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Chilean journal of agricultural research

versión On-line ISSN 0718-5839

Chilean J. Agric. Res. vol.72 no.2 Chillán jun. 2012

http://dx.doi.org/10.4067/S0718-58392012000200013 

Chilean Journal of Agricultural Research 72(2) April - June 2012

RESEARCH

The Effect of using Quail Litter Biochar on Soybean (Glycine max [L.] Merr.) Production

Efecto del uso de Biocarbón de Lecho de Codorniz en la Producción de Soya (Glycine max [L.] Merr.)

Tawadchai Suppadit1*, Nittaya Phumkokrak2, and Pakkapong Poungsuk3

1Graduate School of Social and Environmental Development, National Institute of Development Administration, Bangkapi, Bangkok 10240, Thailand. "Corresponding author (stawadchai@yahoo.com).
2Duangkamol Farm, Hin Dard Sub-District, Dan Khun Thot District, Nakhon Ratchasima 30210, Thailand.

3King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, Faculty of Industrial Education, Ladkrabang, Bangkok 10520, Thailand.


Biochars can be used as soil amendments for improving soil properties and crop yield. The objective of this research was to study the plant growth, yield, yield components, and seed quality, including nutrients and heavy metals (Pb, Cd, and Hg), in the soybean plant (Glycine max [L.] Merr.) and soil. The experiment was conducted from September 2010 to January 2011 in a greenhouse located in the Dan Khun Thot District, Nakhon Ratchasima Province, Thailand. The research comprised six treatments with four replicates in a completely randomized design. Quail litter biochar (QLB) at rates of 0, 24.6, 49.2, 73.8, 98.4 and 123 g per pot mixture were provided to soybean cv. Chiang Mai 60. The results showed that QLB could be used as a soil fertility improvement and amendment for soybean production with an optimum rate of 98.4 g per pot mixture, which gave the best performance in terms of the number of nodes, height, DM accumulation, total yield, and seed quality. After the experiment, the nutrient contents in the soil increased as the QLB content increased, but the heavy metal residues in the leaves and seeds did not change. However, QLB at levels higher than 98.4 g per pot mixture is not advisable because QLB is alkaline in nature, which may affect soil pH.

Key words: Crop yield, element, nutrient uptake, pyrolysis, soil fertility.


El biocarbón puede usarse como enmienda para mejorar las propiedades del suelo y el rendimiento del cultivo. El objetivo de esta investigación fue el estudio del crecimiento de la planta, rendimiento y sus características, así como la calidad de semilla, incluyéndose el estudio de nutrientes y metales pesados (Pb, Cd y Hg) en la planta de soya (Glycine max [L.] Merr.) y el suelo. La experimentación se realizó en condiciones de invernadero en el distrito de Dan Khun Thot, provincia de Nakhon Ratchasima, Tailandia, entre septiembre del 2010 y enero del 2011. La investigación constó de seis tratamientos con cuatro repeticiones en un diseno completamente al azar. Se administró biocarbón de lecho de codorniz (QLB) a razón de 0, 24,6; 49,2; 73,8; 98,4 y 123 g por mezcla de sustrato en maceta, a soya var. Chiang Mai 60. Los resultados mostraron que el QLB puede usarse para mejorar la fertilidad y como enmienda del suelo en la producción de soja a un nivel óptimo de 98.4 g por mezcla de sustrato en maceta. Esta medida dio el mejor resultado en número de nodos, altura, acumulación de materia seca, rendimiento total, y calidad de semilla. El contenido de nutrientes en suelo tras el experimento aumentó al aumentar QLB, mientras que el residuo de metales pesados en hoja y semilla no cambió. No obstante, no se recomiendan niveles superiores a 98.4 g de QLB por mezcla de sustrato en maceta dado que el QLB es de naturaleza alcalina y el pH del suelo podría verse afectado.

Palabras clave: rendimiento de cultivo, elementos, absorción de nutrientes, pirólisis, fertilidad del suelo.


