Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 89, Issue 1, pp 115–123 | Cite as

Decomposition, nitrogen and phosphorus mineralization from winter-grown cover crop residues and suitability for a smallholder farming system in South Africa

  • F. S. Murungu
  • C. ChiduzaEmail author
  • P. Muchaonyerwa
  • P. N. S. Mnkeni
Original Article


Increasing land degradation has prompted interest in conservation agriculture which includes growing cover crops. Besides providing soil cover, decaying cover crops may release substantial amounts of nutrients. Decomposition, N and P release from winter cover crops [grazing vetch (Vicia darsycarpa), forage peas (Pisum sativum) and oats (Avena sativa)] were assessed for suitability in a cropping system found in the smallholder irrigation sector of South Africa. Nitrogen and P contribution to maize growth by cover crop residues was also estimated. Decrease in mass of cover crop residues was highest in grazing vetch (7% remaining mass after 124 days) followed by forage peas (16%) and lastly oats (40%). Maximum net mineralized N and P were higher for grazing vetch (84.8 mg N/kg; 3.6 mg P/kg) than for forage peas (66.3 mg N/kg; 2.7 mg P/ha) and oats (13.7 mg N/kg; 2.8 mg P/kg). Grazing vetch and forage pea residues resulted in higher N contribution to maize stover than oat residues. Farmers may use grazing vetch for improvement of soil mineral N while oats may result in enhancement of soil organic matter and reduction land degradation because of their slow decomposition. Terminating legume cover crops a month before planting summer crops synchronizes nutrient release from winter-grown legume cover crops and uptake by summer crops.


CO2 evolution Forage peas Grazing vetch Litter quality Nutrient mineralization Oats 



This document is an output from a project funded by the Govan Mbeki Research and Development Centre (GMRDC), University of Fort Hare. The views expressed are not necessarily those of GMRDC.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. S. Murungu
    • 1
  • C. Chiduza
    • 1
    Email author
  • P. Muchaonyerwa
    • 1
  • P. N. S. Mnkeni
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Agronomy, Faculty of Science and AgricultureUniversity of Fort HareAliceSouth Africa

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