Agron. Sustain. Dev.
Volume 30, Number 2, April-June 2010
|Page(s)||455 - 464|
|Published online||16 April 2010|
Improved evaluation of cover crop species by growth and root factors
Institute of Agronomy and Plant Breeding, Department of Applied Plant
Sciences and Plant Biotechnology, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life
Sciences Vienna, Gregor Mendel
Straße 33, 1190
2 Institute of Hydraulics and Rural Water Management, Department of Water, Atmosphere and Environment, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna, Muthgasse 18, 1190 Vienna, Austria
* Corresponding author:
Accepted: 20 July 2009
Cover crops are plants that are integrated in the crop rotation between two cash crops. The main objectives of cover cropping are organic matter input, mitigation of nitrate leaching and reduction of soil erosion. These benefits will only be achieved efficiently if the selected cover crop species are adapted to local environmental conditions and appropriate for the defined agro-ecological target. Therefore, a main limitation in cover cropping is the lack of a comprehensive species description. An improved cover crop characterization could be achieved with quantitative parameters derived from growth functions. Here, we show the use of this approach to assess plant traits relevant for erosion control by cover cropping. An experiment with four cover crop species (phacelia, vetch, rye and mustard) was performed over two years at a semi-arid site in Eastern Austria. Canopy cover was measured four times over the vegetation period. Root length density measurements were made to 40 cm soil depth before winter. Canopy dynamics were characterized by parameters from the asymptotic Gompertz function and from an extended logistic model that includes a parameter for decay after maximum coverage. Our results show that vetch had the lowest early vigor after dry conditions at sowing, with +45% longer time to attain maximum growth rate (parameter tmax) than the other species. Drought during the later autumn growing period led to the highest reduction in maximum canopy cover (parameter ymax) for phacelia (–41%). The rooting pattern was assessed by parameters from the exponential distribution function of Gerwitz and Page. The most intense rooting near the soil surface (parameter L0) was found for phacelia (9.7 cm cm−3). Vetch had the lowest L0 (4.6 cm cm−3) but highest root allocation to deeper soil layers. Mustard combined high average values in ymax (76%) and L0 (6.3 cm cm−3) with a stable growth over both years. The potential strengths of phacelia and vetch were more dependent on the particular year. Rye showed a stably high L0 (8.6 cm cm−3), but had only a low average value of ymax (55.1%). The quantitative parameter sets we derived for plant traits required for erosion control improved cover crop comparison and analysis of their local adaptation. Based on this extended species description our approach allows a better evaluation of cover crops and can be used for the optimization of management and decision support.
Key words: cover crops / growth functions / species description / rooting pattern / rainfall distribution
© INRA, EDP Sciences, 2009