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Agricultural Research

Soil test immediately after the harvest. Then apply aglime in fall.

Aglime reacts at varying rates under different soil and weather conditions. Best results occur when it is applied in fall to assure needed reduction of acidity by planting time.

Crop response to aglime is greatest when incorporated. If you fall plow, fall application is your best alternative - another reason to soil test early.

Agricultural Research 2010

All You Wanted To Know About Lime But Were Scared To Ask.

1.Potato Consulting Services Inc., North Wiltshire, PEI,COA 1Y0 2. Privar Farm Inc., N. Wiltshire, PEI, C0A 1Y0 3. AAFC , Fredericton, NB, E3B 4Z7 4. A & L Biologicals, London, Ontario, N5V 3P5 5. PEI Dept. of Agr. 6. AAFC, Charlottetown, PEI 7. Brookville Lime, St . John, N. B.

Objective of research project

This brief report contains the highlights of a lime trial conducted in low pH soil in Green Bay, PEI in 2010. The senior author had asked different questions on the effect of liming and received a wide array of conflicting answers without supporting local data i.e. lime doesn’t work for the first two years, lime works right away, Dolomitic lime may not be a reliable source of magnesium, Dolomitic lime increases scab on potato tubers but Calcitic doesn’t. To generate credible local data, a trial was initiated in a field with low pH (4.5-4.7). The questions raised were:

1. How quickly does application of different types of limestone change soil pH?
2. How quickly does it affect crop growth?
3. Does it help/effect growth of some crops more than others? Indicator crops were oats, barley, soybeans, canola, crambe, table beets and several genotypes of potatoes.
4. Can Dolomitic lime supply magnesium to crops in the first year of application?
5. Does the application of lime affect the development of scab (bacterial disease) in potato tubers?
6. Do some varieties of potatoes have better tolerance to “sour” soil? Is this related to tolerance to high concentrations of manganese and/or aluminum?
7. Does lime affect utilization/efficiency of fertilizer?
8. Does application of lime affect nodulation/nitrogen fixation on soybeans?
9. Were any nutrient deficiencies or toxicities observed and corrected in the sour soil? i.e. molybdenum, manganese, magnesium.


Most soils in Atlantic Canada are naturally quite acidic (sour) with pH values in the 4.5-5.0 range on newly cleared soil. Ground limestone and other products containing calcium (mussel mud, wood ashes) have been used to raise the pH of soil. While some plants (blueberries, cranberries, sour sorrel weeds) can grow well in “sour” soil, some cultivated crops such as barley, canola, beets, onions and alfalfa will not grow satisfactorily when the pH is below 6.0. Some crops will grow satisfactorily on moderately low pH (5-5.5)(oats, buckwheat, oilseed radish, potatoes). Even if the soil pH has been raised by the application of limestone, the widespread use of ammonium based fertilizers results in the release of hydrogen ions, which leads to the re- acidification of the soil. As the ammonium is changed to nitrate by microbial activity (nitrification), hydrogen ions are given off.

The pH is defined as the logoramithic measurement of hydrogen ions (H +) in the soil. A pH of 7.0 is neutral; a pH greater than 7.0 is alkaline and a pH of less than 7.0 is acidic. The hydrogen ions are attracted to the negatively charged soil colloids. When limestone, containing calcium, is applied to the soil, some of the positively charged calcium ions (Ca++) displace the hydrogen ions held on the soil colloids and the soil pH starts to rise. An excellent overview of limestone use and benefits is available in NSA Aglime Fact Book, National Stone Association, 1986, Washington, DC, USA, 65 pages. Some people underestimate the value of lime in obtaining high crop yields and achieving the maximum benefits of fertilizer applied to the soil. The availability of many essential nutrients decreases when the soil pH drops below pH 6.0. At low pH values i.e. < 5.0 some elements (aluminum, manganese,) are released in the soil and the large quantities released may be injurious to crop growth. Some strains of nitrogen fixing Rhizoobacteria may not effectively colonize roots of legumes such as clover and soybeans at low pH, reducing nitrogen nutrition to the growing and following crops.

