Agronomy, Research Updates|

Biowastes are unwanted materials of biological origin. They include biosolids, dairy shed effluent, and sawdust. When applied to soil, biowastes can provide plant nutrients, but also introduce heavy metals, pathogens, or xenobiotics. Biowastes could improve degraded or low-fertility soils and generate revenue through the production of non-food products such as essential oils. We grew New Zealand native plants, mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium J.R. Forst & G. Forst) and kānuka (Kunzea robusta de Lange & Toelken) in series of greenhouse experiments in low-to-medium-fertility soils (Bideford clay loam, Lismore stony silt loam, and Pawson silt loam) amended with either biosolids (up to 13500 kg N ha−1 equiv.), biosolids + sawdust (1:0.5–1250 kg N ha−1 equiv.) and dairy shed effluent (200 kg N ha−1 equiv.). Two types of biosolids from Kaikoura (KB) and Christchurch City Council (CB) were used in the experiments. CB (1500 kg N ha−1 equiv.) and dairy shed effluent (200 kg N ha−1 equiv.) increased the biomass of L. scoparium by up to 120% and 31%, and K. robusta by up to 170% and 34%, respectively. Adding sawdust to KB increased the biomass of L. scoparium and K. robusta although it offset the L. scoparium growth increase in the KB-only treatment. The growth response of K. robusta to biowastes was greater than L. scoparium with oil production in K. robustaincreasing by up to 211% when 1500 kg N ha−1 equiv. of CB was applied to Lismore stony silt loam. Generally, the treatments had a negligible effect on oil concentration in all the soil types, except for the KB + sawdust treatment, which increased the oil concentration by 82%. Most of the EOs’ major components were unaffected by biowaste addition in the soils, although some components increased in the Bideford clay loam following KB and KB + sawdust application. Biosolids increased foliar concentrations of Zn, Cu, and Cd, but these were below risk-threshold concentrations. Applying CB (up to 1500 kg N ha−1 equiv.) to low-fertility soils is recommended to establish ecosystems dominated by L. scoparium and K. robusta that annually would produce ca. 100 kg ha−1 of EOs worth US$ 26k and 24k, respectively. Adding sawdust to CB could have environmental benefits through reduction of N leaching. Field trials are warranted to elucidate critical ecological variables and production economics in biowaste management.

Reference: Seyedalikhani, S., J. Esperschuetz, N. Dickinson, R. Hofmann, J. Breitmeyer, J. Horswell and B. Robinson (2019). “Biowastes to augment the essential oil production of Leptospermum scoparium and Kunzea robusta in low-fertility soil.” Plant physiology and biochemistry 137: 213-221.

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