Destruction of soil structure and reduction of soil organic matter are major problems of cultivated soils which result from improper tillage operations, excessive consumption of chemical fertilizers and low consumption of organic and green fertilizers. One method for maintaining sustainable agriculture is to add organic and inorganic amenders. By producing resistant aggregates, organic matters improve soil structure and enhance soil permeability, FC moisture and water availability capacity. Furthermore, through enhancing organisms’ activities, especially earthworms, organic matters improve soil hydraulic conductivity and reduce bulk density. Organic matters may be added to soil through different way, however, the effect of each one on the soil’s physical properties is different. Chicken feather (CF) is readily available through henhouses and slaughterhouses, however, significant amounts of CF are destroyed by burning and burying them. Potassium Humate (PH) is a potassium salt from humic acid. Humic acid is extracted from various natural sources such as humus, peat, lignite and coal. Vermicompost (VC) is a compost which is produced by a non-thermal process. The impact of CF on different soil properties has not been studied yet. Accordingly, we investigated the impact of adding differing weight percentages of three types of amenders (PH, CF and VC) on the physical properties of soil under wheat cultivation at different moisture levels.
The experiment was conducted in factorial form based on randomized complete block design with 27 treatments in three replications. The first factor included the above-mentioned amenders; the second factor included three weight levels of these amenders (0%, 2.5% and 5%); the third factor included three moisture levels (0.5FC, 0.7FC and 0.9FC). The amenders were uniformly mixed with the soil up to the depth of 10 cm; then, wheat seeds were planted and moisture treatments were carried out during the growth period (from late April 2016 to September 2016). The soil moisture of the plots was controlled during the experiment period using the gravimetric method. For investigating the changes in the soil’s physical properties, samples (disturbed and undisturbed) were taken from the plots before and after the experiment. The following physical parameters were measured: bulk density (BD), soil moisture in field capacity (FC), permanent wilting point (PWP), wet aggregate stability (WAS), saturated hydraulic conductivity (KS), penetration resistance (PR), retention curve slope at inflection point (Si), mean weight diameter of aggregates (MWD) and mass-size fractal dimension of aggregates (Dm). Statistical analysis was done by SPSS software and means were compared via Duncan test. Tables and graphs were generated by Excel software.
Variance analysis and means comparison indicated that using amenders reduced bulk density for 89%. Reduced bulk density was caused by high keratin (91%) in CF, high porosity and the production of coarse pores in soil. On the other hand, VC with many pores led to increased aggregation and reduced bulk density.
Results revealed that consuming CF increased soil moisture to field capacity (FC) (87%). CF had more significant impacts on increasing FC at high moisture levels. Thanks to its keratin structure, feather operates like a sponge which enhances soil porosity; hence, it absorbs more moisture and improves FC. Furthermore, results indicated that increasing the amounts of amenders led to increased soil moisture in PWP (91%). By increasing the amount of amenders in soil, aggregation and soil porosity increased which led to enhanced PWP.
Large amounts of CF, PH and soil moisture (0.9FC) resulted in 3.7 times enhancement of Ks. CF led to the production of large soil pores and reduced soil density which resulted in improved soil structure and increased Ks. Thanks to its adhesion properties, PH increased Ks.
Increasing the amount of amenders and the level of soil moisture in all three types of organic matters (especially CF) caused the 2.5 times enhancement of WAS.
The results revealed that increasing soil moisture and amenders led to reduced Si (101%). Given all three types of amenders, PH had the highest impact on the reduction of Si. Moreover, soil penetration resistance (PR) was reduced as a function of increasing the soil moisture level.
Contrary to the expectation, MWD was reduced as a result of increasing amenders. Furthermore, it was found that, given little soil moisture, increasing the amount of amenders resulted in increased Dm; however, given high soil moisture, increasing the amount of amenders led to decreased Dm. Thus, it should be noted that adding amenders improved the stability of aggregates over long time periods and at high soil moisture levels.
One major strategy for improving soil physical and chemical properties is using modifiers, especially organic matters. In this study, we investigated the impact of chicken feather on physical properties of soil and compared its effect with those of potassium humate and vermicompost under different levels of soil moisture and wheat cultivation.
The results indicated that consuming amenders resulted in reduced Bd but increased FC, PWP, Ks and WAS.
In other words, it improved physical properties of soil. Moreover, Si decreased as a result of increasing soil moisture and organic matters. Among the three types of amenders, potassium humate had the highest impact on reducing Si. PR was reduced as a function of increasing soil moisture. However, increasing organic matter led to decreased MWD. Furthermore, it was unexpectedly found that, given low soil moisture, Dm increased as a result of increasing the organic matters weight. Nevertheless, in high levels of soil moisture, Dm decreased as a function of increasing organic matter. Thanks to positive impacts of organic matters (especially CF which is cheaper and more accessible than other amenders) on soil’s physical properties, they are highly recommended for soil improvement. Regarding future studies, investigation of the effect of these amenders on soil chemical properties under different soil textures is suggested
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