The influence of fertilizer nitrogen, white clover content and environmental factors on the nitrate content of perennial ryegrass and ryegrass/white clover swards

Shiel, R.S.; El Tilib, A.M.A.; Younger, A.

Grass and Forage Science 54(3): 275-285


ISSN/ISBN: 0142-5242
DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2494.1999.00180.x
Accession: 003307887

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In a field experiment carried out over 3 years, the nitrate content of herbage from perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) swards increased exponentially with nitrogen application rate, but herbage nitrate content appeared to reach potentially dangerous concentrations only when nitrogen application rates were greater than those needed to stimulate dry-matter production. Thus, on average over all the harvests, maximum yield could be obtained with annual application rates of 400 kg N ha-1 (six applications of 67 kg N ha-1) for perennial ryegrass and 300 kg N ha-1 (six applications of 50 kg N ha-1) for perennial ryegrass/white clover (Trifolium repens) swards, whereas the mean nitrate concentrations were 3340 and 2929 mg NO3 kg-1 dry matter (DM) respectively. Nitrate content, however, varied considerably from harvest to harvest, reaching maxima of 9345 mg NO3 kg-1 DM at 400 kg N ha-1 for perennial ryegrass and 6255 mg NO3 kg-1 DM at 300 kg N ha-1 for perennial ryegrass/white clover. The nitrate content of herbage from perennial ryegrass/white clover swards was always greater than that of perennial ryegrass swards receiving the same rate of nitrogen application, even though in the herbage from the mixed sward the nitrate content of white clover was usually less than half that of the perennial ryegrass component. The physical environment did not have a clearly interpretable effect on nitrate content, although herbage harvested in May had a much lower nitrate content than that harvested at any other time of the season. It was not possible to find a single multiple regression equation relating herbage nitrate content to nitrogen application and to other environmental variables that explained more than 60% of the variance in herbage nitrate, but it is suggested that, by reducing the later-season nitrogen applications from 67 to 50 and finally to 33 kg N ha-1 for perennial ryegrass and from 50 to 33 kg N ha-1 for perennial ryegrass/white clover, it would be possible to achieve over 90% of the maximum yield while reducing average nitrate content to <40% of that at maximum yield, with no samples containing more than 2300 mg NO3 kg-1 DM.