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Biomass 9 (1986) 67-74

Biogas Plant Slurry as an Alternative to

Chemical Fertilizers

A. K. D a h i y a a n d P. V a s u d e v a n

Centre for Rural Development and Appropriate Technology,

Indian Institute of Technology,Hauz Khas, New Delhi-110 016, India

(Received: 12 March, 1985)

The effectiveness of biogas plant slurry in combination with chemical
fertilizers was studied for the production of various crops. Replacement
of nitrogenous fertilizer with slurry decreased the yields of major crops,
i.e. wheat, bajra, jawar and mustard. Application of slurry to replace
half the nitrogenous fertilizer gave better yields in vegetable crops while
replacement of the total nitrogenous fertilizer gave better yields in
fodder crops.
Key words: biogas plant slurry, energy intensive chemical fertilizers, self


Chemical fertilizers are the most crucial inputs for enhancing yield of
crops. However, a large amount of commercial energy is required in
their production. 1-3 With the increasing use of chemical fertilizers, the
proportion of commercial energy input to agriculture is steadily rising.
Studies on energy consumption of Indian farms 4-6 showed that about
50% of the total energy consumed in crop production comes through
chemical fertilizers. T h e estimated Indian requirement of fertilizers 7 is of
the order of 28.7 million tonnes by AD 2000 to fulfill the food production
target. Because of the recent three- to four-fold increase in the price of
oil and the scarce foreign exchange available to most of the developing
countries, they can neither produce mineral fertilizers at huge investment
costs nor import them in large amounts. 8 Therefore, it is essential for
developing countries to find an alternative to energy intensive chemical
Biomass 0144-4565/86/S03.50 - © Elsevier Applied Science Publishers Ltd, England,
1986. Printed in Great Britain
68 A. K. Dahiya, P. Vasudevan

A significant effect in this direction could be made by using biomass

on a large scale either alone or in combination with mineral fertilizers.
Cattle dung, crop residues and other aquatic biomass are available in
large amounts in many of the developing countries. 9 Recycling of organic
wastes, especially cattle dung, through biogas plants seems to have a
great potential. In addition to providing manure, it also provides biogas
useful for cooking and running irrigation pumps. Furthermore, it is of
great significance from the stand point of public hygiene, pollution
control and environmental protection.
Biogas plant digested slurry is a good source of plant nutrients. ~°-12
Only a few studies are available on using this slurry for crop production
particularly in combination with chemical fertilizers. From field trials,
Resenberg 13 observed that taking the yield of a plot as 100, the yield of a
plot with additional normal farmyard manure (FYM) was rated at 91 for
a meadow and 106 for a potato plot, whereas with the digested sludge of
same dry matter content, the corresponding figure stood at 115 and 112
respectively. Another plot, manured by potassium and phosphatic ferti-
lizers without additional nitrogenous fertilizers showed an increase by
FYM to 101 on the meadow plot and 133 for potato plot. The corre-
sponding figures for sludge were 130 and 192. He also reported the
superiority of this manure over FYM in maintenance of soil fertility.
Mishra ~4 has compared sun dried sludge with fresh slurry, FYM and
chemical fertilizers. The percentage increase of the yield of wheat over
control by the application of sun dried slurry, fresh slurry and FYM
were of the order of 53"8, 16"8 and 20.0% respectively. But dried slurry
was somewhat inferior to a mixture of ammonium sulphate and single
super phosphate containing equivalent quantities of nitrogen and phos-
In general, farmers rotate cereals and other major crops with
vegetables and fodders. The above studies have compared different
organic and inorganic fertilizers only for a few crops. Thus it is of
importance to study the effectiveness of biogas slurry in combination
with chemical fertilizers in the production of all the local crops used in a
given farm. Hence, after studying the cropping pattern in several villages
in northern India, the present work was taken up to cover all the crops
grown in that agricultural system.


