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Role of green manure options in organic cropping systems



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On the Canadian prairies, organic production generally includes the use of annual green manure (GrM) crops, which are terminated using tillage to add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. However, in a GrM plough-down year, farmers face loss of income. As an alternative to growing traditional GrM crops, legumes can be grown alone or intercropped with cereals and harvested as green feed forage (GF) for use on-farm or for sale to other producers without depleting soil nitrogen (N) for the subsequent crop. We hypothesized that the GF system would have similar biomass, and N yield, and ultimately would return N into the soil. Furthermore, by intercropping a legume with a cereal, biological N2-fixation will be enhanced in the legume. Field experiments, conducted over two years, were established at Vonda and Delisle, Saskatchewan, Canada. The experiment was conducted using a randomized complete block design (RCBD) with 16 treatments and four replicates in which field pea (Pisum sativum cv 40-10 silage pea), oat (Avena sativa AC Morgan), and triticale (X Triticosecale Wittmack cv Pika) were grown alone or in combination and managed as GrM or GF. Wheat and tillage fallow served as cropped and uncropped controls, respectively. The tillage fallow-control system was tilled twice in the growing season using a small tractor disc. The intercropped oat was seeded at three densities (50, 100, and 150 plants m-2) to determine whether increasing cereal density stimulated N2-fixation in the field pea. The GrM system was sampled and incorporated (when the field pea was at full bloom) two weeks earlier than the GF system. Consequently, at both sites, all treatments in the GF system consistently yielded more dry matter and accumulated more N than treatments in the GrM system. At the Delisle site, where percent nitrogen derived from the atmosphere (%Ndfa) was compared, increasing cereal density did not increase N2-fixation in both management systems. However, pea in the GF system accumulated more than twice the amount of N (kg ha-1) from fixation as compared to pea in the GrM system, presumably because of the longer growth period. Wheat grown following the GrM treatments produced more biomass and accumulated more N than wheat following the GF treatments. Wheat grown after the monoculture field pea as a GrM had greater yield than all treatments. As well, the GrM system returned more N to the soil than did the GF system. The extra two weeks of growth in the GF system resulted in the extraction of significant amounts of nutrients and probably moisture from the soil, which adversely affected yield and nutrient composition of the following wheat crop. Although organic farmers may lose income in the plough-down year, on a longterm soil sustainability basis, the GrM system is a better option than the GF system as it returns nutrients to the soil, thus providing improved plant biomass, and N accumulation of subsequent crops. However, organic farmers growing GF for hay may benefit from the increased productivity of this system on a short-term basis. Thus, farmers pursuing GF options may need to adopt other means of sustaining soil productivity on a longer term. The tilled fallow-control system resulted in high amounts of biomass and N accumulation by the subsequent wheat crop, probably due to the fact that there were no nutrients taken up in the previous year and moisture was conserved in these treatments. However, this system may have less long-term benefits compared to the GrM regime, as no nutrients are returned through ploughing down a crop.



Ndfa, biological nitrogen fixation, green feed forage, green manure, field pea, intercropping, tilled fallow



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Soil Science


Soil Science


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