The Japanese quail (Coturnixjaponica) is an excellent bird for commercial domestication because of its rapid growth, high laying, fecundity and environmental resistance compared to chickens (Iwamoto et al., 2008). In Thailand, Japanese quail production has undergone steady growth all over the country during the past 20 yr, and the production of quail egg and meat is expected to further increase in response to increasing domestic consumption and export (Suppadit, 2009). The total census of quail in 2009 was approximately 5.2 million (Department of Livestock Development, 2010), which resulted in an estimated annual production of 36003700 t fresh quail litter (1000 birds produce 0.704 t of litter in raising between starter and maturity stages) (Suppadit, 2009). Quail litter refers to the combination of accumulated manures, feathers, spilled feed, and bedding materials, which is composed of rice (Oryza sativa L.) hulls (Suppadit et al., 2009). The high organic matter and nutrient content of quail litter along with its positive effects on soil texture have encouraged its exploitation on agricultural soils (López-Mosquera et al., 2007; Bernhart and Fasina, 2008; Suppadit et al., 2008a) because quail litter not only improves soil fertility and aeration but also increases water holding capacity of soil (Gupta and Gardner, 2005; Suppadit et al., 2008b).

However, if there is no corrective treatment of quail litter, it produces a foul odor, thus affecting environmental health. Quail litter can also become a source of disease pathogens and produce poisonous gases from fermentation. When quail litter is washed away into a surface water source, it increases nutrients for water plants. If water plants grow in abundance, this will eventually reduce oxygen in the water and negatively affect aquatic animals (Suppadit, 2002). However, if quail litter is properly handled, such waste can be used as a fertilizer for crop production. Quail litter has a high nutritional value when used as an organic fertilizer because nutrients, such as N, P, and K, will be recycled. These components in quail litter have traditionally been used as an amendment (Suppadit, 2005). However, the process of transforming quail litter into fertilizer is rather complicated. There are also problems with flies, dust, and odor. Promising approaches for reducing these problems or restrictions of fresh quail litter include pelleting, extrusion, and thermal processes (Suppadit, 2009).

Thermal processing of quail litter provides an additional option to manage this waste and to upgrade it to biogas, bio-oil, and biochar (Chan et al., 2008; Jaime and Salazar, 2010). Biochar is a product of thermal decomposition of biomass produced by the process called pyrolysis (heating in the absence of oxygen) (Chen et al., 2010) . Biochar is attracting international attention for the following two reasons: 1) biochars can be used as soil amendments for improving soil properties and crop yield; and 2) storing biochars in soils is regarded as a means for permanently sequestering C and a potential abatement option for anthropogenic C emissions (Glaser et al., 2002; Lehmann, 2007; Hossain et al., 2010; Uzoma et al., 2011) . The latter can be attributed to the relative stable nature of biochar, and the long turnover time of biochar in soil is of particular relevance for climate change solutions (Lehmann et al., 2006; Kookana, 2010). The conversion of quail litter by pyrolysis to produce biochar has potential to increase conventional agricultural productivity (Suppadit, 2009). Meanwhile, the understanding of agricultural effects of biochar is limited (Hossain et al., 2010). Previous studies have examined the useful effects of biochar produced from poultry litter (Chan et al., 2008), wastewater sludge (Hossain et al., 2010), and cow manure (Uzoma et al., 2011) on the yield of agricultural crop and properties of soil, and these studies have found that biochars significantly improve the yield of crops and properties of soil. However, there is currently no available information regarding the use of quail litter biochar (QLB) and its effects on soil and plant nutrients. Thus, studying the influence of biochar derived from quail litter on crop productivity merits research.

The objectives of the current study were to investigate the effect of different mixing rates of QLB on soybean (Glycine max L.] Merr.) production in a greenhouse pot experiment in terms of growth, yield and seed quality and to investigate the impact of QLB on soil quality and bioavailability of heavy metals in soybean leaves and seeds.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Soils
The soil used in this study was collected from the Dan Khun Thot soil group (Ustic Quartzipsamments, sandy, siliceous, coated, and isohyperthermic) and was classified as sandy soil containing 94.0% sand, 2.5% silt, and 3.5% clay (Land Development Department, 2011). The selected soil had the appropriate physical and chemical properties for agriculture to better determine the effect of treatment conditions using QLB on soybean growth and production. A composite sample was collected 10 cm below the topsoil layer, and the sample was sieved through a 6 mm sieve according to methods of Hossain et al. (2010) prior to analysis and potting. Table 1 shows the chemical characteristics, nutrients, and heavy metals in the sandy soil before the experiment.

