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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Mineral nitrogen supply from pastures to cereals in three northern Victorian environments

R. H. Harris A D , M. J. Unkovich B C and J. Humphris C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Primary Industries, Rutherglen Centre, RMB 1145, Rutherglen, Vic. 3685, Australia.

B Soil and Land Systems, University of Adelaide, Roseworthy, SA 5371, Australia.

C Department of Primary Industries, Walpeup Centre, Vic. 3507, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: rob.harris@dpi.vic.gov.au

Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 46(1) 59-70 https://doi.org/10.1071/EA04177
Submitted: 19 August 2004  Accepted: 15 February 2005   Published: 9 February 2006

Abstract

An experiment at 3 sites (Birchip, Elmore and Speed) in the northern Victorian cropping belt compared dry matter (DM) production of short-term (2 year) pastures and their contributions to soil mineral nitrogen (N) and subsequent wheat and barley production. The pastures included different varieties of subterranean clover, annual medic and lucerne, and these were compared with ryegrass-dominant pasture, which represented the experimental control.

More productive legume pastures generally resulted in greater accumulation of soil mineral N at sowing of the following cereal at both Elmore and Speed; however, at Birchip, soil mineral N remained high under all treatments. At Elmore and Speed, significant (P<0.10) positive relationships were observed between available N at sowing and subsequent wheat and barley production. Cereal grain yield at Birchip was not associated with available N at sowing.

The quantities of soil mineral N available at sowing (152 kg/ha) of the cereals were in excess of crop demand at Birchip. At Elmore, the soil mineral N supply (83 kg/ha) was below that required for wheat and barley to reach their water-limited potential yield (20 kg grain/mm of growing season rainfall). However, at Speed, the supply of soil mineral N (63 kg/ha) was sufficient to achieve the water-limited potential grain yield and to produce malting-grade barley, but not sufficient to elevate wheat grain protein concentrations above 11.5%.

In environments with low soil N levels, the amount of residual N following short-term pastures increased the availability of N to following cereals. Whether this is sufficient to satisfy subsequent crop demand is largely determined by water availability in the year of cropping. In cases where available N is already high, short-term pasture phases may have little effect on increasing crop production.

Additional keywords: annual medic, barley, lucerne, rotation, ryegrass, soil mineral nitrogen, subterranean clover, wheat.


Acknowledgments

We thank Ivan Mock, Des Whitfield, Jeff Hirth, Phil Newton, Robert Belford, Sorn Norng, Tony Fay and Mark O’Connell for advice and input; Glenn Scammell, Jo Slattery, Jo Latta and Narelle Hill for project management; and Bernadette Carmody, Glenn Morrison, Wendy Killeen, Justin Lane, Dave Towk and Gareth Phillips for technical assistance. The experiments were conducted on land generously donated by Stan Trewick at Elmore, Ian and Warwick McClelland at Birchip and Kevin Emonson at Speed. The Department of Primary Industries funded this research.


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