Gypsum is an excellent source of Ca and S, both of which are required for crop growth. Large amounts of by-product gypsum [Flue gas desulfurization gypsum-(FGDG)] are produced from coal combustion in the United States, but only 4% is used for agricultural purposes. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of (1) untreated, (2) short-term (4-year annual applications of gypsum totaling 6720 kg ha-1), and (3) long-term (12-year annual applications of gypsum totaling 20,200 kg ha-1) on alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) growth and nutrient uptake, and gypsum movement through soil. The study was conducted in a greenhouse using undisturbed soil columns of two non-sodic soils (Celina silt loam and Brookston loam). Aboveground growth of alfalfa was not affected by gypsum treatments when compared with untreated (p > 0.05). Total root biomass (0-75 cm) for both soils series was significantly increased by gypsum application (p = 0.04), however, increased root growth was restricted to 0-10 cm depth. Soil and plant analyses indicated no unfavorable environmental impact from of the 4-year and 12-year annual application of FGDG. We concluded that under sufficient water supply, by-product gypsum is a viable source of Ca and S for land application that might benefit alfalfa root growth, but has less effect on aboveground alfalfa biomass production. Undisturbed soil columns were a useful adaptation of the lysimeter method that allowed detailed measurements of alfalfa nutrient uptake, root biomass, and yield and nutrient movement in soil.
Keywords: alfalfa; gypsum; no-tillage; nutrient uptake; undisturbed soil columns.