Physiological and yield response in maize in cohesive tropical soil is improved through the addition of gypsum and leguminous mulch

E. G. Moura*, P. D. Hallett, S. J. Mooney, F. R. Silva, V. R. A. Macedo, A. C. F. Aguiar

*Corresponding author for this work

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Tropical soils tend to harden during drying due to the generally low content of free-iron and organic carbon, combined with high fine sand and silt proportions. It was hypothesized that the change in soil physical condition induced by the addition of a leguminous mulch in cohesive tropical soil enriched with calcium may mitigate soil hardening through wetting and drying cycles by rain or irrigation, thereby improving the soil rootability. A leguminous mulch was added in different concentrations to a structurally fragile tropical soil enriched with calcium, which then had different irrigation intervals. The treatments were with or without mulch (10 t/ha), with or without added nitrogen (100 kg/ha at 2 intervals) and two irrigation intervals. In 2015 the irrigation intervals were either 4 or 8 days, and in 2016 they were either 6 or 9 days. Two years were used in the attempt to achieve greater differences, as for tested variables, between treatments. Maize planted in these soil treatments was measured for physiological performance, water use efficiency and yield. Mulch used on structurally fragile tropical soil enriched with calcium was found to delay increased penetration resistance from hardening by wet/dry cycles. In this context, an improved soil rootability led to an enlargement of the leaf area index, greater nitrogen uptake and increased CO2 assimilation. This had important physiological consequences due to the positive effect on increased dry matter production and maize yield. In addition, these results suggested that mulch, used with urea, can delay the water supply for 3 or 4 days due to improvements in soil rootability caused by calcium and organic matter interactions. This may be crucial to a region where small intervals without rain are increasingly common due to global climate change. Therefore, due to a greater water use efficiency, this strategy may be a profitable way to increase crop productivity in tropical conditions rather than increasing water and nutrient application alone.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-64
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Agricultural Science
Issue number1-2
Early online date1 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

The Brazilian authors thank the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Level Personnel (CAPES) and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) for their support.

Financial support
The current work was undertaken as part of NUCLEUS, a virtual joint centre to deliver enhanced N-use efficiency via an integrated soil–plant systems approach for the United Kingdom and Brazil. Funded in Brazil by FAPESP – São Paulo Research Foundation [grant number 2015/50305-8]; FAPEG – Goiás Research Foundation [grant number 2015-10267001479] and FAPEMA – Maranhão Research Foundation [grant number RCUK-02771/16]; and in the United Kingdom by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council [grant number BB/N013201/1] under the Newton Fund scheme.


  • soil strength
  • leguminous
  • nitrogen
  • Zea mays L
  • water stress
  • irrigation intervals
  • Irrigation intervals
  • PH
  • Zea maysL


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