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Volume 7, Issue 2, April Issue - 2019, Pages:156-166

Authors: Ridham Kakar, Diwakar Tripathi, Arshi Sultanpuri, Hardeep Singh Sheoran
Abstract: Present investigation was carried out with the aim of assessing the soil fertility status of Saproon Valley soils of Himachal Pradesh. A total of 126 representative soil samples were collected from 0-15 and 15-30 cm soil depths of 21 villages, spread over the whole valley. Results of study showed that soil pH ranged from 6.16 to 7.94 while electrical conductivity varied from 0.09 to 1.02 and 0.11 to 0.49 dS m-1 in surface and sub-surface soils, respectively. The soil organic carbon varied between 5.70 to 32.60 g kg-1 (0-15 cm) and 0.30 to 20.5 g kg-1 (15-30 cm). With respect to, available soil N the soils of the valley were medium extending from 254.02 to 542.53 and 203.84 to 435.90 kg ha-1 in surface and sub-surface soils, respectively. The soils being high in available P content had its values ranging from 11.20 to 156.80 kg ha-1, though; K content went from 147.72 to 1915.20 kg ha-1. The neutral ammonium acetate extractable Ca and Mg content ran from 1.53 to 7.11 and 1.10 to 3.67 [cmol (p+) kg-1], with mean estimations of 3.98 [cmol (p+) kg-1] and 2.43 [cmol (p+) kg-1], independent of soil depth. From the results it can be concluded, that intensive systematic study of soil fertility status is necessary to delineate areas of probable nutrient deficiencies or toxicity within the Saproon Valley in North Western Himalayas.
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Full Text: 1 Introduction The natural resources like soil, water and vegetation form an integral part of Himalayan ecosystem, warranting due attention to ensure ecological security and sustainable socioeconomic development. Management of these natural resources in the Himalayan region is critical as it concerns not only the inhabitant of the hills but also the livelihood and prosperity of large population in the down plains. The Saproon valley in Solan district of Himachal is one such region which is famous for the production of vegetable crops and has an estimated total area of about 753 ha where off-season vegetable crops such as tomatoes, peas, capsicum and cauliflower are prominently grown and their production is obtained in the valley at a time when they are not available in plains, therefore, fetch higher premium in the market. Although, a few or the other essential nutrients like N, P and K are routinely applied to the vegetable crops in Himachal Pradesh and especially in Solan district but the amount of nutrients applied do not with stand the amount removed in harvested crops, resulting into exhaustive mining of nutrients from the soil and increasing the nutrient related stresses and yield losses. The fertility of soils is directly related to available nutrient in soils and therefore, found to have direct role in sustaining crop production and thereby, improving the soil functioning in a given ecosystem. Thus, the study of the nutrient availability in soils under different cropping systems is vital to understand for sustaining soil fertility and productivity to improve soil quality (Wardle et al., 1999). In the view of sustainable crop production, it is being strongly felt that deficiency and sufficiency of nutrients must be assessed for different crops and locations particularly in vegetable growing areas of Himachal Pradesh. Thus, the knowledge about the fertility aspects of soils such as status of available nutrients is considered to be important, valuable and is essential to formulate the future strategies for amelioration of such deficiencies, timely and more precisely. Considering, the above expressed certainties, it is important to consider most appropriate approach of nutrient indexing or soil testing for enhancing the soil health and supervising the availability of nutrients for best possible productivity of vegetables. Accordingly, the present study was undertaken to determine the status of available macronutrients and their relationship with important soil properties. 2 Materials and methods 2.1 Study area The Saproon Valley is located between 30055North latitude and 7709 East longitude with an altitude ranging from 1390 to 1500 meters above mean sea level. It represents sub-humid to sub-temperate climate with an average annual rainfall of 1300 mm (Aneepu et al., 2017). The soils have been derived from red and grey gypsiferrous and calcareous shales, are medium deep and mostly sandy loam to sandy clay loam in texture (Pande, 1966). Different farms under vegetables crops particularly under tomato fields were identified from twenty one villages of Solan, Himachal Pradesh, spread over the whole valley following the random sampling technique, and their soil properties were studied. Locations of different sampling sites are presented in Figure 1. A total of 126 soil samples were collected from 0-15 and 15-30 cm soil depths and were pooled to 42 representative soil samples which were analysed for the variations in pH, electrical conductivity (EC), soil organic carbon, available NPK and S content and extractable Ca and Mg content in soils of Saproon Valley. 2.2 Collection and processing of soil samples The soil samples collected were representative of the area sampled and a field was treated as a single sampling unit. Randomly, three soil samples were taken to prepare one composite sample. After the collection of soil samples, representative soil samples of each location was air dried, ground and passed through 2 mm sieve, and stored in bags with proper identification tags for further analysis. 