Soil transformations of added organic matter in organic farming systems and conventional agriculture
The aim of this work was to assay the effects of previous history of organic amendment to soils in the field on the ability of those soils to mineralise mustard, a non-legume green manure. Soil and 15N labelled mustard mineralisation was followed in laboratory microcosms. Volatilised N was assayed by direct acid trapping of N in glass fibre disks, followed by direct combustion isotope ratio mass spectrometry. Animal manures, green manures and straw added to the soil in the field in the previous season, same season and for 7 years continuously did not significantly affect these soils' ability to mineralise mustard in microcosms. Nitrification and mineralisation were the dominant processes during the first 12 days of incubation. Volatilisation rates were 1000-fold lower than mineralisation or nitrification rates. Mustard N accounted for between 1-3% of the soil mineral N, whereas only a maximum of 0.01% of mustard N was volatilised over 24 days. Soils sampled at different times in the season decomposed mustard at similar rates at stimulated low spring temperatures. Nitrification rate was reduced 5-fold more than the mineralisation rate at 8oC. Straw incorporation for seven years did not affect the subsequent recovery of 15N enriched fertiliser or of 15N from labelled straw, by oil seed rape. 15N labelled fertiliser contributed up to 63% of the winter barley N. The labelled barley straw subsequently contributed 16% of the oil seed rape N in the absence of any applied fertiliser. Ploughing in straw in the autumn, in the absence of applied fertiliser had no yield penalty or effect on crop uptake, and may retain more mineral N in the upper soil layers, lessening the risk of leaching over the winter period. The results obtained here emphasise the importance of additions of organic materials to soil in supplying plant nutrients and minimising nutrient losses.