Characterization of decomposition characteristics is important for sound management of organic residues for both soils and livestock, but routine residue quality analysis is hindered by slow and costly laboratory methods. This study tested the accuracy and repeatability of near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR) for direct prediction of in vitro dry matter digestibility (IVDMD) and C and N mineralization for a diverse range of organic materials (mostly crop and tree residues) of varying quality (n = 32). The residue samples were aerobically incubated in a sandy soil and amounts of C and N mineralized determined after 28 days. IVDMD and quality attributes were determined using wet chemistry methods. Repeatability was higher with NIR than the original wet chemistry methods: on average NIR halved the measurement standard deviation. NIR predicted IVDMD and C and N mineralization more accurately than models based on wet chemical analysis of residue quality attributes: reduction in root mean square error of prediction with NIR, compared with using quality attributes, was IVDMD, 6%; C mineralization after 28 days, 8%; and N mineralization after 28 days, 8%. Cross-validated r(2) values for measured wet chemistry vs. NIR, predicted values were: IVDMD, 0.88; C mineralization, 0.82; and N mineralization, 0.87. Direct prediction of decomposition and mineralization from NIR is faster, more accurate and more repeatable than prediction from residue quality attributes determined using wet chemistry. Further research should be directed towards establishment of diverse NIR calibration libraries under controlled conditions and direct calibration of soil quality, crop and livestock responses in the field to NIR characteristics of residues.
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