Table 1. Chemical characteristics of soil and quail litter biochar (QLB) used in the pot experiment.


CEC: Cation exchange capacity.

Quail litter biochar
The biochar used in this study was produced from quail litters. Quail litters were randomly selected from farms located in the Singburi Province, Thailand. QLB was produced at a 500 °C pyrolysis temperature based on the recommendation of Lehmann (2007). The quail litter was packed into a ceramic container, which was covered with a lid, and combusted in a muffle furnace (K-SF05, Humanlab, K&K Scientific Supplier, Seoul, South Korea) at 500 °C for 5 h to generate biochar according to Uzoma et al. (2011). After the pyrolysis process, the QLB was ground to pass through a 1.0 mm sieve so that the biochar had the same particle size as sandy soil used in the experiment. The QLB was alkaline in nature (Suppadit, 2009). The chemical characteristics, nutrients, and heavy metals in the QLB are presented in Table 1.

Location and greenhouse
The study was conducted under greenhouse conditions and natural light at the Duangkamol Farm in the Dan Khun Thot District, Nakhon Ratchasima Province from September 2010 to January 2011. The environmental temperature during the trial was 22.0-32.0 °C. The trials were performed in a greenhouse that measured 6.0 m wide x 8.0 m long x 2.0 m high (96.0 m3) under a plastic roof. Corrugated iron and blue netting were used as a border around the greenhouse. The black plastic pots in which the soybeans were planted were 28.0 cm wide x 22.5 cm high (616 cm2).

Experimental design and data collection
This study was a completely randomized design with four separate replicates (Gomez and Gomez, 1984). Air-dried soil was prepared for a total weight of 10 kg pot-1 and mixed with various QLB treatments. The amount of biochar applied in this study was based on previous investigations conducted by Van Zwieten et al. (2010) and Uzoma et al. (2011). The QLB treatments were as follows: T1, control (without QLB); T2, 24.6 g pot-1 (0.4 kg m-2); T3, 49.2 g pot-1 (0.8 kg m-2); T4, 73.8 g pot-1 (1.2 kg m-2); T5, 98.4 g pot-1 (1.6 kg m-2); and T6, 123 g pot-1 (2.0 kg m-2). The chemical fertilizer (NPK 12-24-12; 10 g pot-1) was applied 20 d after emergence following suggestions issued by the Chiang Mai Field Crops Research Center (CMFCRC, 2002). The soybean cv. Chiang Mai 60 (CM. 60) was

used for evaluation. Soybean seeds were inoculated with Rhizobium spp. for N-fixation and planted in each plastic pot. The soybean seedlings were then thinned 1 wk after emergence leaving four seedlings pot-1, and the healthiest plant from each pot was retained. The plants were watered approximately up to the field capacity until the R7 stage (beginning maturity). The entire plot area was weeded by hand. An aqueous solution of tobacco leaves was used for insect control. The following data were recorded: planting date, stage of emergence, number of nodes, height, leaf area, DM, yield (4 plants pot-1 x pods plant-1 x seeds pod-1 x 1 seed weight), number of pods per plant, number of seeds per pod and dry weight of 100 seeds.

Chemical analysis
At the end of the pot experiment, the plant, soybean seed, QLB, and soil samples were sent to the laboratories of Faculty of Industrial Education, King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang and Thailand Institute of Scientific and Technological Research. Seed germination and vigor of harvested seeds were recorded based on ISTA Rules (1985). The soil from each pot was air-dried at 36 °C until a constant weight was reached, and the soil was then passed through a 4 mm sieve to separate plant debris. The plants and seeds were oven dried at 70 °C until a constant weight was reached before weighing to determine DM and chemical analysis. Protein and lipid were measured using the Kjeldahl method with a Kjel-Foss Automatic (Model 16210) and by the Soxhlet extraction method according to the procedures in the Land Development Department (2004) manual. Heavy metals in the plant composition were measured using the atomic-direct aspiration method for Pb and Cd and atomic absorption-cold vapor method for Hg with an atomic absorption spectrophotometer (AAS) according to procedures of Tessier et al. (1979). Heavy metals, macronutrients and micronutrients in the QLB and soil were measured using the inductively coupled plasma atomic emission method with an inductively coupled plasma emission spectrophotometer according to procedures of AOAC (1970; 1980). The QLB and soil chemical characteristics in terms of EC and pH before and after the experiment were determined in a 1:10 ratio (solid:water extracts) using a conductivity meter (electrical conductivity method) and a pH meter, respectively, according to procedures of Peverill et al. (1999). Cation exchange capacity (CEC) was estimated using an NH4+ replacement method according to procedures of Schollenberger and Simon (1945), and the leachates were analyzed for exchangeable cations, including K, Ca, and Mg, according to procedures of Uzoma et al. (2011).