2.3 Methods of analysis of soil properties/parameters: 2.3.1 pH (1:2): The pH was determined in 1:2 :: soil: water suspension using glass electrode (Jackson, 1967). 2.3.2 Electrical conductivity, EC (1:2): EC was measured in 1:2 :: soil: water suspension using systronics conductivity bridge (Richards, 1954). 2.3.3 Organic carbon: The soil organic carbon (OC) was determined by wet digestion method of Walkley & Black (1934). 2.3.4 Available nitrogen: Available nitrogen in soil was determined by micro-kjeldahl method (Subbiah & Asija, 1956). 2.3.5 Available phosphorus: Available phosphorus was determined using Olsen’s method (Olsen et al., 1954). 2.3.6 Available potassium: 1N ammonium acetate extracted available potassium was determined by flame-photometer (Merwin & Peech, 1951). 2.3.7  Exchangeable Ca and Mg: Exchangeable Ca and Mg in the ammonium acetate extract were determined by atomic absorption spectrophotometer (Sarma et al., 1987). 2.3.8 Available sulphur: The available sulphur (SO4 ---S) in the soils was extracted with 0.15% CaCl2 solution (Williams & Steinbergs, 1959) and determined by turbidity method of Chesnin & Yien (1950). 2.4 Soil Nutrient Indices: In order to work out the availability status of each nutrient, Soil Nutrient Indices (SNI) were determined by using the formula proposed by Parker et al. (1951) as given below: SNI=NL X 1+ NM X 2+ (NH X 3)NT Where, NL = number of samples falling in low category of nutrient status NM = number of samples falling in medium category of nutrient status NH = number of samples falling in high category of nutrient status NT = total number of samples analyzed for a given nutrient 2.5 Statistical analysis: The data were subjected to statistical analysis by adopting simple correlations to find out the extent of relationship between the soil nutrient characteristics. 3 Results and Discussion 3.1 pH, EC and organic carbon: Soil pH plays a crucial role in soil fertility, being the chemical property which has direct impact on nutrient availability and plant growth, with neutral pH being the most favorable one. The data of pH, EC and organic carbon of the soil samples collected from different vegetable farms located at different villages of Solan district is presented in Table 1. The soil reaction was reported slightly acidic to slightly alkaline ranging from 6.16 to 7.94 (surface) (Figure 2) and 6.69 to 7.88 (sub surface) (Figure 3). The results designate that soils have not been much leached and are also quite young. The slightly acidic to slightly alkaline pH may be attributed to the higher rainfall and lower temperatures associated with increasing altitude results in lower pH (Logan et al., 1985) and also to the reaction of applied fertilizer material with soil colloids, which resulted in retention of basic cations on the exchangeable complex of the soil (Sharma et al., 2002). Moreover, results of present study are  in agreement with those of Chaudhary et al. (2005) and Aneepu et al. (2017) who categorized soils of Himachal Pradesh as slightly acidic (pH 6.0) to mildly alkaline (pH 8.3) and values increased with depth which might be due to the decrease in organic carbon content. EC is a measure of soluble salt concentration in the soil solution. The EC of soils ranged from 0.09 to 1.02 and 0.11 to 0.49 dS m-1, with mean values of 0.28 and 0.25 dS m-1 in the 0-15 (Figure 4) and 15-30 cm (Figure 5) soils, respectively. The EC values under normal range (<1.0 dS m-1) may be ascribed to leaching of salts to lower horizons of soil due its light texture, which firmly supported the loss of salts. Higher EC values in surface soils may be attributed to the addition of fertilizers and other nutrient management   practices which leads to accumulation of salts in the upper layer of soil. Findings of present study are in agreement with the findings of Singh et al. (2005) who detailed that EC changed from 0.16 to 0.35 dS m-1 in surface and from 0.09 to 0.22 dS m-1 in sub surface soils of Uttaranchal and diminished with soil depth. The results can also be corroborated with the study of Annepu et al. (2017). Soil organic carbon (SOC) content at different locations in tomato cultivated fields is presented in Table 1. The organic carbon content of soils varied at all the locations. Organic carbon content of the soils varied from 5.70 to 32.60 g kg-1 (surface) (Figure 6) and 0.30 to 20.5 g kg-1 (sub-surface) (Figure 7) and the mean soil organic carbon content at different locations varied from 15.07 and 9.36 g kg-1, respectively in 0-15 and 15-30 cm depth indicating that the soils of the Saproon valley have medium to high organic carbon content. The prevailing low temperature results in suppression of microbial and enzymatic activities, which results least soil organic matter decomposition and its accumulation in surface soils (Bhattacharyya et al., 2008). The persistent efforts of farmers in maintaining higher levels of organic matter in their fields through the addition of organic manures and higher amounts of leaf litter throughout the year might have led to higher organic carbon content in surface layers. Parallel to the present findings, Khera et al. (2001) also reported the higher levels of OC ranged between 0.80-2.30 percent in the Central Himalayan region. The higher OC in soils of this region further supported by the findings of Pathak et al. (2010) who reported in situ burning of 38.66 per cent of agro residues in the states of Punjab and Haryana, whereas it was confined to 14.38 per cent in Himachal Pradesh, which indicates the proper recycling of agro wastes in this region. 