A field experiment was conducted in the year 1983-84 for the following
Biogasplant slurryas an alternativeto chemicalfertilizers 69

1. Wheat ( Triticum sativum)

2. Bajra (Pennisetum typhideum)
3. Jawar (Andropogon sorghum)
4. Mustard (Brassica compestris)
5. Tomato (Lycopersicum esculentum)
6. Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea) var. botrytris
7. Lady finger (Hibiscus esculentus)
8. Barseem (fodder) ( Trifolium alexandrirum)
9. Guar (fodder) (Cyamopsis tetragonoloba)

Treatments layout plan

(A) Treatments: To -- control (no fertilizer); T~ -- recommended doses

of N, P and K were supplied through chemical fertilizer; T2 -- half of the
recommended dose of N was supplied through biogas plant slurry and
the other half of N and PzO5 and K20 supplied through chemical
fertilizers deducting P205 and K20 supplied through slurry; T3 -- whole
recommended dose of nitrogen was supplied through biogas plant slurry,
P205 and K20 were supplied through chemical fertilizers deducting P205
and K20 supplied through slurry.
(B) No. of treatments -- 4.
(C) Replications -- 4.
(D) Total no. of plots for each crop -- 16.
(E) Plot size -- 6 m 2 (2 × 3 m).

Treatments application

Urea, single super phosphate and murate of potash containing 46% N,

16% P205 and 60% K20 respectively were applied to supply recom-
mended doses of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash respectively. Biogas
plant slurry obtained from a community biogas plant run on cattle dung
was used as organic material for supplying nitrogen having 1.27% N,
0"73% P205 and 1.36% K20. Biogas plant slurry was applied and mixed
well, before 15 days of sowing of seeds and transplanting of seedlings.


Composite soil samples were drawn from the experimental site (15 cm
depth). The soil samples were dried, ground and then passed through a
2.0 mm sieve for subsequent analysis. The general soil characteristics are
given in Table 1.
70 A. K. Dahiya, P. Vasudevan

Soil Characteristics of the ExperimentalField

Soil characteristics Values

Mechanical analysis
(i) Sand (%) 56.43
(ii) Silt(%) 30-45
(iii) Clay(%) 13.12
(iv) Texturalclass Sandy loam
pH 8.1
Water holding capacity (%) 30.4
Bulk density (g cc-1) 1"4
Particle density (g cc-1) 2-6


Seeds of wheat, bajra, mustard, jawar, guar and barseem and bhindi were
sown directly in the field at appropriate distances. Cauliflower and
tomato seeds were sown first in the finely prepared nursery beds and 15
days old seedlings were transplanted in the experimental plots. Irrigation
was given when required.

Harvesting and threshing

Wheat, bajra, jawar and mustard were harvested at dead ripe maturity. In
the case of vegetables, since all the plants do not mature at the same time,
a record of their fresh weight was kept on the day of their harvest. In the
case of fodders, four cuttings of barseem and two cuttings of guar were
taken. Threshing wherever applicable was done manually.

Soil analysis

Soil of the experimental field was analysed for different physio-chemical

properties (Table 1). Mechanical analysis was done by adopting the
International pipette method. The pH was measured in 1:2.5 soil-water
suspension with a pH meter. Water holding capacity was determined
with the help of circular brass cups as described by Piper; 15 densities
were determined by the method described by Richards; 16organic carbon
was determined by following Walkley and Black's method) 7
Biogas plant slurry as an alternative to chemical fertilizers 71

Statistical analysis

The experiment was conducted in the pattern of randomised block

design. Statistical analysis of the data was done by the standard statistical
method of analysis of variance. In this, the variance ratio for all the main
treatments were calculated. The treatment difference, i.e. the treatment
means and their critical difference (CD) at 5% level of significance were
calculated for comparison as per method described by Panse and
Sukhatme TM wherever the F test was significant.


