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Using legume-based mixtures to enhance the nitrogen use efficiency and economic viability of cropping systems - Final report (LK09106/HGCA3447)

Döring, T F; Baddeley, J. A.; Brown, R; Collins, R; Crowley, O; Cuttle, S P; Howlett, S A; Jones, H E; McCalman, H; Measures, M; Pearce, B D; Pearce, H; Roderick, S; Stobart, R; Storkey, J; Tilston, E; Topp, K; Watson, C A; Winkler, L and Wolfe, M S (2013) Using legume-based mixtures to enhance the nitrogen use efficiency and economic viability of cropping systems - Final report (LK09106/HGCA3447). HGCA PROJECT REPORT, no. 513. HGCA, Kenilworth.

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Document available online at: http://archive.hgca.com/cms_publications.output/2/2/Publications/Final%20project%20reports/Using%20legume-based%20mixtures%20to%20enhance%20the%20nitrogen%20use%20efficiency%20and%20economic%20viability%20of%20cropping%20systems.mspx?fn=show&pubcon=9373


As costs for mineral fertilisers rise, legume-based leys are recognised as a potential alternative nitrogen source for crops. Here we demonstrate that including species-rich legume-based leys in rotations helps to maximise synergies between agricultural productivity and other ecosystem services. By using functionally diverse plant species mixtures, these services can be optimised and fine-tuned to regional and farm-specific needs. Replicated field experiments were conducted over three years at multiple locations, testing the performance of 12 legume species and 4 grass species sown in monocultures, as well as in a mixture of 10 of the legumes and all 4 grasses (called the All Species Mix, ASM). In addition, we compared this complex mixture to farmer-chosen ley mixtures on 34 sites across the UK.
The trials showed that there is a large degree of functional complementarity among the legume species. No single species scored high on all evaluation criteria. In particular, the currently most frequently used species, white clover, is outscored by other legume species on a number of parameters such as early development and resistance to decomposition. Further complementarity emerged from the different responses of legume species to environmental variables, with soil pH and grazing or cutting regime being among the more important factors. For example, while large birdsfoot trefoil showed better performance on more acidic soils, the opposite was true for sainfoin, lucerne and black medic. In comparison with the monocultures, the ASM showed increased ground cover, increased above-ground biomass and reduced weed biomass. Benefits of mixing species with regard to productivity increased over time. In addition, the stability of biomass production across sites was greater in the ASM than in the legume monocultures. Within the on-farm trials, we further found that on soils low in organic matter the biomass advantage of the ASM over the Control ley was more marked than on the soils with higher organic matter content. Ecological modelling revealed that the three best multifunctional mixtures all contained black medic, lucerne and red clover.
Within the long term New Farming Systems (NFS) rotational study, the use of a clover bi-crop showed improvement to soil characteristics compared to current practice (e.g. bulk density and water infiltration rate). Improvements in wheat yield were also noted with respect to the inclusion of a clover bi-crop in 2010, but there was evidence of a decline in response as the N dose was increased. Cumulatively, over both the wheat crop and the spring oilseed rape crop, the clover bi-crop improved margin over N. The highest average yield response (~9%) was associated with the ASM legume species mix cover cropping approach.

EPrint Type:Report
Keywords:legumes, mixtures
Agrovoc keywords:
Seed mixtures
soil fertility
Organic agriculture
Subjects:"Organics" in general
Farming Systems
Crop husbandry
Research affiliation: UK > Univ. Aberystwyth > Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS)
UK > Duchy College
UK > Organic Research Centre (ORC)
UK > Institute of Organic Training and Advice (IOTA)
UK > National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB)
UK > Rothamsted Research (RES)
UK > Scottish Rural Colleges (SRUC - previously SAC)
Deposited By: Pearce, Dr Bruce
ID Code:24662
Deposited On:17 Nov 2013 19:48
Last Modified:25 Nov 2014 20:43
Document Language:English
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed

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