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Rebecca J. Long, Rebecca N. Brown and José A. Amador

Using organic wastes as agricultural amendments is a productive alternative to disposal in landfills, providing nutrients for plant growth and carbon to build soil organic matter. Despite these benefits, a large fraction of organic waste is sent to landfills. Obstacles to the adoption of wastes as sources of plant nutrients include questions about harmful effects to crops or soils and the wastes’ ability to produce satisfactory yields. We compared six organic waste amendments with a mineral fertilizer control (CN) to determine effects on soil quality, soil fertility, crop quality, and crop yield in 2013 and 2014. Waste amendments were applied at a rate sufficient to supply 10,000 kg organic C/ha over two seasons, and mineral fertilizer was applied to control plots to provide 112 kg-N/ha/yr. The experiment was laid out in a randomized block design with four replicates and three crops: sweet corn (Zea mays L. cv. Applause, Brocade, and Montauk), butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata Duchesne cv. JWS 6823), and potatoes (Solanum tuberosum L. cv. Eva). Amendment with biosolids/yard waste cocompost (BS), dehydrated restaurant food waste (FW), gelatin manufacturing waste (GW), multisource compost (MS), paper fiber/chicken manure blend (PF), and yard waste compost (YW) did not have a negative impact on soil moisture, bulk density, electrical conductivity (EC), or the concentration of heavy metals in soil or plant tissue. Our results indicate potential uses for waste amendments including significantly raising soil pH (MS) and increasing soil organic matter [OM (YW and BS)]. The carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N) of waste amendments was not a reliable predictor of soil inorganic N levels, and only some wastes increased potentially mineralizable nitrogen (PMN) levels relative to the control. Plots amended with BS, FW, and GW produced yields of sweet corn, butternut squash, and potatoes comparable with the control, whereas plots amended with YW, PF, and MS produced lower yields of sweet corn, squash, or both, although yields for potatoes were comparable with the control. In addition, the marketability of potatoes from PF plots was significantly better than that of the control in 2014. None of the wastes evaluated in this study had negative impacts on soil properties, some provided benefits to soil quality, and all produced comparable yields for at least one crop. Our results suggest that all six wastes have potential to be used as sources of plant nutrients.