Effects of repeated application of municipal sewage sludge on soil fertility, cotton yield, and nitrate leaching
The effects of sludge application on soil properties and cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) response were investigated in an Inseptisol in central Greece. Digested sludge was incorporated in the 0 to 15 cm soil depth at rates of 10, 30, and 50 Mg ha–1, and repeated for four consecutive years. Sludge treatments were compared to an inorganic fertilizer application and an untreated control in a completely randomized design with four replications. Sludge application increased soil organic matter, associated nutrients and improved physical properties. However, soil electrical conductivity increased with increasing sludge application to levels that may affect growth of salt-sensitive crops and warns against long-term application that may impair essential soil functions. The multifold increase of Olsen P and nitrate N beyond crop needs is a reason of concern for surface runoff and nitrate leaching below the root zone at the higher sludge application rates. Sludge application of 10 Mg ha–1 was sufficient to improve soil chemical properties with less risk of water contamination. Cotton responded to sludge application by increased nutrient uptake and yield, which indicated that sludge could replace inorganic fertilizer needs even at the lower application rate. However, fluctuations of nutrient uptake and yield between growing seasons were of greater magnitude than those caused by sludge application. Multiple regression analysis revealed that P uptake was the major limiting factor for determining cotton yield.