Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 111, Issue 1, pp 33–46 | Cite as

Nitrogen dynamics and yields of fresh bean and sweet corn with different cover crops and planting dates

  • Laura. L. Van Eerd
Original Article


Cover crops are recommended to mitigate N losses but effects on crop productivity have been variable and often negative. A better understanding of management-specific cover crop systems may lead to yield improvements. In 2011–2014, a split–split-plot factorial field experiment, with four replicates assessed the impact of cover crop (five species and no cover crop controls) and planting date (August vs. September) on crop yield and N dynamics. Fresh bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) and sweet corn (Zea mays L. var. rugosa) were grown with 45 and 101 kg N ha−1 fertilizer, respectively, except for the no cover crop without fertilizer control (Nocc-NoN). Although there was a cover crop by planting date interaction (P < 0.05) for cover crop biomass and N accumulation in the fall and spring, this interaction was not observed in main crop yield nor N concentration and accumulation, suggesting that simply growing a cover crop and below-ground effects may be more influential than the quantity and quality of above-ground biomass. Based on greater yields (6.9%) than the no cover crop with fertilizer (Nocc+N) control, all cover crops tested were recommended before corn but only the oat cover crop increased fresh bean yield (by 10.5%), which suggests crop-specific recommendations are needed. Yield improvements could not be attributed to N fertility alone, suggesting another mechanism was involved. The increased productivity with cover crops while minimizing potential for N losses in the non-growing season has important implications for sustainable agroecosystems and food security.


Catch crops Service crops Forage pea Hairy vetch Oat Oilseed radish Phaseolus vulgaris Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer Winter cereal rye Wet temperate climate Zea mays L. var. rugosa 



No cover crop control with fertilizer N to main crop


No cover crop control without fertilizer N


Soil mineral N



The financial and in-kind contribution of the following organizations to this research program was greatly appreciated: Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Ministry of Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)-University of Guelph Partnership, OMAFRA Summer Jobs Program, Summer Experience Program. Efforts of Mr. Mike Zink and our research assistants are greatly appreciated.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environmental SciencesUniversity of Guelph, Ridgetown CampusRidgetownCanada

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