The benefits of gypsum use in agricultural production have been studied for many centuries. Recent research continues to substantiate earlier studies as well as find new benefits to gypsum use. In this section we will try to present some of this data in a concise format.
Benefits of gypsum include:
- Improving soil structure
- Amend sodium affected soils
- Improve soil infiltration
- Decreases the swelling of clays
- Offsets affects of aluminum toxicity in low pH soils
- Helps curb phosphorus runoff from soils
- Improves quality of several fruit and vegetable crops
- Is an excellent source of plant available calcium and sulfur
- Increases iron uptake by reducing the detrimental effects of bicarbonates
- Serves to decrease the bulk density of soils
- Useful tool in decreasing the negative effects of high magnesium in soils
- Increases the efficiency of nitrogen applications
- Increases the availability of potassium already present in the soil
- Offsets ill effects of irrigation with poor quality water
- Can serve as a tool to enhance iron, manganese and zinc availability
- Aid to stop soil erosion
- Decreases incidence of some diseases
- and more
When gypsum provides any one of the above benefits higher yields can be realized. The National Soil Erosion Laboratory at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN has performed many research projects (Dr. Darrell Norton, et.al.) showing the benefits of gypsum on increasing water infiltration and improving soil structure. As the data shows, gypsum greatly increased the infiltration in soils from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa (from left to right).
This researcher also showed that much of the increase in infiltration was dued to less surface sealing as a result of the application of gypsum. Rain water has low amounts of electrolytes. Consequently the soil particles will tend to swell and this causes replulsion between clay particles. The addition of gypsum increases the bonds between soil particles and soil cohesiveness.
Other research has also shown that percolation rates of water increase with the use of gypsum as is shown in the data below.
|Treatment||Standing after 24hrs., In.||ml/24 hrs.|
|Sulfur, 1 ton||23||86|
|CaSO4, 1 ton||18||190|
|Ca SO4, 5 tons||15||280|
Amend Low pH Soils
Dr. Malcolm Sumner, et.al. at the University of Georgia has shown that gypsum is highly effective as an ameliorant for low pH soils that have high levels of exchangeable aluminum. His research revealed that even 16 years after the initial application of gypsum the yields of both corn and alfalfa were higher where the gypsum was applied.
|Corn Expt. 1Bu/A||Corn Expt. 2Bu/A||Alfalfa T/A|
|Control||107||105 – 2.39|
|Gypsum||161||135 – 4.06|
It is theorized that the gypsum reacts in these low pH soils to form ion pair AlSO4 which renders the aluminum non-toxic to plant roots. The calcium in the gypsum is also thought to create a better balance between aluminum and calcium in soil solution.
A benefit of finely ground gypsum is that it is 200 times more water soluble than lime and so calcium will move more easily downwards through the soil profile. In one study water soluble calcium was increased to a depth of 36 inches in a silt loam soil in just two years.
Increase Nitrogen Efficiency
The Ohio State University (Dick, Chen & Kost) has conducted a study in which they measured the response to adding gypsum to the fertilizer program to increase nitrogen efficiency in corn. As the results below indicate the 120# rate of nitrogen with 200# of gypsum produced a significantly higher yield than the 180# nitrogen rate by itself. This could be due to a nitrogen/sulfur interaction, a calcium/nitrogen interaction or simply a gypsum/nitrogen interaction. These soils were silt loam soils and had a pH near neutral.
This would support the idea of a more balanced fertility program to produce higher yields rather than just increasing nitrogen rates as some have suggested.
|Avg. 3 years|
Alfalfa is a crop that has a high demand for both calcium and sulfur. Research conducted at The Ohio State University by Dr. Warren Dick et.al. has shown that alfalfa responds very well to gypsum and that a one ton rate will give a response for at least three years. Dr. Dick has commented in a personal conversation that you see a response in alfalfa nearly every time noting that the response is consistent.
Recent research at Iowa State University has also revealed that alfalfa is quite responsive to calcium sulfate. Interestingly enough the response was observed on both low yielding alfalfa and high yielding alfalfa sites. The average response was over 1 ton/acre just like that observed in Ohio.
Gypsum was applied in April at Nashua and May at other locations.
Study was done in 2006
|Treatment||2005-Cuts 2 & 3||2006-Cut 1|
Alfalfa in Untreated was showing yellowing typically of sulfur deficiency.
Plant sulfur levels were .14% in untreated and .41% in gypsum.
University of Minnesota has also compared responses of alfalfa to lime and gypsum. They reported a response to both materials. Again the response to gypsum in alfalfa was over 1 ton/acre as is shown below.
|Lime (2 T/A)||8.27|
Other forages have also been proven to be responsive to the use of gypsum as well. Research in Northern California by University of California researchers have shown yield increases in Subclover-grass pastures over three years from an initial application of 1500# of gypsum.
Hay Yield of Subclover-grass*
|Treatment||Site #1||Site #2|
|None||1.16 T/A||1.09 T/A|
|1500# Gypsum||1.65 T/A||1.73 T/A|
A study by Univ. of New Jersey also has shown that Timothy and Rye grass also have proven to be responsive in a soil where 2 ton/A of gypsum was applied to improve drainage and soil structure.
|None||1.84 T/A||1.58 T/A|
|Gypsum||3.05 T/A||2.01 T/A|
A study at Penn State also has shown a significant increase in root growth by both tall fescue and bermuda grass when gypsum was applied to a clay soil. As you can see in the picture below the gypsum treated soil had a larger amount of root mass at each depth than the control.
As you would expect, this also correlated to increased plant growth as well as is indicated by the increased clipping weight that is shown.
Improve Nutrient Uptake
The use of gypsum has shown to increase nutrient uptake and consequently increase yield. The University of Nebraska studied iron chlorosis and found that when they placed gypsum in the row or banded gypsum that they were able to significantly affect iron chlorosis and also increase yield in soybeans (see table below). Although not completely understood, it is theorized that either the calcium is fixing the bicarbonates in these soils or the sulfate sulfur is reducing the uptake of the bicarbonates or a combination thereof.
|Check||0, In Band by Row||25|
|Gypsum||450#, In Band by Row||44|
|Check||0, In Row at Planting||19|
|Gypsum||75#, In Row at Planting||30|
Research in a laboratory study at USDA/ARS in Colorado (Olsen & Watanabe) showed that the use of gypsum in six different soils increased the uptake of iron, manganese and zinc in the plant significantly and increased the growth of grain sorghum by as much as 10 fold. The mechanism by which CaSO4 increases iron, manganese and zinc concentrations is unknown. They theorized an interaction with molybdenum or possibly ion-pairs being formed between sulfate sulfur and these elements.
Research has also shown that vegetable crops are very responsive to the use of gypsum both in yield and quality.
The study from the University of Georgia shows that cantaloupe benefited from the use of gypsum.
|Treatment||Yield, T/A||Skin Ca%|
|Gypsum (.56 T/A)||4.54||1.24|
A Mississippi study revealed that tomato yield and quality is also greatly improved with the use of calcium sulfate.
Most of this can be attributed to better calcium nutrition observed by the higher skin calcium levels.
|Treatment||Yield, T/A||Skin Ca%|
|Gypsum (2 T/A)||37.5||.34|