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Shaun R. Broderick and Williams B. Evans

Biosolids are rich in plant nutrients and are a byproduct of municipal wastewater treatment and those that meet strict government safety standards can be land applied in most agricultural settings except for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic production. Across the United States, about 60% of biosolids are land applied, but in Mississippi almost no biosolids are land applied. Our research goal was to compare plant size in southeastern U.S. soils amended with biosolids at rates of 2, 8, 14, and 20 tons/acre in contrast to soils amended with synthetic fertilizers using ‘Floral Lace Cherry’ dianthus (Dianthus chinensis ×barbatus), ‘Dreams Coral Morn’ petunia (Petunia ×hybrida), ‘Pidgeon White’ kale (Brassica oleraceae var. acephala), and ‘Bright Lights’ swiss chard (Beta vulgaris ssp. cicla). To accomplish this, fertilizers and biosolids were applied to prebedded fields in a randomized complete block design with a split-plot arrangement of nutrient treatments. Plant performance data and soil data were taken 43 and 56 days after transplant. Soil pH was reduced and organic matter increased at the highest application rates (14 and 20 tons/acre) of biosolids, and higher levels of phosphorus, zinc, and sulfur were found in these soils. In plant shoots, higher levels of copper, manganese, magnesium, and zinc were found when grown in soils amended with biosolids at a rate of 20 tons/acre compared with plants grown with synthetic fertilizers. Except for swiss chard, no crops fertilized with biosolids exhibited a difference in dry weights (DW) compared with conventional fertilizers. These data demonstrate that soil properties can be improved and similar plant sizes can be achieved through biosolid applications. We conclude that Grade A biosolids produced in Mississippi can be used to supplement synthetic fertilizers for ornamental and vegetable production.