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Fertiliser N rates interact with sowing time and catch crops in cereals and affect yield and nitrate leaching

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Sustainable management of intensively managed agricultural land requires high productivity with low environmental impacts. There is a lack of understanding concerning the effectiveness of early sowing of winter cereals compared with catch crops for reducing nitrogen (N) leaching losses. To test this, an experiment was conducted over three years (2016–2019) with different crop rotations and increasing rates of N fertilisation. The experiment was done at two contrasting sites in Denmark; one of the sites was at Foulum (FU) on a sandy loam in a wetter climate and the other at Flakkebjerg (FB) on a sandy loam soil in a drier climate. The main crops were either spring barley (SB), or winter rye (WR) at FU and winter wheat (WW) at FB. The SB received four different N fertilisation rates ranging from 0 to 200 kg N ha−1, and the winter cereals six different rates ranging from 0 to 255 for WR and from 0 to 300 kg N ha−1 for WW. In the SB treatments the soil was either left bare over winter, or sown with volunteer barley plants or catch crops. The catch crop used at FU was ryegrass, while fodder radish was used at FB. The WR and WW were either sown timely, according to common practice at the end of September or about three weeks earlier. Neither early sowing nor the use of a catch crop affected the grain yield or the grain N concentration. Nitrate leaching was reduced on both sites by early sowing and by the use of a catch crop. Early sowing of WR at FU reduced N leaching compared to timely sowing, and had almost the same N leaching as the spring barley/ryegrass rotation. At FB, early sowing of WW also reduced N leaching compared to timely sowing, but this was only significant in one of the three years, and leaching was much higher than in the spring barley/fodder radish rotation. Both early sowing of winter cereals and the use of a catch crop in spring cereals are mitigation options for reducing N leaching.
Original languageEnglish
Article number126244
JournalEuropean Journal of Agronomy
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021

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