Data analysis
Data were analyzed using ANOVA. When significant differences were observed, the Duncan's New Multiple Range Test (DNMRT) of the Statistical Analysis System (SAS version 6.12) was used to test for differences among treatment means at a significance level of p < 0.05 (SAS Institute, 1996).

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Potential growth and yield
The differences in the number of soybean nodes and soybean height at the R8 stage (full maturity) were significant for all treatments (p < 0.05) (Figure 1). Increasing the content of the QLB corresponded to a slight increase in the number of nodes and plant height, which may have been due to the increase in optimal nutrients for soybean growth. The highest number of nodes per plant (nine nodes) and the tallest plant (102 cm) were obtained from 98.4 g QLB per pot mixture (T5), and the lowest number of nodes per plant (6.9 nodes) and the shortest plant (84.0 cm) were obtained from the control group (without QLB; T1).


Figure 1. Number of main stem nodes and height of soybean cv. CM. 60 at different levels of quail litter biochar.


T1: Control (without quail litter biochar); T2: 24.6 g pot-1 (0.4 kg m-2);
T3: 49.2 g pot-1 (0.8 kg m-2); T4: 73.8 g pot-1 (1.2 kg m-2); T5: 98.4 g pot-1 (1.6 kg m-2); and T6: 123 g pot-1 (2.0 kg m-2).


The differences in the soybean leaf areas were significant for all treatments (p < 0.05) (Figure 2). At the reproductive growth stages (Fehr and Caviness, 1977) of R1 (beginning bloom; 632 cm2 2 plants-1), R3 (beginning pod; 798 cm2 2 plants-1), R5 (beginning seed; 870 cm2 2 plants-1) and R7 (320 cm2 2 plants-1), the highest leaf area values were obtained from the 98.4 g QLB per pot mixture (T5), and the lowest leaf areas were obtained from the control group (without QLB; T1). These results can be attributed to the effects of the optimal fertilizer level. As the soybean leaf area increased from the R1 stage to R5 stage, the data showed that increasing QLB contents corresponded to increased leaf areas.

Figure 2. Leaf area of soybean cv. CM. 60 at different levels of quail litter biochar.


T1: Control (without quail litter biochar); T2: 24.6 g pot-1 (0.4 kg m-2); T3: 49.2 g pot-1 (0.8 kg m-2);
T4: 73.8 g pot-1 (1.2 kg m-2); T5: 98.4 g pot-1 (1.6 kg m-2); and T6: 123 g pot-1 (2.0 kg m-2).

The DM production was significantly different for all treatments and all stages of R1, R3, R5, R6 (full seed), R7, and R8 (p < 0.05) (Figure 3). The 98.4 g QLB per pot mixture (T5) had the highest DM at stages R7 and R8 with 6.38 and 6.13 g plant-1, respectively, and the lowest DM was obtained from the control group (without QLB; T1). The data showed that the DM was increased with increasing QLB contents. The DM accumulation in all treatments had the highest levels at the R7 stage and was slightly decreased at the R8 stage. Similar results were obtained by Hanway and Thomson (1967), who reported that leaf and stem DM accumulates at an early stage (R7) and then decreases at the pod development and seed filling stages. Meanwhile, pod and seed DM accumulates when carbohydrates are moved from sources (leaf and stem) to sinks (pod and seed) at the final stage. Moreover, Hanway and Weber (1971) reported that soybean stem DM accumulation has the highest value approximately 15 d after the flowering stage and has a lower value at the full maturity stage, and they concluded that carbohydrates are also moved from the stems to the seeds to meet the growth demands for seed development.

