Faba bean and spring barley in sequence with catch crops: Grain yields and nitrate leaching

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Context/Problem: Importing protein into Europe is causing sustainability challenges, which has resulted in an
increasing European interest in locally growing faba bean as a protein source. There is, however, a concern that
this may result in higher nitrate leaching compared with conventional cereal-based systems.
Objective/Research question: We investigated the risk of nitrate leaching and its mitigation strategy after growing
faba bean with catch crops within a conventional European cropping system that also includes catch crops in
spring barley.
Methods: We conducted a field experiment with faba bean (Vicia faba L.) and three catch crops (chicory
(Cichorium intybus L.), perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) and winter rye (Secale cereale L.)) grown in
sequence with spring barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) and replicated in time over a period of three years. Continuous
spring barley with catch crops (perennial ryegrass and fodder radish (Raphanus sativus L.)) were used as a
reference. Measurements included grain yield and grain nitrogen (N) of the main crops, aboveground biomass
and N yield of the catch crops, and nitrate leaching.
Results: Grain yield and grain N of faba bean grown with undersown catch crops were not statistically different
than without catch crop and post-harvest sown catch crops. Catch crops with faba bean had lower aboveground
biomass and N yield than with spring barley. Faba bean as pre-crop compensated for the reduced amount of
fertilizer input and also increased the grain yield and grain N of the subsequent spring barley. In 2020–21, nitrate
leaching from both spring barley and faba bean without catch crops was not statistically different, with an
average of 64 kg NO3-N ha􀀀 1. In contrast, in 2021–22, nitrate leaching after faba bean without catch crops was
higher with 104 kg NO3-N ha􀀀 1, compared with spring barley with 68 kg NO3-N ha􀀀 1. Catch crops significantly
reduced nitrate leaching on average by up to 55 kg NO3-N ha􀀀 1 from faba bean and 62 kg NO3-N ha􀀀 1 from
spring barley fields.
Conclusions: The study reveals that growing faba bean can reduce N fertilizer input without compromising the
grain yield and grain N of following spring barley. Variable nitrate leaching between years from faba bean requires
more research on diverse pedo-climatic and agronomic conditions to better assess nitrate leaching risks
and reduction strategies.
Implications or significance: These results will aid in designing cropping systems including faba bean and catch
crops combinations to reduce N fertilizer input and nitrate leaching risks and improve protein sufficiency.
Original languageEnglish
Article number109360
JournalField Crops Research
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024


  • Cropping system
  • Environment
  • Europe
  • Nitrogen
  • Protein source


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