Yields of different crops obtained under different treatments, i.e. control

(no fertilizer was added), chemical fertilizers (whole nitrogen was
supplied through chemical fertilizers), mixed fertilizers (half nitrogen was
supplied through chemical fertilizers while half through slurry) and
slurry (whole nitrogen was supplied through slurry) are presented in
Table 2. Percentage increases in yields under different treatments over
control are also given in parentheses. It is evident from the table that in
all the crops, yields were significantly higher under all treatments as com-
pared to control. Wheat, bajra, jawar and mustard gave highest yields
when whole nitrogen was supplied through chemical fertilizers. Yields
reduced significantly when half nitrogen was supplied through spent
slurry. Application of whole nitrogen through slurry further reduced the
yields of these crops. In vegetables, except for bhindi, highest yields were
obtained when half nitrogen was supplied through chemical fertilizers
and half through slurry. Application of whole nitrogen through slurry
gave highest yields in fodders, i.e. barseem and guar. This was followed
by mixed fertilizer and chemical fertilizers respectively.


Results presented in Table 2 revealed that in major crops, i.e. wheat,

bajra, jawar and mustard, replacement of nitrogenous fertilizer through
slurry decreased the yields while higher yields were obtained by replac-
ing the half and total nitrogenous fertilizer in vegetables and fodders
respectively. Similar results have been obtained by Mishra. 14 It seems
that besides the higher carbon content and improved physical properties
of the soil, the nature of the roots and uptake system of plants also plays
an important role in deciding the crop yields. It is also known that a

Yield of Crops (kg plot -1) Under Different Treatments

Treatments Wheat Mustard Ba]ra Jawar Bhindi Tomato Cauli- Barseem Guar

TO(control) 1.132 0.269 0.507 0-514 2.366 5"706 10.023 18-147 8.136 .~
T1(whole nitrogen supplied 2.928 0.596 1.282 1.382 4.863 10.776 17.006 34.842 12.223
through chemical fertilizer) (158-6) a (121.5) (152.8) (168-8) (105.5) (88-8) (69"6) (92"0) (50"2) w.
T2 (half nitrogen supplied 2.429 0.507 1.038 1.127 4-790 10.810 17.456 37-143 12-450 .~
through chemical fertilizers (114.5) (88-4) (104.7) (119.2) (102-4) (89.4) (74-1) (104.6) (53"0)
and half through slurry) ~
T3 (whole nitrogen supplied 2.064 0"488 0-889 0-934 4-380 9.983 15.343 38"587 13.666
through slurry) (82.3) (81-4) (75.3) (81.7) (85.1) (74.9) (53"0) (112-6) (67"9)
SEre -+0"064 -+0"015 -+0"056 _+0.044 -+0-055 -+0"161 -+0"215 -+0.995 -+0-112
CD at 5% 0-205 0.047 0"179 0.143 0.178 0"515 0-689 3.184 0-361

"Percentage increase in yield under different treatments over control is shown in parentheses.
Biogas plant slurry as an alternative to chemical fertilizers 73

higher dose of nitrogen is required by cereals and other major crops as

compared to vegetables and fodder. These major crops perhaps require
the nitrogen at a faster rate while vegetables and fodder need it at a slow
rate. Application of slurry, which releases nutrients to the vegetables and
fodder slowly, perhaps creates favourable conditions while in the case of
wheat, jawar, etc., it reduces the yields because of the slower availability
of nutrients.
Replacement of chemical fertilizers by biogas plant slurry without
affecting the yields automatically helps in reducing both the capital
investment and commercial energy input. The feed material (dung and
crop residues) for biogas plants is also available locally and their use thus
increases the self-sufficiency of the farms. In addition, the slurry produc-
tion process reduces pollution due to utilization of such wastes and helps
in recycling valuable nutrients.


This study has shown the feasibility of using biogas plant slurry to
replace chemical fertilizer partially or fully. This will directly help in
saving commercial energy. Moreover, with a large scale establishment of
biogas plants in developing countries like India, the productive use of
spent slurry will bring better returns to the farmers as well as helping to
mitigate the energy and environmental crisis.


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