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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Soil mineral nitrogen benefits derived from legumes and comparisons of the apparent recovery of legume or fertiliser nitrogen by wheat

Mark B. Peoples A M , Antony D. Swan A , Laura Goward A , John A. Kirkegaard A , James R. Hunt B , Guangdi D. Li C , Graeme D. Schwenke D , David F. Herridge E , Michael Moodie F , Nigel Wilhelm G , Trent Potter H , Matthew D. Denton I , Claire Browne J , Lori A. Phillips K and Dil Fayaz Khan L
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A CSIRO Agriculture & Food, Black Mountain Laboratories, GPO Box 1700 Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

B Department of Animal, Plant and Soil Sciences, Centre for AgriBiosciences, 5 Ring Road, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Vic. 3086, Australia.

C NSW Department of Primary Industries, Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute, Pine Gully Road, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2650, Australia.

D NSW Department of Primary Industries, Tamworth Agricultural Institute, Tamworth, NSW 2340, Australia.

E School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

F Mallee Sustainable Farming, PO Box 843, Irymple, Vic. 3498, Australia.

G South Australian Research and Development Institute, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.

H Yeruga Crop Research, PO Box 819, Naracoorte, SA 5271, Australia.

I The University of Adelaide, PMB1 Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.

J Birchip Cropping Group, PO Box 85, Birchip, Vic. 3483, Australia.

K Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Science & Technology Branch, Harrow, Ontario, Canada.

L Agricultural Research Station Bannu, Model Farm Service Centre Bannu, Bannu Township, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North West Frontier Province), Pakistan.

M Corresponding author. Email: mark.peoples@csiro.au

Soil Research 55(6) 600-615 https://doi.org/10.1071/SR16330
Submitted: 18 January 2017  Accepted: 20 June 2017   Published: 13 July 2017

Abstract

Nitrogen (N) contributed by legumes is an important component of N supply to subsequent cereal crops, yet few Australian grain-growers routinely monitor soil mineral N before applying N fertiliser. Soil and crop N data from 16 dryland experiments conducted in eastern Australia from 1989–2016 were examined to explore the possibility of developing simple predictive relationships to assist farmer decision-making. In each experiment, legume crops were harvested for grain or brown-manured (BM, terminated before maturity with herbicide), and wheat, barley or canola were grown.

Soil mineral N measured immediately before sowing wheat in the following year was significantly higher (P < 0.05) after 31 of the 33 legume pre-cropping treatments than adjacent non-legume controls. The average improvements in soil mineral N were greater for legume BM (60 ± 16 kg N/ha; n = 5) than grain crops (35 ± 20 kg N/ha; n = 26), but soil N benefits were similar when expressed on the basis of summer fallow rainfall (0.15 ± 0.09 kg N/ha per mm), residual legume shoot dry matter (9 ± 5 kg N/ha per t/ha), or total legume residue N (28 ± 11%). Legume grain crops increased soil mineral N by 18 ± 9 kg N/ha per t/ha grain harvested.

Apparent recovery of legume residue N by wheat averaged 30 ± 10% for 20 legume treatments in a subset of eight experiments. Apparent recovery of fertiliser N in the absence of legumes in two of these experiments was 64 ± 16% of the 51–75 kg fertiliser-N/ha supplied.

The 25 year dataset provided new insights into the expected availability of soil mineral N after legumes and the relative value of legume N to a following wheat crop, which can guide farmer decisions regarding N fertiliser use.

Additional keywords: canola, cereals, N uptake, pulses, rotation, sequence.


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