Accumulation and recovery of nitrogen in mixed farming systems using legumes and other fertility building crops

  • Joanna May Doel

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Fertility-building crops (FBCs) offer the opportunity to alleviate the costs of inorganic fertiliser by providing an alternative supply of available nitrogen (N) in soils. A survey of relevant literature reviewed the types of FBCs, their nitrogen accumulation potentials, residue characteristics, and subsequent release patterns. It also identified a paucity of data concerning the response of different species to UK climatic, soil, and management conditions. In order to investigate these relationships further pot and field trials were established in 2007 at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester (SP 00481 01382) and at Coates Manor Farm (SO 98473 00402) on Sherborne series (typical Cotswold) soils, to investigate the biology and morphology of FBCs potentially suitable for short term fertility-building, their accumulation of N under field conditions, and its subsequent recovery within test crops. Data so obtained was used as a verification and refinement tool for the FBC model (Cuttle et al, 2003), a simple, commercially applicable, rotation-based model which can be applied to both organic and conventional production systems. Nine leguminous and two non-leguminous FBC treatments were established in April 2007 by straight sowing, followed by mulching at the conclusion of the nitrogen accumulation phase and by undersowing in spring barley (Hordeum sativum). The recovery test crops (winter and spring wheat Triticum aestivum L.) were established in September 2007 and March 2008. All FBCs established successfully. Above-ground dry matter (DM) yield and residue quality (C:N ratio) of FBCs varied significantly (P<0.05) between crops and cropping regimes with a significant correlation (r2=0.418) between DM yields and C:N ratios. FBCs and cropping regimes had significant effects (P<0.001 and P<0.05 respectively) on potential mineralisable nitrogen (PMN) levels in the soil and on the grain yields of winter and spring wheat test crops. Straight sown Lupinus albus, Trifolium pratense, Trifolium repens and a legume mixture resulted in higher winter wheat grain yields. However, the opportunity cost associated with straight sowing (i.e. the gross margin foregone from a spring barley crop) meant that the rotation would probably not be viable economically. Undersown Medicago lupulina, Vicia villosa, T. pratense, T. repens and the legume mixture gave worthwhile yield increases in spring wheat without incurring a yield penalty in the spring barley cover crop. Following enhancement and using actual data from the trials, the FBC model (Cuttle et al, 2003) provided encouraging predictions (R>0.6) for soil mineral nitrogen (SMN) and key parameters were identified for future use. It was concluded that FBCs established for short term soil fertility building could provide a worthwhile enhancement of soil N levels and grain yields in a conventional arable rotation, particularly in spring wheat following FBCs undersown in spring barley. It was also concluded that the FBC model (Cuttle et al, 2003), following further enhancement, and using additional data from these and other similar trials, could provide reasonably accurate estimates of SMN to aid more precise applications of N fertiliser in the future.
    Date of Award2012
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorGerry Lane (Supervisor) & John S. Conway (Supervisor)

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