Scab is a bacterial disease (Streptomyces scabies) and is a major problem world-wide for tuber quality. There have been observations that the severity of tuber scab sometimes increased when large quantities of lime were added to acidic soil. Some potato farmers are fearful to raise the soil pH when growing scab susceptible varieties.

Methods and materials

The land in Green Bay, PEI (Charlottetown soil series) was cleared in 2009, after clear cutting and removing mature coniferous trees. The land has good subsoil drainage and has a slight slope of 2-3%. Prior to planting the plots in late May, soil test samples were submitted to both A & L laboratories and the PEI Soil and Feed Testing Lab. Results indicated pH values 4.5-4.7 with low amounts of available P, K, Ca and Mg. Soil organic matter was relatively high (approximately 4-5%). Soil samples were collected in mid –summer (from midway between rows of crops) and again in December to assess changes in pH from the addition of lime (Table 1). The concentration of Ca and Mg were measured to verify effects of lime applications and that of P and K to verify the effect of fertilizer application.

Two types of limestone were used in the trial; Dolomitic and Calcitic, sourced from Brookville Lime Company, New Brunswick. The Calcitic lime contained 36.9 % Ca and 1.0 % Mg; whereas the Dolomitic lime contained 20.4 %Ca and 12.1 % Mg. More than 50% of lime passed through a 100 mesh screen, hence quick release would be expected. The lime was spread evenly by hand at the rate of two tons per acre in late May, 2010 and roto-tilled into the soil (5-6 inch depth). Four hundred pounds per acre of 17-17-17 fertilizer (ammonium nitrate based N) was uniformly broadcast and roto-tilled into the soil for all crops. An additional 100 pounds per acre was applied beside potato hills and covered in hilling (late June).The experiment consisted of three main blocks, two that were limed and one non-limed "check".

To verify if adding lime increased the severity of scab, a susceptible potato variety (Shepody) was planted. One row of scab -free seed was planted in the three experimental blocks (Dolomitic, Calcitic, non-limed check plot). As well, one row of Shepody seed, severely infected with scab (numerous surface lesions) was planted to assure adequate bacterial inoculum for disease pressure on daughter tubers.

J. and R. Coffin manage a potato breeding program (Privar Farm Inc.) and have observed that some potato seedlings and varieties (Yukon Gold) grow poorly on highly acidic soil and some grow quite well. Several named varieties (Superior, Yukon Gold, Prospect) and several seedlings were planted in the three lime treatments. The seedling PR07-111 had shown excellent vigour in non-limed/ low fertility plots in 2009 and again in 2010. It was speculated that the prolific growth of some seedlings in acid soil may be due to: 1) beneficial micro-organisms growing on roots, 2) a different metabolism and larger root system and/or 3) have high tolerance to aluminum and manganese that are usually in high concentrations in acid soil.

A single row of barley (Spring variety), table beets, Canola, Crambe and two varieties of soybeans (inoculated) were planted in each of the three lime treatments.

For assessments of tuber yield, ten plants of Shepody were harvested from each block. The total weight of tubers was recorded. Tubers were rated for severity of scab. In the three hill plots of other potato varieties and seedlings, all tubers were harvested, weighed and rated for scab. Tuber samples, of some entries, were saved for laboratory analyses (mineral/nutrient analyses).

During July, 25 petioles were harvested from the first fully expanded leaves in the three Shepody plots for nutrient analyses. Ten complete plants (stalks, leaves developing pods), from each lime treatment, were collected from one variety of soybean (A) for nutrient analyses (table 2). In mid October, complete soybean plants were harvested from measured sections of row. The beans were later threshed and weighed and then submitted for nutrient analyses, including protein content – nutrient package F4.

Observations, Results and Discussions

Due to space limitations for the abstract, many data tables could not be included. For extension purposes, slides of the plots and results of nutrient analyses will be made available to the collaborators. Noteworthy observations are:

1. The positive effects of lime, represented by vigorous foliage growth and improved yields of tubers(potatoes),seeds (barley, soybeans)and taproots (beets), were easily observed the first year. Some crops in the non-limed soil grew poorly and had no usable yield i.e. barley, beets and canola. Canola showed “whiptail” (molybdenum deficiency) in the non-limed treatment.

