Agron. Sustain. Dev.
Volume 28, Number 4, October-December 2008
Page(s) 551 - 558
Published online 10 July 2008
Agron. Sustain. Dev. 28 (2008) 551-558
DOI: 10.1051/agro:2008028

Effect of catch crops on N dynamics and following crops in organic farming

T. Rinnofner, J.K. Friedel, R. de Kruijff, G. Pietsch and B. Freyer

Division of Organic Farming, Department for Sustainable Agricultural Systems, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Gregor-Mendel-Straße 33, 1180 Vienna, Austria

Accepted 9 August 2008 ; published online 10 July 2008

Abstract - Green manure catch crops promote the sustainability of agricultural systems by reducing soil erodibility and by nutrient uptake and transfer to the following main crops. This effect efficiently reduces the risk of nitrate leaching. Biological nitrogen fixation by legume catch crops is an additional benefit, mainly in organic farming. Such crops may, however, reduce nitrogen uptake from the soil and increase nitrate leaching. Additionally, under drought conditions, their extra water consumption may outweigh the beneficial effects. To determine the best catch crop management in stockless organic farming under dry, Pannonian site conditions in eastern Austria, four treatments were compared in 2002 and 2004: (1) legumes: field pea, common vetch and chickling vetch, (2) non-legumes: phacelia, oil radish and turnip, (3) a legume and non-legume mixture (all mentioned components), and (4) a bare fallow control. Our results show that catch crop biomass and N yield, biological N fixation, and crop N uptake from the soil were about 4 times higher under moderately dry conditions in 2002 than under drought conditions in summer and autumn 2004. In 2002, the legume/non-legume mixture had the highest biomass and N yield and the highest biological N fixation. Both the legume/non-legume mixture and the non-legumes were more efficient than legumes in N uptake from the soil (+32 kg N ha-1); and in reducing both soil inorganic N contents by –45 kg N ha-1 and nitrate concentrations in soil solution by –20 mg N L -1. These findings show that the legume/non-legume mixture combined the positive effects of non-legumes and legumes. In 2004, catch crop effects did not differ except for their above-mentioned effect on inorganic N contents. The only pre-crop effect was that of legumes compared with non-legumes on spring barley grain dry matter of +0.6 Mg DM ha-1 and grain N yield of +17 kg N ha-1 in 2005. The water consumption of catch crops never adversely affected the following crops.

Key words: green manure / biological nitrogen fixation / nitrogen conservation / drought / legume catch crop

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© INRA, EDP Sciences 2008