Figure 3. Dry matter of soybean cv. CM. 60 at different levels of quail litter biochar.


T1: Control (without quail litter biochar); T2: 24.6 g pot-1 (0.4 kg m-2); T3: 49.2 g pot-1 (0.8 kg m-2);
T4: 73.8 g pot-1 (1.2 kg m-2); T5: 98.4 g pot-1 (1.6 kg m-2); and T6: 123 g pot-1 (2.0 kg m-2).

The yield (4 plants pot-1) was significantly different for all treatments (p < 0.05) (Table 2) with the highest yield of 22.4 g pot-1 with the 98.4 g QLB per pot mixture (T5) and the lowest yield of 6.8 g pot-1 with the control group (without QLB; T1). The soybean yield was increased with increasing QLB contents. Good plant height and leaf area are important because they are important for photosynthesis, which ultimately affects yield (Uzoma et al., 2011). The CMFCRC (2002) reported that plant yield is influenced by the yield components. The present study showed that the highest yielding treatment (T5) presented high values for the number of pods per plant, number of seeds per pod and 100 seed dry weight.

Table 2. Yield and yield components of soybean cv. CM. 60 at different levels of quail litter biochar.


Means in the same column with different letters are significantly different at p < 0.05.
T1: Control (without quail litter biochar); T2: 24.6 g pot-1 (0.4 kg m-2); T3: 49.2 g pot-1 (0.8 kg m-2);
T4: 73.8 g pot-1 (1.2 kg m-2); T5: 98.4 g pot-1 (1.6 kg m-2); and T6: 123 g pot-1 (2.0 kg m-2); CV: coefficient of variation.


The number of soybean pods, number of seeds per pod and 100 seeds dry weight were significantly different among treatments (p < 0.05) (Table 2). Increasing the content of QLB produced more pods plant-1, seeds pod-1 and 100 seeds dry weight. The highest values for the number of pods per plant, number of seeds per pod and 100 seeds dry weight were 14.8 pods plant-1, 2.15 seeds pod-1 and 15.2 g, respectively, for the 98.4 g QLB per pot mixture (T5), and the control group (without QLB; T1) had the lowest values (6.3 pods plant-1, 1.8 seeds pod-1, and 10.8 g, respectively).

The above results showed that the application of QLB to sandy soil increased soybean growth and yield compared to the control group (T1). As a soil amendment, the QLB increased the soil fertility. The presence of nutrients in the soil released from the QLB had beneficial and positive influences on soybean growth and yield, including increased nutrient availability, particularly N (Schmidt and Noack, 2000). QLB is not easily degraded by soil microbes, which favor the use of this material in sandy soils (Glaser et al., 2002) because it has a porous material with high surface area (Liang et al., 2006). Thus, QLB can significantly affect the soil moisture and nutrient dynamics (Lehmann et al., 2003; Uzoma et al., 2011). These results imply that the addition of QLB to sandy soil provided percolating soil moisture more residence time within the root zone, thereby making soil moisture and nutrients more available to soybean seedlings growing in the soil and eventually improving crop productivity (Steinbeiss et al., 2009). In addition, the increase in soybean growth and yield was mainly due to the improvement in the CEC of the soil and an increase in the nutrient content of the soil (Hossain et al., 2010). However, there was no significant difference in soybean growth and yield between the 98.4 (T5) and 123 (T6) g QLB per pot mixtures (p > 0.05). The mixings rate of 123 g QLB pot-1 (T6) may not be feasible because the soil had a pH 8 with this treatment. The optimum soil pH for soybean production is 6.5-7.5 (CMFCRC, 2002; Becerra et al, 2011), and the soil pH was increased with increasing amounts of QLB.

Seed quality
The effect of QLB treatments on seed germination and vigor was significant (p < 0.05) (Table 3). The highest seed germination and vigor values (50.6 and 42.3%, respectively) were found for the 98.4 g QLB per pot mixture (T5), and the lowest seed germination and vigor values (34.2 and 30.9%, respectively) were found for the control group (without QLB; T1). Increasing the content of QLB generally increased the percentage of seed germination and vigor. The reasons for this were the same as for soybean growth and yield.


