IMPROVING MAIZE (ZEA MAYS L.) PERFORMANCE IN SEMI-ARID ZIMBABWE THROUGH MICRO-DOSING WITH AMMONIUM NITRATE TABLETS
N. MASHINGAIDZE, P. BELDER, S. TWOMLOW, L. Hove, M. MOYO
Although the application of small quantities of nitrogen fertiliser has improved cereal yields on low-input farms in semi-arid Zimbabwe, the practice is reported to be laborious and time-consuming by farmers. In an effort to make micro-dosing less labour-intensive and more precise, an ammonium nitrate (AN) tablet the equivalent of a micro-dose of prill AN (28 kg N ha -1 ) applied per maize plant was developed by ICRISAT in collaboration with Agri-seeds, Zimbabwe. This study characterized the
... sical stability, chemical (N% and solubility) and agronomic performance of AN tablets compared to prill. Only 10% of tablets broke when dropped from 2 m showing that they are physically stable and can handle rough treatment The N content in the tablets (33.3 %) was comparable to that in prill AN (34.6%). However, the tablet formulation took twice as long to dissolve than prill AN when placed on a wet soil. Despite this difference in solubility, simple leaching column experiments suggest that less than 2% of the total AN applied was lost due to leaching. Agronomic trials were super-imposed on the pairedplot demonstrations used to promote micro-dosing and the conservation agriculture 2 tillage technique of planting basins from 2005 to 2008. Each tillage (plough and basins) plot was sub-divided into three sub-plots on which the no AN, prill AN and tableted AN treatments were super-imposed. Maize was planted and management of plots was left to the farmer. Micro-dosing with either prill or tableted AN significantly (P < 0.001) increased maize grain yield by over 40% in all seasons for planting basins. However, on the ploughed plot there was no yield benefit to using either AN formulation in the season with the lowest rainfall (2006/07). There was no significant difference in grain yield and agronomic nitrogen use efficiency between prill and tableted AN formulations except for 2005/06 season in the planting basins. In this season in planting basins, tableted AN had significantly (P < 0.001) higher rainwater productivity than prill AN which translated into greater grain yield. In addition, the most benefit to micro-dosing was observed to accrue when combined with water harvesting techniques such as planting basins. An observation supported by the host farmers, who in the second and third seasons chose to apply available basal soil fertility amendments to the basin plots over the flat plots. Thus, AN tablets if available at an affordable price can be used by smallholder farmers to more precisely apply N fertiliser. Future work should focus on the labour issues of microdosing and making cost-effective tablets available to resource-poor farmer, and also addressing other limiting soil nutrients.