Agron. Sustain. Dev.
Volume 29, Number 2, April-June 2009
Page(s) 353 - 362
Published online 17 December 2008
Agron. Sustain. Dev. 29 (2009) 353-362
DOI: 10.1051/agro:2008056

Effect of mulching dates modified for nature conservation on the yield and nitrogen fixation of green manure lucerne crops

G. Pietsch1, R. Hrbek1, D. Laubhann2 and J. K. Friedel1

1  Division of Organic Farming, Department of Sustainable Agricultural Systems, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Vienna
2  Institute of Botany, Department of Integrative Biology and Biodiversity Research, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Vienna, Gregor Mendel Strasse 33, 1180 Vienna, Austria

Accepted 3 October 2008; published online 17 December 2008

Abstract - Organically managed fields are highly attractive for wild animals of open agricultural landscapes because of a high percentage of green covered fields; for example, by green manures, catch crops and underseeds. Forage legumes are the main source of nitrogen in organic farming. Forage legumes are also important habitats for wild animals. The main ecological disadvantage is frequent mowing of forage crops. Increasing the time without disturbance in favour of wild animals may also decrease crop productivity and increase weed pressure. Here, we studied the effect of modified mulching dates on yield, nitrogen fixation and weed colonisation of lucerne green manure under pannonian site conditions during two vegetation periods in Eastern Austria. We compared a natural treatment, where the first mulching took place two weeks earlier and the second mulching two weeks later than in a conventional treatment with the latter. While in the first year the shoot dry-matter yield (–1.5 t ha-1), nitrogen yield and the amount of fixed nitrogen (–44 kg N ha-1) in lucerne were significantly lower in the natural than in the conventional treatment at the first cut, no differences could be detected in the second year. The seasonal amount of nitrogen fixation as well as the percentage of N derived from the atmosphere (N $_{\rm dfa})$ at both cuts did not differ between the treatments. The natural treatment also had no disadvantageous effects on weed coverage. Our results show that prolonging the period without disturbance in lucerne crops had no adverse agronomic effects with only one exception: the 14-day shorter development period in the natural treatment at the first cut decreased shoot yield and nitrogen fixation compared with the conventional treatment in the first year, when weather conditions were humid before the first cut and dry afterwards. We therefore recommend shifting mulching dates and prolonging cutting intervals in lucerne on organic farms under pannonian site conditions in favour of wild animals.

Key words: Lucerne / nitrogen fixation / nature conservation / mulching regime / wild animals / weed pressure

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© INRA, EDP Sciences 2008