3.2 Available macronutrients Available nitrogen (N) content in surface soil depth (Figure 8) ranged from 254.02 to 542.53 kg ha-1 while it varied from 203.84 to 435.90 kg ha-1 in case of sub-surface layers (Figure 9) (Table 2), showing a decrease in the availability of available N with soil depth. The nutrient index value (Table 4) of 1.89 with 89.00           per cent samples falling in medium range shows that the soils are medium in available nitrogen. Greater availability of available N may be associated with the reduced rate of organic matter decomposition at low temperature of the valley thus, temporarily withholding the mineralization of nitrogen, which is closely related to SOM build up (Mantovi et al., 2003). Additionally, higher nitrogen content in the surface layers might be attributed to the higher organic carbon content in the surface. The results are in accordance with the results of Annepu et al. (2017). A perusal of data on different nutrients given in Table 2 indicated that available P content in soil varied between 11.20 to 156.80 kg ha-1 in 0-15 cm depth (Figure 10 & 11) with 88.89 per cent of samples high in P content (nutrient index value-2.83) (Table 4), which may be due to high organic matter content and use of 12-32-16 fertilizer by the farmers as a source of P in adequate quantities. Secondly, presence of high organic matter in Saproon valley leads to formation of organic acids during microbial decomposition of soil organic matter which may solubilize native soil P (Munda et al., 2013). Moreover, increased P content in soil may also be contributed to decrease in phosphate-fixing capacity of soil with the application organic manures, resulting from the formation of a protective coating by applied organic residue on the sesquioxides (Dari et al., 2016). Available K content in soil ranged from 147.72 to 1915.20 kg ha-1 under surface soils (Figure 12) and from 165.32 to 1377.60 kg ha-1 in sub surface soils (Figure 13) (Table 2), with maximum samples (76.19 per cent) (Table 4), high in K content due to the nature of parent material which according to Pande (1966) has at one time acquired biotite and quartz mineral assemblage. The work of Bhandari (1973) further supports the contention as he has reported that clay complex of Shimla hills is a mixture of illite, vermiculite, kaolinite and chlorite. Similarly, beneficial effects of organic matter in terms of reduced K fixation and increased CEC could be most probable reason that has the potential to increase available K status of soil (Chittamart et al., 2010). The neutral ammonium acetate derived extractable Ca (Figure 14 & 15) and Mg content (Figure 16 & 17) extended from 1.53 to 7.11 [cmol (p+) kg-1] and 1.10 to 3.67 [cmol (p+) kg-1], respectively, independent of soil depths (Table 3). The higher nutrient index values i.e. 2.91 and 2.97 (Table 4) for Ca and Mg, respectively, might be because of high amount of calcium carbonate and around neutral soil pH. The available SO4-S (Figure 18 & 19) extended from 11.76 to 31.36 kg ha-1, with a mean estimation of 20.04 kg ha-1, regardless of soil depth. The nutrient index value (1.33) demonstrates that soils are insufficient in available sulphur. This inadequacy can be ascribed to the low temperature which restricted the rate of mineralization. Comparable outcomes were worked out by Sharma et al. (2001), who revealed that larger part of soils of Himachal Pradesh are insufficient in S. 3.3 Soil Correlation values The soil correlation values are revealed in Table 5. The availability of N (r=0.93**), P (r=0.56**), K (r=0.64**), SO4--S (r=0.56**) and exchangeable Ca (r=0.56**), are significantly and positively influenced by organic carbon. This is understandable as organic matter is one of the major sources of nutrient supplies in the soil. These results clearly suggest the need to manage optimum amounts of soil OC to regulate adequate supplies of essential plant nutrients. There is a definite relation of organic carbon with available N as organic matter releases most of the mineralizable N in a proportionate amount present in the soil (Mondal et al., 2015). Higher availability   and solubility of exchangeable Mg at neutral pH might be the reason for a significant and positive relationship among pH and exchangeable Mg (r=0.61**). Availability of other nutrients such as available P (r=0.55**), K (r=0.62**), SO4-S (r=0.53**), exchangeable Ca (r=0.44**) had an exceptionally positive and significant correlation with available N which showed the synergistic effects among the major nutrients.  Conclusion From the above results, it may be inferred that the soils of Saproon valley are rich in organic carbon content while they are categorized as medium in available N and high in available P and K contents. Available S is found to be deficient in soils whereas, Ca and Mg contents are in medium quantity. Soils are characterized under slightly acidic to neutral in soil reaction (pH) with less than one dS m-1 soluble salt content (EC), which is considered to be the safe limit for all soils. Consequently, it might be inferred that majority of the area of the valley is insufficient in sulphur and medium in nitrogen.Thus, addition of sulphur and organics like FYM and N, P and K composts won't just make the soil equipped for accomplishing the objective of sustainable harvests yields but will also uphold the soil health in long term. Conflict of interest Authors hereby declare that there is no conflict of interest that could possibly arise.

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