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Maize yield response to a phosphorus-solubilizing microbial inoculant in field trials

Leggett, M., Newlands, N.K., Greenshields, D., West, L., Inman, S., Koivunen, M.E. (2015). Maize yield response to a phosphorus-solubilizing microbial inoculant in field trials, 153(8), 1464-1478.


© Cambridge University Press 2014. Findings from multi-year, multi-site field trial experiments measuring maize yield response to inoculation with the phosphorus-solubilizing fungus, Penicillium bilaiae Chalabuda are presented. The main objective was to evaluate representative data on crop response to the inoculant across a broad set of different soil, agronomic management and climate conditions. A statistical analysis of crop yield response and its variability was conducted to guide further implementation of a stratified trial and sampling plan. Field trials, analysed in the present study, were conducted across the major maize producing agricultural cropland of the United States (2005-11) comprising 92 small (with sampling replication) and 369 large (without replication) trials. The multi-plot design enabled both a determination of how sampling area affects the estimation of maize yield and yield variance and an estimation of the ability of inoculation with P. bilaiae to increase maize yield. Inoculation increased maize yield in 66 of the 92 small and 295 of the 369 large field trials (within the small plots, yield increased significantly at the 95% confidence level, by 0·17 ± 0·044 t/ha or 1·8%, while in the larger plots, yield increases were higher and less variable (i.e., 0·33 ± 0·026 t/ha or 3·5%). There was considerable inter-annual variability in maize yield response attributed to inoculation compared to the un-inoculated control, with yield increases varying from 0·7 ± 0·75 up to 3·7 ± 0·73%. No significant correlation between yield response and soil acidity (i.e., pH) was detected, and it appears that pH reduction (through organic acid or proton efflux) was unlikely to be the primary pathway for better phosphorus availability measured as increased yield. Seed treatment and granular or dribble band formulations of the inoculant were found to be equally effective. Inoculation was most effective at increasing maize yield in fields that had low or very low soil phosphorus status for both small and large plots. At higher levels of soil phosphorus, yield in the large plots increased more with inoculation than in the small plots, which could be explained by phosphorus fertilization histories for the different field locations, as well as transient (e.g., rainfall) and topographic effects.

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