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Efficient Fertility Building with Tailored Legume Mixtures

Efficient Fertility Building with Tailored Legume Mixtures

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Published by Gustoff
Efficient Fertility Building with Tailored Legume Mixtures
Efficient Fertility Building with Tailored Legume Mixtures

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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: Gustoff on Oct 29, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Efficient fertility building with tailored legume mixtures— improving N use efficiency

Legume LINK aims to improve fertility building using green manures. It will develop the means to create tailored legume mixtures optimised to fix the required quantity of N; transfer N to the subsequent crop with the appropriate timing; perform reliably under local environmental conditions. 12 legume species with a range of growth habits and physical compositions are being trialled at 6 research sites, together with 4 grass species. A mixture comprising the 4 grasses and 10 of the legumes is being grown on 35 farms across the UK (see map). The performance of the individual species and of the mixture are being monitored.

The Legume LINK project is funded by Defra and industry partners.

The problem
Soil Nitrogen 70% of nitrate found in the UK’s waterways originates from leaching off agricultural land. In addition to the environmental implications of this, nitrate leaching from the farm also represents an economic loss to the farmer as the N that has been purchased is not being converted into crop productivity. Reducing the use of mineral N Low-input and organic systems often use fertility building crops, typically legumes, as an alternative to mineral N. A clover ley can accumulate up to 200 kg N/ha/yr allowing the farmer to significantly reduce or even eliminate external inputs of mineral N. However, leys do not always deliver reliably, and there is a need to improve their fertility-building capability and resilience. Problem 1— Developing a ley that can reliably build fertility for the subsequent crop Synchrony of N demand and supply After ploughing in, the legumes decompose and release N into the soil. However, there is often a lack of synchrony between th e release of N from the legumes and its uptake by the subsequent crop. This can lead to significant leaching of N from the system, representing a loss of valuable nutrients and causing environmental damage. Problem 2 — Controlling the quantity and timing of N release Reliable performance A successful fertility building crop must be capable of establishing well, suppressing weeds and performing under the range o f growing conditions it is likely to encounter in low-input and organic production systems. A typical ley of one or two species is vulnerable to failure under unfavourable growing conditions. Problem 3 — Developing a ley that is resilient in the absence of agrochemicals sufficient

The solution
In the Legume LINK project we are investigating an approach that aims to solve the three problems identified overleaf: growing a diverse legume-based mixture.
Mixtures and diversity Different legume species have different growth characteristics and nutrient use profiles. This means by growing a complex mixture of legume species we can maximize the exploitation of available nutrients. Also, we can use the inherent variation in the residue composition to control the N dynamics of the ley, manipulating the amount of N accumulated as well as the rate and timing of its release into the soil. For example, properties such as lignin content affect the rate at which species decompose and release N into the soil. Some species break down and release nutrients comparatively quickly while others do so gradually over a longer period of time. In the Legume LINK project we are trialling a mixture of 14 species. Assessments are being carried out on the establishment success of each

of the species, on their growth rate and heights, biomass production, weed suppression, N accumulation and their residue breakdown properties. We will use these data to generate legume based mixtures that will be suited to different regions of the UK and that can reliably build soil fertility and transfer it efficiently to the next crop.

The benefits
Reducing mineral N: The legume mix optimises fertility building without mineral nitrogen. Synchrony—supply and demand: A legume mix can be tailored to supply N to the subsequent crop when it needs it and reduce leaching. Reliable performance: Each plant species performs within a limited range of growing conditions. A singlespecies crop can fail under unfavourable growing conditions; a mixture is more resilient and hedges risk. Biodiversity: An additional benefit of a diverse legume mix is a greater range of flowers, which should attract a greater number of insect species including important pollinators. This aspect of the mix and its effects for agro-ecosystem health are being examined as part of a PhD project in collaboration with Legume LINK.

The Legume LINK project is led by the Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm, being one of its many crop research projects. For more information contact:
Dr Thomas Döring, The Organic Research Centre - Elm Farm, Hamstead Marshall. RG20 0HR, Tel. office: 01488 658 298 – option 1, 5 thomas.d@organicresearchcentre.com

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