Nitrogen balances of innovative cropping systems for feedstock production to future biorefineries

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Future biorefineries will prefer crops with high biomass yields, thus may precipitate fundamental changes to the agricultural landscape and the biomass production systems. Understanding the fate of nitrogen (N) in novel agricultural land uses is vital for product optimisation and environmental protection. This work reports and investigates the first multi-annual N balances for novel cropping systems optimised for high biomass production compared to traditional systems under North European climate and soil conditions.
In a three-year study, two types of novel systems, i) a rotation of annual crops optimised for maximum biomass production (maize, beet, hemp/oat, triticale as main crops, and winter rye and winter oilseed rape as “second” - cover crops), and ii) perennial grasses (intensively fertilised (festulolium, reed canary grass, tall fescue and cocksfoot), low-fertilised (miscanthus) and unfertilised (grass-legume mixtures)), were compared with iii) traditional systems (continuous maize or triticale, and a cereal crop rotation) at two sites in Denmark varying in temperature, rainfall and soil type (sandy loam and coarse sand). Harvested biomass N and soil nitrate dynamics, as well as model-supported nitrate leaching and field surface N balance (input minus output) of the systems were compared.
At each study site, the fertilised perennial grasses outperformed all other systems by doubling biomass N and reducing nitrate leaching by 70–80% compared to the traditional systems. Compared to continuous maize monoculture, the optimised rotation supplied 70% more biomass N and 40% less nitrate leaching on coarse sandy soil, whereas on sandy loam soil it yielded about 10% less biomass N with 50% less nitrate leaching. Field surface N balances were overall neutral/positive, except for festulolium and continuous maize monoculture that slightly mined the soil for N. When N losses by leaching, denitrification and volatilisation were included, soil total N stocks were estimated to decline for the majority of the systems at both sites.
TidsskriftScience of the Total Environment
Sider (fra-til)372-390
Antal sider18
StatusUdgivet - 28 mar. 2018

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