Effects of cutting, mulching and applications of farmyard manure on the supply of nitrogen from a red clover/grass sward
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- Hatch, D., Joynes, A., Roderick, S. et al. Org. Agr. (2014) 4: 15. doi:10.1007/s13165-014-0062-6
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The effectiveness of a fertility-building crop on the subsequent release of nitrogen (N) to a ryegrass catch crop was investigated. The previous management of plots of red clover/grass swards entailed cutting and removing herbage, or returning cut herbage to the sward as mulch. Half the plots also received surface applications of farmyard manure. The N-fixing capacity of the legume was reduced by the inputs of N from the mulch and/or manure, and in this follow-up study, we investigated the benefit of the previous cropping systems on N offtake by a grass only sward. Where manure, or legumes, or mulching had been used previously, dry matter production in the first cut of the grass test crop was increased. These differences were not evident in the second and third harvests. In the absence of mulching, the gain from fixed N was greater than the N transferred to the grass test crop through previous mulching. In practice, the greatest benefit in terms of net import of N to an organic farm is therefore likely to be accrued by maximising N fixation by cutting and removing herbage and mulching this to less fertile areas that are not supporting leguminous crops. A practical application in mixed crop-livestock systems would be to feed the cut herbage as either fresh or conserved materials to livestock and utilise the resulting manure to non-leguminous crops.