we


found that yields exhibited positive relationship with annual
precipitation. For example, precipitation increased during
19821983, 19891990, 19931994, 19992000, the yields also
had an increased trends in the same periods.
SOC sequestration from fertilization application is a key
pathway by sequestering CO2 in agriculture. The amount of SOC
was related to the amount of plant residues that were returned
to soil. Fertilization will affect the amount of SOC generated by
crop residues left in the eld after harvest (Gregorich and Drury,
1996). We examined the effects of long-term application of
inorganic fertilizer (N and P), organic fertilizer, and combination
of inorganic fertilizer and organic fertilizer on SOC dynamics.
The SOC in different treatments had similar trends over time
(Fig. 2). From 1984 to 1986, SOC showed a distinct declining
trend over time. SOC under A1B1 declined rapidly in the rst
year until to the end of the experiment, albeit with a much
slower rate. Overall reduction in SOC under A1B1 was 7.3% in the
investigated 21 years. SOC under varying fertility treatments
(A1B4, A2B1, A2B4, A3B1, A3B4, A4B1, and A4B4) all increased at
the end of the experiment, suggesting that organic and inorganic

fertilizer can promote the accumulation of SOC and improve soil


fertility in the long term (Dong et al., 2012). A3B4 had
remarkably improved SOC which resulted in the highest SOC
concentration (8.64 g C kg1).
The average of yields over 19822003 was used to evaluate the
long-term effects of inorganic and organic fertilizer. As observed in
Fig. 3(a), the yields of both wheat and corn were higher followed by
the application of more inorganic fertilizer and organic fertilizer.
With the application of corn stalks, crop yields converged in both
treatments, the difference between the A1, A2, A3, and A4 was
obvious. However, for the same level of inorganic fertilizer, the
yields increased with the application of more corn stalks, but the
increasing rate was weak, suggesting that the inorganic fertilizer
can increase the crop yields in a short time span. The corn yield was
higher than wheat in all treatments except A4B1, suggesting that
corn was more responsive to fertilization than wheat. A4B4
treatment produced the highest average yields (4351.5 kg ha1 and
4707.5 kg ha1), fertilization increased yields by 370% for wheat
and by 75% for corn compared to A1B1. In sum, conjunctive
application of inorganic and organic fertilizers can increase crop
yields substantially (Nie et al., 2007; Singh et al., 2007).

50

[(Fig._2)TD$IG]

Z.C. Yang et al. / Soil & Tillage Research 146 (2015) 4752

Soil organic carbon (g C kg-1 )

9
8.5

A1B1

A1B4

A2B1

A2B4

A3B1

A3B4

A4B1

A4B4

8
7.5
7
6.5
6
5.5

19
82
19
83
19
84
19
85
19
86
19
87
19
88
19
89
19
90
19
91
19
92
19
93
19
94
19
95
19
96
19
97
19
98
19
99
20
00
20
01
20
02

Year
Fig. 2. Change in soil organic carbon content (020 cm) at sampling time after corn harvest at Hengshui, China. A1 (no fertilizer), A2 (N 90 kg ha1 and P2O5 60 kg ha1), A3 (N
180 kg ha1 and P2O5 120 kg ha1), A4 (N 360 kg ha1 and P2O5 240 kg ha1). The four levels of subplots were B1 (no fertilizer), B2 (corn stalks 2250 kg ha 1), B3 (corn stalks
4500 kg ha 1), B4 (corn stalks 9000 kg ha 1).

[(Fig._3)TD$IG]

Fig. 3(b) also showed that all treatments of the applied


fertilizers can increase SOC compared with A1B1 (Zhong et al.,
2007; Masto et al., 2007), the effect became stronger as more
inorganic and organic fertilizers were added. This means that the
best way of enriching soil was the combination of inorganic and
organic fertilizers (Malhi et al., 2006). Such combination can
increase SOC very efciently (Melero et al., 2006), indicating that
fertilizers benet the storage and accumulation of SOC in this long
term experiment. For the treatment of A4B4, the SOC content was
lower than that in A3B4, because more chemical fertilizers may
inhibit the increase of SOC and hence lead to soil degradation.

(a)
5000

-1

Yields (kg ha )

4000

3000

2000

3.2. The effects of soil organic carbon content on crop yields

1000

0
A1B1

A1B4

A2B1

A2B4

A3B1

A3B4

A4B1

A4B4

A3B4

A4B1

A4B4

Treatment

(b)
10
9

-1

Soil organic carbon (g kg )

8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
0
A1B1

A1B4

A2B1

A2B4

A3B1

Treatment
Fig. 3. Average of wheat and corn yields (a), SOC (b) in the different fertilizer
treatments in the eld experiment at Hengshui, China. A1 (no fertilizer), A2 (N
90 kg ha1 and P2O5 60 kg ha1), A3 (N 180 kg ha1 and P2O5 120 kg ha1), A4 (N
360 kg ha1 and P2O5 240 kg ha1). The four levels of subplots were B1 (no
fertilizer), B2 (corn stalks 2250 kg ha 1), B3 (corn stalks 4500 kg ha 1), B4 (corn
stalks 9000 kg ha 1). For Fig. 3(a), the white bars are the wheat yield and grey bars
are the corn yield. The error bar is the standard deviation.

