Use of legume green manures as nitrogen sources for corn production
Recent volatility in supplies and prices of natural gas and synthetic nitrogen (N) fertilizer suggests a need to develop and refine alternative strategies for supplying N to corn. In this study, conducted in north-eastern Iowa, we examined the use of red clover and alfalfa green manures as means of supplying N to a succeeding corn crop. Red clover intercropped with oat produced significantly more biomass and contained more N than alfalfa intercropped with oat. Tilling green manures in the fall or delaying tillage until the following spring did not have a consistent effect on green manure N content. Without N fertilizer, corn grain yield following oat–red clover and oat–alfalfa was 25–63% greater than following oat grown alone, but at the highest fertilizer rate (202 kg N ha−1), there was no difference in corn yield between oat–legume and oat-alone treatments. These patterns support the premise that legume green manure effects on corn yield were N-related. Red clover green manure had an N fertilizer replacement value for corn of 87–184 kg N ha−1; alfalfa supplied corn with the equivalent of 70–121 kg N ha−1. At a fossil energy cost for N fertilizer of 57 MJ kg−1 N, reducing synthetic N fertilizer applications to corn by 70–184 kg N ha−1 would represent a fossil fuel savings of 3990–10,488 MJ ha−1, equivalent to the energy content of 104–274 m3 of natural gas. These types of savings are likely to become increasingly important as fossil energy supplies become scarcer and fertilizer prices rise.
This article is published as Liebman, Matt, Rhonda L. Graef, Daniel Nettleton, and Cynthia A. Cambardella. "Use of legume green manures as nitrogen sources for corn production." Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 27, no. 3 (2012): 180-191. doi: 10.1017/S1742170511000299.