Table 3. Seed quality, protein content and lipid content of soybean cv. CM. 60 at different levels of quail litter biochar.


Means in the same column with different letters are significantly different at p < 0.05.
T1: Control (without quail litter biochar); T2: 24.6 g pot-1 (0.4 kg m-2); T3: 49.2 g pot-1 (0.8 kg m-2);
T4: 73.8 g pot-1 (1.2 kg m-2); T5: 98.4 g pot-1 (1.6 kg m-2); and T6: 123 g pot-1 (2.0 kg m-2); CV: coefficient of variation

The difference in seed protein levels for all treatments was significant (p < 0.05) (Table 3). The 98.4 g QLB per pot mixture (T5) showed the highest protein level of 37.9%, and the control group (without QLB; T1) had the lowest protein level of 33.1%. Increasing the content of QLB caused an increase in seed protein or seed N contents, which suggested that QLB had the ability to release available N once applied to the soil via mineralization. Van Zwieten et al. (2010) reported that application of biochar to soil significantly increases uptake of plant N. Increasing plant N uptake through biochar amendment is one of the ways to improve N fertilizer use efficiency (Uzoma et al., 2011), especially in sandy soils where N loss is a major environmental and agronomic problem (Hamer et al., 2004). The difference in seed lipid contents for all treatments was also significant (p < 0.05) (Table 3). Increasing the content of QLB corresponded to a decrease in seed lipid content, which is an advantage for soybean milk consumers because lipid content is inversely related to protein content (CMFCRC, 2000). The 98.4 g QLB per pot mixture (T5) had the lowest lipid content of 19.6%, and the control group (without QLB; T1) had the highest lipid content of 20.8%.

Heavy metals
After the experiment, the levels of Pb, Cd, and Hg in the mixed soil differed significantly among treatments (p < 0.05) and ranged from 0.450-1.35, 0.540-3.78, and 0.0784-0.0875 mg kg-1, respectively (Table 4). The 123 g QLB per pot mixture (T6) had the highest Pb, Cd, and Hg contents, and the lowest contents for these heavy metals were found in the control group (without QLB; T1). Increasing the content of QLB corresponded to an increase in Pb, Cd, and Hg contents. The heavy metal contents decreased continuously after the experiment due to adsorption by the soil, fixation by the soil, microorganism activity, leaching, and soybean absorption (Suppadit et al., 2005; Hossain et al., 2010).

Table 4. Heavy metals in the soil after the experiment, in the soybean leaf (R5), and in the soybean seed (R8).


Means in the same column with different letters are significantly different at p < 0.05.
T1: Control (without quail litter biochar); T2: 24.6 g pot-1 (0.4 kg m-2); T3: 49.2 g pot-1 (0.8 kg m-2); T4: 73.8 g pot-1 (1.2 kg m-2);
T5: 98.4 g pot-1 (1.6 kg m-2); and T6: 123 g pot-1 (2.0 kg m-2); CV: coefficient of variation; ns: non significant

The leaf Pb, Cd, and Hg levels were not significantly different among treatments (p > 0.05) with ranges of 3.4 to 3.6, 3.3 to 3.5, and 0.0185 to 0.0197 mg kg-1, respectively (Table 4). Increasing the content of QLB did not correspond to an increase of Pb, Cd, and Hg accumulation in leaves. Similarly, the Pb, Cd, and Hg values in the seeds ranged from 0.940 to 0.956, 0.022 to 0.0310, and 0.00200 to 0.00290 mg kg-1, respectively, and these levels were not significantly different among treatments (p > 0.05) (Table 4). The accumulation of heavy metals in seeds was lower than in leaves because leaves generally have more time than seeds to absorb the heavy metals (Suppadit et al., 2005).

