A comparison of soil extraction methods for predicting the silicon requirements for sugarcane.
Although silicon (Si) has not yet been recognized as an essential nutrient element, its application to sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum L.) has proved to be beneficial. Since optimum crop production depends on the maintenance of adequate plant nutrients in the soil, there is a need in the South African sugar industry for a reliable index for assessing the requirement for supplemental silicon (Si) in soils, particularly in reducing the risk of Eldana saccharina stalk borer infestation in cane. The objective of this study was to assess Si availability in soils, to select a suitable Si extraction method and a critical value for determining when a response is likely. For this purpose, five acid soils (representing. some of the most important agricultural soil groups used for sugarcane production in the sugar belt) were used in October 2004, in the lAKE WILSON glasshouse of the South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI) based at Mount Edgecombe. Except for the Arcadia form soil with an initial Si content of 1.2 mmol kg- I as estimated using the O.OlM H2S04 + (NH4)zS04) extractant, soils representing the other five soil forms namely Cartref, Glenrosa, Longlands and Nomanci; exhibited a sub-optimal Si content of not more than 4.0 mmol kg-I. Sorghum was used as a plant crop and sugarcane as a ratoon crop because of their Si accumulator status. Three different Si sources: calmasil, slagment and wollastonite; with respectively 9.85, 15.20, and 5.25% Si content were applied at increasing rates of 0, 3 and 6 tons ha- 1 as Si fertilizers. Silicon (Si) was extracted from untreated and treated soils by utilizing six different extractants, (1) O.OlM H2S04 + (NH4)2S04; (2) Distilled water; (3) 0.025M H2S04; (4) 0.5M CH3COOH; (5) 0.5M CH3COONH4pH 4.8; and (6) O.OlM CaCh.2H20. The amount of soil Si extracted followed the order: 0.025M H2S04 > 0.5M CH3COOH > O.OlM H2S04 + (NH4)2S04 > O.OlM CaCh.2H20 > 0.5M CH3COON~ pH 4.8 > distilled water. Soil Si extracted by 0.025M H2S04 was significantly correlated with soil exchangeable cations,. CEC, clay content, cane biomass yield, cane Si uptake and increasing rates of applied Si. Averaged over all soil forms investigated, the increases in dry biomass yield and Si uptake ranged. from 18% to 154% for sorghum; and from 23% to 85% for cane respectively. Even though the highest increases (%) in cane biomass yield and Si uptake were obtained on a Nomanci form soil with initial poor fertility status, the highest means were obtained on an Arcadia form soil with the highest Si initial content. There was no difference between different Si sources in their ability to influence cane biomass yield and Si uptake, and therefore the supply to the soils. Even though the lower and higher Si source rates were not different from each other, they increased cane yield and Si uptake, indicating that Si was undoubtedly beneficial for sugarcane. The Si critical levels for different soils as estimated by 0.025M H2S04 were 6.0 mmol kg-1 (168 mg kg-I) for Arcadia; 2.6 mmol kg-I (64 mg kg-I) for Cartrel; 2.5 mmol kg-I (64 mg kg-I) for Glenrosa; 1.6 mmol kg-I (45 mg kg-I) for Longlands; and 2.4 mmol kg-I (67 mg kg-i) for Nomanci form soils.