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Tillage, cover crops, and nitrogen fertilization effects on soil nitrogen and cotton and sorghum yields



Tillage, cover crops, and nitrogen fertilization effects on soil nitrogen and cotton and sorghum yields



European Journal of Agronomy 25(4): 372-382



Sustainable soil and crop management practices that reduce soil erosion and nitrogen (N) leaching, conserve soil organic matter, and optimize cotton and sorghum yields still remain a challenge. We examined the influence of three tillage practices (no-till, strip till and chisel till), four cover crops {legume [hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth)], nonlegume [rye (Secaele cereale L.)], vetch/rye biculture and winter weeds or no cover crop}, and three N fertilization rates (0, 60-65 and 120-130 kg N ha(-1)) on soil inorganic N content at the 0-30 cm depth and yields and N uptake of cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) and sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench]. A field experiment was conducted on Dothan sandy loam (fine-loamy, siliceous, thermic, Plinthic Paleudults) from 1999 to 2002 in Georgia, USA. Nitrogen supplied by cover crops was greater with vetch and vetch/rye biculture than with rye and weeds. Soil inorganic N at the 0-10 and 10-30cm depths increased with increasing N rate and were greater with vetch than with rye and weeds in April 2000 and 2002. Inorganic N at 0-10 cm was also greater with vetch than with rye in no-till, greater with vetch/rye than with rye and weeds in strip till, and greater with vetch than with rye and weeds in chisel till. In 2000, cotton lint yield and N uptake were greater in no-till with rye or 60 kg N ha(-1) than in other treatments, but biomass (stems + leaves) yield and N uptake were greater with vetch L and vetch/rye than with rye or weeds, and greater with 60 and 120 than with 0 kg N ha(-1). In 200 1, sorghum grain yield, biomass yield, and N uptake were greater in strip till and chisel till than in no-till, and greater in vetch and vetch/rye with or without N than in rye and weeds with 0 or 65 kg N ha(-1). In 2002, cotton lint yield and N uptake were greater in chisel till, rye and weeds with 0 or 60 kg N ha(-1) than in other treatments, but biomass N uptake was greater in vetch/rye with 60 kg N ha(-1) than in rye and weeds with 0 or 60 kg N ha(-1). Increased N supplied by hairy vetch or 120-130 kg N ha(-1) increased soil N availability, sorghum grain yield, cotton and sorghum biomass yields, and N uptake but decreased cotton lint yield and lint N uptake compared with rye, weeds or 0 kg N ha(-1). Cotton and sorghum yields and N uptake can be optimized and potentials for soil erosion and N leaching can be reduced by using conservation tillage, such as no-till or strip till, with vetch/rye biculture cover crop and 60-65 kg N ha(-1). The results can be applied in regions where cover crops can be grown in the winter to reduce soil erosion and N leaching and where tillage intensity and N fertilization rates can be minimized to reduce the costs of energy requirement for tillage and N fertilization while optimizing crop production.

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