Nitrogen, weed management and economics with cover crops in conservation agriculture in a Mediterranean climate

Flower, K.C. and Cordingley, N. and Ward, P.R. and Weeks, C. (2011) Nitrogen, weed management and economics with cover crops in conservation agriculture in a Mediterranean climate. Field Crops Research. 13pp.

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Cover crops have been successfully integrated into conservation agriculture systems in many parts of the world. They are primarily used to provide surface cover as well as to improve soil fertility and suppress weeds. Black oat (Avena strigosa Schreb.) is a widely used cereal cover crop with a rapid growth and high biomass production. It is being trialled as a cover crop for conservation agriculture systems in south-western Australia, which has a Mediterranean climate with a short winter growing season and where terminal drought is common. Only one crop can be grown in a year and, as such, the long term benefits of including a cover crop in this system must outweigh the loss in income by not growing a cash crop. This study, which was part of a larger conservation agriculture cropping systems trial, examined the effect of different crop sequences, which included oat cover crops and grass pasture, on soil nitrogen mineralisation and weed control. A related paper in this Special Issue examined the effect of cover crops on the soil water balance. We hypothesised that the inclusion of high-biomass oat cover crops in a cereal-dominated cropping system would (i) result in less immobilisation of soil nitrogen compared with that of harvested cereals, and (ii) significantly improve the weed control. We show that soil N mineralisation following oat cover crops was similar to that following wheat and barley. Therefore, cash crops grown after oat cover crops would require similar levels of nitrogen to those grown after harvested cereals. Oat cover crops and grass pasture were found to be very effective in controlling weeds, even in continuous cereal rotations. Two consecutive years of cover crop were required for good annual ryegrass (Lolium rigidum Gaud.) control in a predominantly cereal rotation. Timing of when the cover crops were killed by herbicide was crucial for good weed control, as failure to prevent weed seed set resulted in significantly reduced weed control. Also, late killing of the cover crop reduced soil water storage. The inclusion of an oat cover crop in the rotation reduced the three-year average gross margin; however, the profitability of these crops needs to be evaluated over a longer period. To date, managed pasture, with herbicide control of weed seed set, appears to be a better option than oat cover crops because of the relatively low cost and increased soil water storage

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Conservation agriculture; Crop residue; Cover crop; Economics; Nitrogen mineralisation; Weed control
Author Affiliation: School of Plant Biology and Institute of Agriculture, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia
Subjects: Social Sciences > Agricultural Economics
Divisions: Other Crops
Depositing User: Ms K Syamalamba
Date Deposited: 21 Nov 2011 11:00
Last Modified: 21 Nov 2011 11:00
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