The coal industry of Mpumalanga Province is faced with the problem of developing cost effective ways of using large volumes of calcium and magnesium sulphate enriched waste waters. Use of the waste waters for agricultural production may contribute as a stabilising factor with regard to yields in this high potential agricultural area. The objectives of this study were to determine the effect of such waste waters on yield and to compare crop response to calcium and magnesium sulphate salinity at different nutrient levels. Two separate glasshouse experiments were conducted. Wheat (Triticum aestivum L. cv. SST 825) was grown in calcium and magnesium sulphate salinised nutrient solutions (Ca:Mg 2: 1) with differential levels of NO3, NH4, P and K. A soil pot experiment was subsequently conducted with maize (Zea mays, cv. PAN 6256), three gypsum and magnesium sulphate salinity levels and a 6 x 2 x 3 factorial combination of N, P and K. Calcium and magnesium sulphate salinity decreased the biomass production of both crops. This was mainly due to interactions of Mg with the uptake of essential nutrients in wheat and a Mg toxicity andlor Ca deficiency induced by high levels of Mg andlor SO4 in maize. The application of NO3, NH4, and K at rates different from the level considered beneficial for non-saline conditions improved wheat growth under sulphate saline conditions. Strongly inhibitory salinity levels controlled the maize yield of the highest salinity treatment regardless of the level of fertiliser application. A beneficial effect of higher NH4 supply was observed in both experiments. This can be ascribed to the antagonistic effect that NH4 exerted on Mg concentrations in plants (both experiments) and SO4 (soil pot experiment) and/or to a higher N-utilization efficiency where N was supplied as NH4 compared to NO3. Differential application levels of P had no effect on the yield of wheat. Phosphorus concentrations in maize were marginal to low, even at extremely high soil Bray I-P levels. This was probably caused by the precipitation of P as insoluble calcium phosphate complexes in the soil andlor between the free space of the cortex cells of plant roots. These results could also indicate that the Bray I extraction method does not give a true reflection of plant available P in sulphate saline soil. Further experimentation is needed to verify these results under field conditions and determine the optimal rate, method and timing of especially NH4 and PO4 fertilisers when irrigating crops with these calcium and magnesium sulphate enriched waste waters.
Dissertation (MSc (Plant Production and Soil Science))--University of Pretoria, 2007.