Grain legumes are known to increase the soil mineral nitrogen (N) content, reduce the infection pressure of soil borne pathogens, and hence enhance subsequent cereals yields. Replicated field experiments were performed throughout W. Europe (Denmark, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy) to asses the effect of intercropping pea and barley on the N supply to subsequent wheat in organic cropping systems. Pea and barley were grown either as sole crops at the recommended plant density (P100 and B100, respectively) or in replacement (P50B50) or additive (P100B50) intercropping designs. In the replacement design the total relative plant density is kept constant, while the additive design uses the optimal sole crop density for pea supplementing with ‘extra’ barley plants. The pea and barley crops were followed by winter wheat with and without N application. Additional experiments in Denmark and the United Kingdom included subsequent spring wheat with grass-clover as catch crops. The experiment was repeated over the three cropping seasons of 2003, 2004 and 2005. Irrespective of sites and intercrop design pea–barley intercropping improved the plant resource utilization (water, light, nutrients) to grain N yield with 25–30% using the Land Equivalent ratio. In terms of absolute quantities, sole cropped pea accumulated more N in the grains as compared to the additive design followed by the replacement design and then sole cropped barley. The post harvest soil mineral N content was unaffected by the preceding crops. Under the following winter wheat, the lowest mineral N content was generally found in early spring. Variation in soil mineral N content under the winter wheat between sites and seasons indicated a greater influence of regional climatic conditions and long-term cropping history than annual preceding crop and residue quality. Just as with the soil mineral N, the subsequent crop response to preceding crop was negligible. Soil N balances showed general negative values in the 2-year period, indicating depletion of N independent of preceding crop and cropping strategy. It is recommended to develop more rotational approaches to determine subsequent crop effects in organic cropping systems, since preceding crop effects, especially when including legumes, can occur over several years of cropping.
Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems, 2009, Vol 85, Issue 2, p. 141-155
Climate and energy systems; Ecosystems, climate effects, greenhouse gasses; Klima og energisystemer; Økosystemer, klimaeffekter, drivhusgasser