Browsing Animal & Grassland Research & Innovation Programme by Funder "Dairy Industry Partners"
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Grassland Phosphorus and Nitrogen Fertiliser Replacement value of Dairy Processing Dewatered SludgeDairy processing sludge is currently a bio-based fertiliser being spread to grassland without knowledge pertaining to its phosphorus (P) or nitrogen (N) fertiliser replacement value. This creates uncertainty of desired crop yield achievement and unproductive nutrient recycling and also poses a great challenge to the dairy milk processing industry in promoting their food processing by-product as valuable recyclable fertiliser. Therefore four representative samples, i.e. two activated sludge (aluminium-precipitated (Al-sludge) and iron-precipitated (Fe-sludge)), and two lime-stabilised calcium-precipitated sludge (Ca1- and Ca2-sludge), were examined at field scale to assess P and N availability for crop yield and uptake in comparison to reference mineral fertilisers over one seasonal year. The field plots were set-up on a light textured clay loam soil within the optimum plant available P (Morgan's soil P index 3, i.e. medium / adequate soil P level) in two separate adjoining areas consisting of P and N availability experiments. Each experiment consisted of 40 plots (each 8×2 m2) of 10 treatments with 4 replications arranged in a randomised complete block design. All dairy sludge (40 kg-P ha−1) and mineral P treatments (rates 0–50 kg-P ha−1) produced similar yields and uptake, and crop P was not affected by sludge applications despite the presence of high Al, Ca and Fe. During the experiment there was no significant change in P index (stayed at index 3) indicating that no treatment caused a decline in P into index 2 (i.e. low soil P level), therefore replacing P removed by the crop. The only change in Morgan's P was observed in the Ca-sludge treatments, but this was due to Morgan's reagent overestimating plant available P in high Ca conditions. From N trial plots a significantly higher grass yield and N uptake was observed for Fe and both Ca-type sludge applied plots than the control (zero N) plot during the 1st harvest, while no statistical difference observed in the subsequent harvests (up to 4th harvesting). The N fertiliser replacement value (derived from mineral N response) of sludge samples was observed to be in the order of Fe (54%)>Ca2 (25%)>Ca1 (22%)>Al (8%) with greater promise of N fertiliser efficiency of Fe and Ca types. Overall these bio-based sludges show promise in recycling P and N for grassland application but longer term trials in other soil types considering other environmental aspects (losses to soil, water and air) can further optimize the management of dairy sludge as an alternative to chemical fertiliser.