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Effects of past and current management practices on crop yield and nitrogen leaching - a comparison of organic and conventional cropping systems

Stark, Christine H.E. and Condron, Leo M. and Stewart, Alison and Di, Hong Jie and O'Callaghan, Maureen (2006) Effects of past and current management practices on crop yield and nitrogen leaching - a comparison of organic and conventional cropping systems. ISSN 0114-0671

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Abstract

Farming practices can have significant effects on important soil processes, including nitrogen (N) dynamics and nitrate leaching. A lysimeter experiment was conducted to determine differences in N leaching resulting from past and current crop management practices. Intact monolith lysimeters (50 cm diam. × 70 cm deep) were taken from sites of the same soil type that had either been under long-term organic or conventional crop management. These were then managed according to established organic and conventional practices over 2 1/2 years using the same crop rotation (barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), maize (Zea mays L.), rape (Brassica napus L. ssp. oleifera) plus a lupin green manure (Lupinus angustifolius L.)) and two fertiliser regimes, resulting in four treatments based on soil management history and current fertilisation strategy. Dry matter yield of each crop was determined after harvest and leachates were collected after significant rainfall events and analysed for total mineral N concentrations. Mineral fertilisation had a clear positive effect on yields of the first crop, whereas there were no considerable differences between treatments for the last crop owing to a significant positive effect of green manure incorporation on yields. Although there was a trend of lower mineral N leaching from organically fertilised soils (organic management: 24.2 kg N ha–1; conventional management: 28.6), differences in N losses were not statistically significant between treatments. This shows that under the experimental conditions, leaching losses and crop yields were more strongly influenced by crop rotation and green manuring than by the presence or absence of mineral fertilisation. Overall, the study highlights the benefits of including a green manure in the crop rotation of any farming system.

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