University of Tasmania

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Can seasonal soil N mineralisation trends be leveraged to enhance pasture growth?

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 20:41 authored by Bilotto, F, Matthew HarrisonMatthew Harrison, Migliorati, MDA, Karen Christie, Rowlings, DW, Grace, PR, Smith, AP, Richard RawnsleyRichard Rawnsley, Thorburn, PJ, Eckard, RJ

Background: Soil N mineralisation is the process by which organic N is converted into plant-available forms, while soil N immobilisation is the transformation of inorganic soil N into organic matter and microbial biomass, thereafter becoming bio-unavailable to plants. Mechanistic models can be used to explore the contribution of mineralised or immobilised N to pasture growth through simulation of plant, soil and environment interactions driven by management.

Purpose: Our objectives were (1) to compare the performance of three agro-ecosystems models (APSIM, DayCent and DairyMod) in simulating soil N, pasture biomass and soil water using the same experimental data in three diverse environments (2), to determine if tactical application of N fertiliser in different seasons could be used to leverage seasonal trends in N mineralisation to influence pasture growth and (3), to explore the sensitivity of N mineralisation to changes in N fertilisation, cutting frequency and irrigation rate.

Key results: Despite considerable variation in model sophistication, no model consistently outperformed the other models with respect to simulation of soil N, shoot biomass or soil water. Differences in the accuracy of simulated soil NH4 and NO3 were greater between sites than between models and overall, all models simulated cumulative N2O well. While tactical N application had immediate effects on NO3, NH4, N mineralisation and pasture growth, no long-term relationship between mineralisation and pasture growth could be discerned. It was also shown that N mineralisation of DayCent was more sensitive to N fertiliser and cutting frequency compared with the other models.

Major conclusions: Our results suggest that while superfluous N fertilisation generally stimulates immobilisation and a pulse of N O emissions, subsequent effects through N mineralisation/immobilisation effects on pasture growth are variable. We suggest that further controlled environment soil incubation research may help separate successive and overlapping cycles of mineralisation and immobilisation that make it difficult to diagnose long-term implications for (and associations with) pasture growth.


Department of Agriculture


Publication title

Science of the Total Environment



Article number









Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)


Elsevier Science Bv

Place of publication

Po Box 211, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1000 Ae

Rights statement

Copyright 2021 Elsevier

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Soils; Management of greenhouse gas emissions from animal production; Management of gaseous waste from plant production (excl. greenhouse gases)