Mulat Asmamaw1, Girma Wolde1, Mekiso Yohannes1, Solomon Yigrem2, Endalkachew Wolde-meskel1, Alemayehu Chala1 and Jessica G. Davis3, (1)Hawassa University, Hawassa, Ethiopia (2)Thin Air Nitrogen Solutions, Hawassa, Ethiopia (3)Soil and Crop Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
Fertilizer use in Ethiopia is low, and crop yields and malnutrition rates reflect this low usage rate. Urea is too expensive for most farmers, and compost supplies are inadequate. A locally-produced bio-fertilizer produced by harnessing cyanobacteria could help bridge this gap. Objectives of this study were to compare the impact of cyanobacterial fertilizer cultured from Ethiopian soils (Anabaena sp.) with urea applied to two soils (an acidic Alfisol and an alkaline Andosol) at the same N rate and to evaluate their impacts on soil properties, plant growth, and plant nutrient concentrations on kale (Brassica carinata L.), hot pepper (Capsicum annuum L.), and maize (Zea mays L.). Each experiment included a factorial combination of four nitrogen fertilizer sources (control, urea, dried cyanobacteria, and liquid cyanobacteria,) and two soil types arranged in a complete randomized design. Anabaena sp. were cultured from Ethiopian soils and grown in aerated 400-L ponds inside a hoop house. Cyanobacteria were harvested after 21 d of growth and utilized as either liquid (42 mg N L-1) or air-dried (3.0 % N) fertilizers. Fertilizers were applied at the same N rates within each study based on crop-specific N recommendations from the Ethiopian government. The cyanobacterial bio-fertilizer treatments consistently increased soil organic C concentration. Although fertilizer treatments were applied at the same N rate, the final total N concentration in the soil was higher in the cyanobacterial treatments as compared to urea. This could be due to higher volatilization of NH3 and N2O from urea or continuing N fixation by the cyanobacteria. The dry cyanobacterial bio-fertilizer resulted in the highest plant N concentrations, plant height, and shoot dry weight for all three crops. Overall, the plants receiving dry cyanobacteria grew better than those fertilized with liquid cyanobacteria or urea, even though they were applied at the same N rate.