Ammonia volatilization following surface application of urea to tilled and no-till soils: A laboratory comparison.

Rochette, P., Angers, D.A., Chantigny, M.H., MacDonald, J.D., Bissonnette, N., and Bertrand, N. (2009). "Ammonia volatilization following surface application of urea to tilled and no-till soils: A laboratory comparison.", Soil & Tillage Research, 103(2), pp. 310-315. doi : 10.1016/j.still.2008.10.028  Access to full text

Abstract

Broadcasting of urea to agricultural soils can result in considerable losses by NH3 volatilization. However, it is unclear if the impact of this practice on NH3 emissions is further enhanced when performed on no-till (NT) soils. The objective of this study was to compare NH3 volatilization following broadcasting of urea to NT and moldboard plowed (MP) soils. Intact soil cores were taken shortly after harvest from NT and MP plots of three long-term tillage experiments in Québec (Canada) and stored for 4.5 months prior to incubation. Urea (14 g N m-2) was applied at the soil surface and NH3 volatilization was measured for 30 d using an open incubation system. Mean cumulative NH3 losses were greater (P < 0.001) in NT (3.00 g N m-2) than in MP (0.52 g N m-2). Several factors may have contributed to the higher emissions from the NT soils. Urease activity in the top 1 cm of soils was on average 4.2 times higher in NT than in MP soils. As a result, hydrolysis of urea occurred very rapidly in NT soils as indicated by enhanced NH3 emissions 4 h after application of urea. The presence of crop residues at the surface of NT soils also decreased contact of the urea granules with the soil, possibly reducing adsorption of NH4+ on soil particles. Lower volatilization on the MP soils may also have partly resulted from a fraction of urea granules falling into shallow cracks. Field trials are needed to confirm our finding that NT soils bear greater potential for NH3 volatilization following surface application of urea than MP soils.