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Effect of winter cover crop species and planting methods on maize yield and N availability under irrigated Mediterranean conditions

AuthorsSalmerón Cortasa, Montserrat; Isla Climente, Ramón CSIC ORCID; Cavero Campo, José CSIC ORCID
KeywordsCover crops
Direct seeding
Issue DateAug-2011
CitationSalmerón M, Isla R, Cavero J. Effect of winter cover crop species and planting methods on maize yield and N availability under irrigated Mediterranean conditions. Field Crops Research 123 (2): 89-99 (2011)
AbstractUnder semiarid Mediterranean conditions irrigated maize has been associated to diffuse nitrate pollution of surface and groundwater. Cover crops grown during winter combined with reduced N fertilization to maize could reduce N leaching risks while maintaining maize productivity. A field experiment was conducted testing two different cover crop planting methods (direct seeding versus seeding after conventional tillage operations) and five different cover crops species (barley, oilseed rape, winter rape, common vetch, and a control (bare soil)). The experiment started in November 2006 after a maize crop fertilized with 300 kg N ha-1 and included two complete cover crop-maize rotations. Maize was fertilized with 300 kg N ha-1 at the control treatment, and this amount was reduced to 250 kg N ha-1 in maize after a cover crop. Direct seeding of the cover crops allowed earlier planting dates than seeding after conventional tillage, producing greater cover crop biomass and N uptake of all species in the first year. In the following year, direct seeding did not increase cover crop biomass due to a poorer plant establishment. Barley produced more biomass than the other species but its N concentration was much lower than in the other cover crops, resulting in higher C:N ratio (>26). Cover crops reduced the N leaching risks as soil N content in spring and at maize harvest was reduced compared to the control treatment. Maize yield was reduced by 4 Mg ha-1 after barley in 2007 and by 1 Mg ha-1 after barley and oilseed rape in 2008. The maize yield reduction was due to an N deficiency caused by insufficient N mineralization from the cover crops due to a high C:N ratio (barley) or low biomass N content (oilseed rape) and/or lack of synchronization with maize N uptake. Indirect chlorophyll measurements in maize leaves were useful to detect N deficiency in maize after cover crops. The use of vetch, winter rape and oilseed rape cover crops combined with a reduced N fertilization to maize was efficient for reducing N leaching risks while maintaining maize productivity. However, the reduction of maize yield after barley makes difficult its use as cover crop.
Description35 Pag., 7 Tabl., 3 Fig. The definitive version is available at:
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