Legume Mulch and Nitrogen Fertilizer Effects on Soil Water and Corn Production

  • Corak S
  • Frye W
  • Smith M
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Hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth), as a winter annual legume cover
crop, can increase grain yield of no-till corn (Zea mays L.). Optimizing
management of this system depends on understanding beneficial
effects. This field study examined effects of hairy vetch (HV)
and N fertilizer on soil water content, crop growth, N assimilation,
and water-use efficiency. Cover-crop treatments, each with 0 and 255
kg ha-1 of fertilizer N, were (i) winter fallow, (ii) aboveground HV
removed at corn planting, (iii) HV left in place, and (iv) HV left in
place and supplemented with that removed from (ii). Transpiration
by HV before corn planting reduced soil water content, decreasing
early growth of corn during years of low spring rainfall. By 2 to 4
wk after planting, however, soil water cotnent under HV mulch was
similar to winter fallow. Soil water content was higher with HV
mulch only during the second 4-wk period following planting and
only in the upper 7.5 cm of the profile. Greater soil water use associated
with N fertilizer occurred after about 8 wk in 2 of the 3 yr.
Hairy vetch treatments at the zero-N fertilizer level increased corn
growth, N assimilation, grain yield, and water-use efficiency. The
high-N treatment negated these benefits of HV. Because of this and
the lack of mulch effects on soil water during later stages of crop
growth, we concluded that N supplied to no-till corn was the principal,
immediate benefit of HV during this study.

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  • S. J. Corak

  • W. W. Frye

  • M. S. Smith

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