Nitrogen budget for fescue pastures fertilized with broiler litter in major land resource areas of the southeastern US

Samuel B. Marshall, Michael D. Mullen, Miguel L. Cabrera, C. Wesley Wood, Lois C. Braun, Elizabeth A. Guertal

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16 Scopus citations


The southeast US produces a tremendous number of broiler chickens (Gallus gallus), which in turn produce massive quantities of litter (manure and bedding materials). In the Southeast, litter is most often disposed of via land application to pastures, however, the ultimate fate of much of the applied nitrogen (N) is not known. We have constructed N budgets for three sites across the southeastern U.S. in an effort to determine how much of the applied N is useful for plant production and how much is left to be absorbed by the environment. Study sites were located in the Coastal Plain (Alabama), Piedmont (Georgia), and Cumberland Plateau (Tennessee) Major Land Resource Areas (MLRA) of the southeastern US. Litter was applied in the Spring of two consecutive years at a rate to supply 70 kg of available N ha-1. The total amount of N applied ranged from 103 to 252 kg N ha-1 depending on site and year. Nitrogen fluxes monitored in this study were broiler litter N, ammonia (NH3) volatilization, denitrification, plant uptake, and leaching. Plant uptake represented the largest flux of applied N, averaging 43% of applied N. Losses due to NH3 volatilization and denitrification combined were only 6% of applied N on average. Loss of N due to NO3-N leaching appeared to be significant only at the Coastal Plain site where NO3-N concentrations in the groundwater peaked at 38 mg N 1-1. We believe the majority of excess N shown in these budgets is likely accounted for by leaching losses and soil accumulation. Regardless of these assumptions and low gaseous losses, it is apparent that on average, 57% of applied N is destined for a fate other than plant uptake. The results of this study indicate that land-application of broiler litter at currently recommended rates has the potential for negative impacts on the environment of the southeastern U.S. in the long-term.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-83
Number of pages9
JournalNutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001


  • Ammonia volatilization
  • Broiler litter
  • Denitrification
  • Leaching
  • Nitrogen budget
  • Plant uptake


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