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The Effect of Continued Drought in Eastern Colorado on Wheat Yields and Biosolids Application Rates

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The majority of biosolids from the Front Range metropolitan communities in Colorado are applied to dryland wheat. This crop is grown in a wheat-fallow program. Wheat is highly dependent on stored precipitation during the fallow year. It requires a minimum of 7 inches of total water before any wheat yield can be produced. After the first 7 inches of water, any additional water (whether it is stored or falls as rain) produces about 5.3 bu/acre for each additional inch of precipitation. Average precipitation totals in Eastern Colorado range between 12–16 inches/year.

Colorado agricultural research indicates that 1.5–1.8 lbs. Nitrogen/acre are required to produce one bushel of wheat on a per acres basis. Biosolids agronomic rates are currently based on the Plant Available Nitrogen (PAN) from the biosolids analysis, a current soil test and the grower's average crop yield. According to the Colorado State Climatologist, “After two decades of relatively abundant precipitation and water supplies during the 1980's and 1990's, weather patterns shifted in late 1999. Since 2000 drier than average weather has prevailed over many parts of Colorado”. This shift in rainfall and other precipitation has certainly occurred in eastern Colorado where most of the biosolids are applied.

This has resulted not only in lower than average wheat yields; but in many fields higher than normal concentrations of residual Nitrate-Nitrogen in the first foot of soil. As a result, tillage methods and cropping intensity practices that enhance Precipitation Storage Efficiency (PSE) and Water Use Efficiency (WUE) to mitigate the current below normal precipitation and still preserve optimum wheat yields in Eastern Colorado will be discussed.

This paper will integrate a wide array of agronomic and biosolids research from Colorado State University and USDA-ARS. It will also combine precipitation data from the Colorado Climate Center to portray a holistic, vivid picture of future biosolids application rates for Eastern Colorado.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-01-01

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