These results clearly showed that the QLB had higher levels of heavy metals, including Pb, Cd, and Hg, than the sandy soil (Table 1). However, this study detected insignificant bioaccumulation of the heavy metals present in the produced leaves and seeds when using QLB and showed the ability of QLB to immobilize a mixture of heavy metals in soil. Thus, the bioavailable fraction of heavy metals was reduced in the presence of biochar. Hossain et al. (2010) reported that biochar can increase the heavy metal fraction in soils and decrease the uptake of heavy metals. Biochar application reduces the extractability of heavy metals in soil and significantly changes the sequential extractability of metal fractions that contain the available forms of heavy metals in the soil that can be transformed into unexchangeable forms (Qiu and Guo, 2010). Therefore, QLB can significantly affect heavy metal sorption (Uchimiya et al., 2010), act as a barrier against the negative characteristics of heavy metal contamination (Kookana, 2010) and mitigate the adverse influence of heavy metals on growth and yield (Chen et al., 2010).

Chemical characteristics and nutrients
Table 5 shows the soil chemical characteristics and nutrients after the experiment. QLB increased the chemical characteristics and nutrients of the soil. The EC values were significantly different among treatments (p < 0.05). The 123 g QLB per pot mixture (T6) showed the highest EC value (0.423 dS m-1), and the lowest EC value (0.110 dS m-1) was found with the control group (without QLB; T1). Soil pH values were significantly different among treatments (p < 0.05) ranging from 6.118.00. All treatments tended to have a higher soil pH with increasing QLB contents. The differences in the contents of exchangeable cations, including CEC, K, Ca, and Mg, and elements, including C, N, C/N, P, K, Ca, Mg, Fe, Zn, Cu, and Mn, were significant for all treatments (p < 0.05) with the highest contents obtained for the 123 g QLB per pot mixture (T6) and the lowest contents obtained for the control group (without QLB; T1).


Table 5. Chemical characteristics and nutrients of the soil after the experiment.




Means in the same column with different letters are significantly different at p < 0.05.
T1: Control (without quail litter biochar); T2: 24.6 g pot-1 (0.4 kg m-2); T3: 49.2 g pot-1 (0.8 kg m-2);
T4: 73.8 g pot-1 (1.2 kg m-2); T5: 98.4 g pot-1 (1.6 kg m-2); and T6: 123 g pot-1 (2.0 kg m-2); CV: coefficient of variation.


QLB may have the ability to increase the mineralization of soil organic N upon its incorporation into soil as a result of the priming effect (Hamer et al., 2004) and increased total C. However, increasing the rate of QLB application increased the soil C more than the soil N, which was reflected by the significant increase in the C:N ratio with increasing QLB rates. The optimal C:N ratio promoted the mineralization of C compounds by enhancing the growth of microorganisms and releasing the available N after QLB addition to soil during the pot experiments. In the present study, the levels of exchangeable nutrients (K, Ca, and Mg) and CEC in postharvest soil were higher in the treatment where QLB was applied in a greater amount. Exchangeable cations and CEC confirmed that QLB improved the exchangeable cation status and increased the nutrient availability of the soil (Chan et al., 2008). The absorption and retention capacity for nutrient ions released from fertilizer, such as K, Ca, and Mg, as well as the maintenance of adequate water supply and a slow release of nutrients may have caused this increase in nutrient availability (Eshghi et al., 2010). Lehmann et al. (2003) and Asai et al. (2009) also reported an increase in plant productivity after biochar application, and they attributed this result to the increase in soil available nutrients. Therefore, it can be inferred that higher soybean growth, DM yield, and grain yield is due to the greater availability of nutrients in the soil.

CONCLUSIONS

QLB provided material for good environmental conditions for the growth and development of soybean plants. Increasing the content of QLB corresponded to an increase in soil fertility, which demonstrated that QLB was an effective soil amendment. The growth and yield of soybeans responded to QLB application. However, a suitable amount of QLB should be used. More than 98.4 g of QLB per pot mixture should not be used because this amount caused the soil pH to be above the requirements for soybean. Additional field studies on the long-term effect of QLB on soil physicochemical properties and plant productivity are needed to understand the sustainability of QLB as a soil amendment, including the interaction among QLB, soil, plants and microorganisms.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The authors would like to thank the Marshucon Public Company Limited for the muffle furnace. The authors would also like to thank the Faculty of Industrial Education, King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, Thailand Institute of Scientific and Technological Research and Duangkamol Farm for laboratory and material support.


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Received: 23 May 2011.
Accepted: 26 March 2012.