Early assessment of ecological services provided by forage legumes in relay intercropping - INRAE - Institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement Access content directly
Journal Articles European Journal of Agronomy Year : 2016

Early assessment of ecological services provided by forage legumes in relay intercropping


In organic agriculture, weeds and nitrogen deficiency are the main factors that limit crop production. The use of relay-intercropped forage legumes may be a way of providing ecological services such as weed control, increasing N availability in the cropping system thanks to N fixation, reducing N leaching and supplying nitrogen to the following crop. However, these ecological services can vary considerably depending on the growing conditions. The aim of this study was to identify early indicators to assess these two ecological services, thereby giving farmers time to adjust the management of both the cover crop and of the following crop. Nine field experiments were conducted over a period of three years. In each experiment, winter wheat was grown as sole crop or intercropped with one of two species of forage legumes; Trifolium repens L. or Trifolium pratense L Two levels of fertilization were also tested (0 and 100 kg N ha(-1)). After the intercropping stage, the cover crop was maintained until the end of winter and then destroyed by plowing before maize was sown. Legume and weed biomass, nitrogen content and accumulation were monitored from legume sowing to cover destruction. Our results showed that a minimum threshold of about 2 t ha(-1) biomass in the aboveground parts of the cover crop was needed to decrease weed infestation by 90% in early September and to ensure weed control up to December. The increase in nitrogen in the following maize crop was also correlated with the legume biomass in early September. The gain in nitrogen in maize (the following crop) was correlated with legume biomass in early September, with a minimum gain of 60 kg N ha(-1) as soon as legume biomass reached more than 2 t ha(-1). Legume biomass in early September thus appears to be a good indicator to predict weed control in December as well as the nitrogen released to the following crop. The indicator can be used by farmers as a management tool for both the cover crop and following cash crop. Early estimation of available nitrogen after the destruction of the forage legume can be used to adjust the supply of nitrogen fertilizer to the following crop.
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hal-01533878 , version 1 (06-06-2017)



Sylvain Vrignon-Brenas, Florian Celette, Agnès Piquet, Marie-Helene Jeuffroy, Christophe David. Early assessment of ecological services provided by forage legumes in relay intercropping. European Journal of Agronomy, 2016, 75, pp.89-98. ⟨10.1016/j.eja.2016.01.011⟩. ⟨hal-01533878⟩
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