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Repeated use of green-manure catch crops in organic cereal production - grain yields and nitrogen supply

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By restricted access to manure, nitrogen (N) supply in organic agriculture relies on biological N-fixation. This study compares grain yields after one full-season green manure (FSGM) to yields with repeated use of a green-manure catch crop. At two sites in south-eastern Norway, in a simple 4-year rotation (oats/wheat/oats/wheat), the repeated use of ryegrass, clover, or a mixture of ryegrass and clover as catch crops was compared with an FSGM established as a catch crop in year 1. The FSGM treatments had no subsequent catch crops. In year 5, the final residual effects were measured in barley. The yield levels were about equal for grains with no catch crop and a ryegrass catch crop. On average, the green-manure catch crops increased subsequent cereal yields close to 30%. The FSGM increased subsequent cereal yields significantly in two years, but across the rotation the yields were comparable to those of the treatments without green-manure catch crop. To achieve acceptable yields under Norwegian conditions, more than 25% of the land should be used for full-season green manure, or this method combined with green-manure catch crops. The accumulated amount of N in aboveground biomass in late autumn did not compensate for the N removed by cereal yields. To account for the deficiency, the roots of the green-manure catch crops would have to contain about 60% of the total N (tot-N) required to balance the cereal yields. Such high average values for root N are likely not realistic to achieve. However, measurement of biomass in late autumn may not reflect all N made available to concurrent or subsequent main crops.
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Keywords: Aboveground biomass; cover crop; legume; phosphorus; potassium; red clover; ryegrass; soil mineral N; white clover

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Bioforsk Organic Food and Farming, Tingvoll, Norway 2: Bioforsk Arable Crops, Apelsvoll, Kapp, Norway 3: Bioforsk Plant Health and Protection, Ås, Norway

Publication date: 2011-03-01

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