Analysis of variance across years was done to determine the


effects of treatments (Gomez and Gomez, 1984). Grain yields of
winter wheat and corn were recorded every year (19822003)
from replicated treatments. The effects of corn stalks, inorganic
fertilizer, soil organic carbon content, and the interaction between
corn stalks and inorganic fertilizer on both winter wheat and corn
yields were found signicant (p < 0.05).
In long-term experiments crop yields may be associated with
such various factors as nutrients, cultivars, climate, soil types and
management practices, and so on. Researchers had reported in
recent years that soil organic matter was one of the most important
factors in determining crop yields (Quiroga et al., 2006). Our
research shows similar result.
By Pearson correlation analysis of SPSS (Fig. 4), the corn yield
had signicant correlation with SOC at p < 0.05 level tow tailed
(n = 240, r = 0.569), and the winter wheat yield had signicant
correlation with SOC at p < 0.05 level tow tailed (n = 240, r = 0.548).
SOC increased with the rising in yields. It seems that SOC can
increase crop yields, but there is some questions regarding the
result: can the inorganic fertilizers increase SOC and increase crop
yields at the same time? Is the increase of crop yields the only
response to the application of inorganic fertilizer? What practices
can be adopted to boost yields as a result of changes in soil organic
matter content?
SOC is an important nutrition sink for crops. The nutrients in
SOC can be released by mineralizing, which afterwards can be used
by crops to increase crop yields. The mineralization amount of SOC
will be enhanced with the increase of SOC. Therefore, the
mineralization amount of SOC is an important parameter in

Z.C. Yang et al. / Soil & Tillage Research 146 (2015) 4752

[(Fig._4)TD$IG]

determining crop yields. Pearson correlation analysis found the


mineralization amount of SOC had signicant correlation with SOC
(Fig. 5) and winter wheat yield (Fig. 6) at p < 0.05 level two tailed
(n = 240, r = 0.601 and r = 0.583), but had low signicant with corn
yield (Fig. 6) at p < 0.05 level two tailed (n = 240, r = 0.419). This
may be due to the fact that the mineralization amount of SOC was
measured in October, after the harvest of corn. So the mineralization release nutrients for winter wheat and with more SOC being
mineralized, winter wheat yield would rise further. But for corn,
the nutrients released by mineralization became less, and hence
the amount of SOC had lower correlation with corn yield than with
winter wheat yield.
Results of the correlation analyses from long-term experiments
showed that crop yields will increase as the SOC increase, thus SOC
was a very key factor in determining crop yields.

Wheat yield (t ha-1)

(a)
7.0

Total

6.0

Fit line for total


95% Confidence
intervals

5.0
4.0
3.0
2.0
1.0

R2 linear = 0.548

0.0
5.0

6.0

7.0

8.0

51

9.0

-1

Soil organic carbon (g kg )

4. Conclusion

(b)
Total
Fit line for total
95% Confidence
intervals

Corn yield (t ha-1)

10.0
8.0
6.0
4.0
2.0

R2 linear = 0.569

0.0
5.0

6.0

7.0

8.0

9.0

Soil organic carbon (g kg-1)


Fig. 4. Correlation of soil organic carbon and crop yields in the 21 years eld
experiment at Hengshui, China. Total refers to the total experiment data.

Signicant differences in SOC and crop yields among different


fertilization treatments were found in the study. Without fertilizer
(A1B1), the SOC and crop yields will decline in a long-term
experiment. The application of only corn stalks (A1B4) had a low
efciency in increasing SOC and crop yields. Combination of
inorganic and organic fertilizer can substantially increase SOC and
crop yields. The crop yields increased further with more fertilizer
being added. Meanwhile, the treatment of A4B4 had the highest
crop yields. However, SOC decreased with less inorganic fertilizers
application and SOC increased with the addition of corn stalks.
Fertilizer was an effective way of SOC storage. There was a trend
that the crop yields had a relationship with SOC. More than twenty
years of continuous winter wheatsummer corn rotation cultivation revealed a signicant correlation at p < 0.05 level (tow tailed)
between crop yields and SOC. The mineralization amount of SOC
had a signicant correlation at p < 0.05 level (tow tailed) with
wheat yield which can conrm the result of crop yield related to
SOC. North China Plain is one of the most important agricultural
regions in China and the dominant cropping systems are winter

[(Fig._5)TD$IG]
Soil organic carbon mineralization amount (g kg-1)

0.8

Total
Fit line for total
95% Confidence
intervals

0.7

0.6

0.5

0.4

0.3

0.2

R2 linear = 0.601
0.1
5.0

6.0

7.0

8.0

9.0

Soil organic carbon (g kg-1)


Fig. 5. Correlation of SOC and mineralization amount of SOC in the 21 years eld experiment at Hengshui, China. Total refers to the total experiment data.

52

Z.C. Yang et al. / Soil & Tillage Research 146 (2015) 4752

[(Fig._6)TD$IG]

6.0

Wheat yield (t ha-1)

5.0

4.0

3.0

2.0

1.0

567
568
569
570
571
572
573
574
575
576
577
578
579

10.0

Total

Total

Fit line for total

Fit line for total

95% Confidence
intervals

6.0

4.0

2.0

R2 linear = 0.583

R2 linear = 0.419

0.0

0.0
0.1

95% Confidence
intervals

8.0

Corn yield (t ha-1)

7.0

0.2

0.3

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.7

0.8

Mineralization count of soil organic carbon (g kg-1)

0.1

0.2

0.3

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.7

0.8

Mineralization count of soil organic carbon (g kg-1)

Fig. 6. Correlation of mineralization amount and wheat and corn yields in the eld experiment at Hengshui, China. Total refers to the total experiment data.

wheatsummer corn rotations. The combination of inorganic and


corn stalks can replace the farmyard manure and green manure to
fertilize soil and sustain crop yields.
Acknowledgements
This study was nanced by the planning subject of the twelfth
ve-year plan in national science and technology for the rural
development in China (2012BAD14B01-1) and special research of
environmental nonprot industry (2013467036).
Appendix A. Supplementary data
Supplementary data associated with this article can be found, in
the online version, at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.still.2014.06.011.
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