2. Both types of lime increased the soil pH during the first growing season. The initial soil pH was 4.5-4.7 and increased to 5.2-5.5 by mid -summer and increased to an average pH of 6.0 by December. The pH dropped to 4.1 in the non-limed block after addition of fertilizer. Within a week of emergence, slower growth was evident in all crops in the non-limed block, even though it had received the same application of fertilizer. Increased calcium content occurred in most plant tissues following application of both types of lime.

3. Large yield increases occurred for all crops following lime applications in the spring of the growing season. Actual yields were recorded for soybeans and potatoes. Total biological yields of Shepody potatoes increased from 160 cwt/acre in the non-limed check to 400 in Calcitic and 540 in the Dolomitic. Average yields for both soybean varieties increased from 654 lb/acre in check to 1706 in calcitic and 1639 in dolomitic. By using nutrient analyses tissue data and crop yield per unit area, the amount of nutrients removed per acre by potatoes and soybeans revealed increased total uptake of N, P, K, Ca, and Mg. Shepody potato tubers in the limed plots removed approximately 180, 27 and 169 pounds per acre of N, P and K compared to the non-limed check at 61 N, 8 P and 69 K. Applications of fertilizer alone can not guarantee high crop yields and nutrient utilization, especially if the soil has a low pH.

4. Application of Dolomitic lime to the soil greatly increased available concentrations of Mg in soil. Dolomitic lime increased the concentration of Mg in potato petiole tissues and whole plant soybean samples during the summer testing. Concentration in potato tubers and soybean seeds increased. This raises the question if application of foliar sprays of Mg or applications of “K- Mag” are required when Dolomitic lime is applied.

5. Nodulation (number, size) on roots, by N fixing bacteria, was much greater when inoculated soybeans were planted in limed soil. One variety of soybeans was more prone to visible Mg deficiency (yellow crinkled leaves).

6.Where scab inoculum was present by planting scabby Shepody tubers, the development of scab was extensive in limed plots (equally evident in both Calcitic and Dolomitic). Negligible scab occurred in limed plots when scab- free seed was planted.

7. Soil tests revealed a higher amount of available Mn in non-limed soil. Nutrient assessment in potato tuber flesh tissues of all varieties tested revealed a 2- 3 fold in the concentration of Mn.

8. Several potato entries, notably PR 07-111, Prospect, and Superior showed good plant vigour in non-limed plots whereas Yukon Gold and Shepody showed reduced vigour and yields compared to limed plots.

9. What we do not know are the changes in soil and rhizosphere micro-flora following the application of lime and fertilizer. Techniques (G. Lazarovits and S. Hemmingsen, personal communication) are now available to assess which micro-organisms are colonizing the roots.

10. Using tissue tests alone may not be satisfactory for appraising a crop nutrition overview and applying corrective measures. The combined use of soil tests, documenting fertility and lime applications, tissue tests, visual overview of crop growth and visible deficiencies combined with knowledge on the specific variety/cultivar of crop are required for an informed judgment on nutrient management.

Table 1. Changes in soil pH, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium following application of lime and fertilizer. Composite soil sample comprised of 12 sub-samples in each lime treatment.

Soil Test Values Non-limed Spring Non-limed Summer Dolomitic summer Calcitic summer December 2010 Spring 2011
pH 4.7  4.1  5.5  5.2  5.8-6.2  
calcium 200 L-  111 L-  668 L  1007 M    
magnesium 30 L  17 L  273 H  31 L    
phosphoruus 70 L  239 M+  283 H  287 H    
potassium 64 L  146 H  155 H  146 H    
% organic matter 4.1-5.0  4.9  5.5  5.7    

Table 2. Whole plant analyses of soybean plants (variety A) with leaves and developing pods. Plants from non-limed plots were much smaller than in limed plots.

Nutrient Non-limed
Calcitic Dolomitic
calcium 0.51 1.62 1.16
magnesium 0.28 0.32 0.68
phosphorous 0.19 0.22 0.31
potassium 2.06 2.17 2.17

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