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Nitrogen requirements of corn as affected by monocropping and intercropping with alfalfa



Nitrogen requirements of corn as affected by monocropping and intercropping with alfalfa



Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 47(2): 149-156, 1996-



Intercropping perennials with corn has the potential to improve utilization of the growing season over monocropping corn in regions where a substantial portion of the growing season is too cool for corn growth. The biomass potential and fertilizer N requirements of monocropped corn (Zea mays) grown using conventional tillage were compared with those of corn intercropped with alfalfa (Medicago sativa) in 1987 and 1988. The intercropped alfalfa was harvested once prior to planting the corn each spring. Rotation effects on and N fertilizer requirements for monocropped corn following these treatments and also following monocropped alfalfa, were evaluated in 1989 and 1990. During the two years of intercropping for which data is presented, the critical intercropped corn biomass (13.05 Mg ha-1) estimated using a quadratic-plus plateau model, was close to the monocropped corn biomass (13.01 Mg ha-1), but an estimated 83 kg ha-1 more N was required for intercropped corn to reach the critical biomass. Total biomass (intercropped corn and alfalfa) was 25% greater than that of the monocropped corn, and the total N uptake was 55% greater than that by monocropped corn over the two-year period. After rotation to monocropped corn using conventional tillage in 1989, corn biomass averaged over N rates following intercropping or monocropped corn was lower (P = 0.01) than following monocropped alfalfa. Critical corn biomass estimated was highest following alfalfa and lowest following monocropped corn, and more N fertilizer was required to attain the critical biomass under continuous monocropped corn in 1989. Corn yields and N uptake values in 1990 were not significantly different among the cropping systems. The N fertilizer replacement values due to intercropping decreased from above 90 kg N ha-1 in the first year of rotation to less than 40 kg N ha-1 in the second year of rotation. Considering the higher potential for total biomass production and rotation benefit, intercropping is a viable alternative to conventional corn monoculture for forage production.

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