Nutrient interactions of alley cropped Sorghum bicolor and Acacia saligna in a runoff irrigation system in Northern Kenya
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In a runoff irrigation system in Northern Kenya, we studied the nutrient interactions of sole cropped and alley cropped Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench and Acacia saligna (Labill.) H.L. Wendl. The trees were pruned once before the cropping season and the biomass was used as fodder for animals. The nutrient contents in leaf tissue, soil and soil solution were monitored and the uptake of applied tracers (15N, Sr) was followed. The grain yield of alley cropped sorghum was similar to or slightly higher than in monoculture and did not decrease near the tree-crop interface. Foliar N and Ca contents of the crop were higher in the agroforestry combination than in monoculture, corresponding to higher soil N and Ca contents. Soil solution and soil mineral N dynamics indicate an increase of N under the tree row and unused soil N at the topsoil in the alley of the sole cropped trees as well as below 60 cm depth in the crop monoculture. The N use efficiency of the tree+crop combination was higher than the sole cropped trees or crops. Competition was observed for Zn and Mn of both tree and crop whereas for Ca only the tree contents decreased. P, K, Mg and Fe dynamics were not affected by alley cropping at our site. The lower uptake of applied Sr by trees in alley cropping compared to those of the monoculture stand suggested a lower competitiveness of the acacia than sorghum, which did not show lower Sr contents when intercropped. The study showed the usefulness of combining soil and plant analyses together with tracer techniques identifying nutrient competition, nutrient transfer processes and the complementary use of soil nutrients, as the main features of the tree-crop combination.
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