Agronomy for Sustainable Development

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 559–565 | Cite as

Sweet corn production and efficiency of nitrogen use in high cover crop residue

  • John R. Teasdale
  • Aref A. Abdul-Baki
  • Yong Bong Park
Open Access
Research Article


In the humid, temperate mid-Atlantic area of the USA, crop production that leaves the soil uncovered can lead to undesirable soil and nutrient losses to the surrounding Chesapeake Bay watershed. To cope with this issue, winter annual cover crops could provide soil cover both during winter months and, as surface residue in no-tillage cropping systems, during summer months. Legume cover crops such as hairy vetch can produce abundant biomass and N by the time summer crops are planted in spring. Although N mineralized from a legume cover crop can contribute to meeting the N requirement of crops such as corn, it also may not be used efficiently by crops and could be lost into the local environment. This research was conducted to determine whether hairy vetch or a hairy vetch-rye mixture that was allowed to produce high levels of biomass with a high N content (200 to 250 kg/ha) could meet the N requirements of no-tillage sweet corn and to determine the efficiency of N use relative to that of fertilizer N. Our results show that marketable yield of sweet corn was approximately doubled by hairy vetch in 2 of 3 years compared to an unfertilized, no-cover crop control. However, in 2 of 3 years, hairy vetch and the vetch-rye mix reduced yield by 19 and 34%, respectively, compared to a no-cover crop control with fertilizer N. Reduced plant population that reduced the number of ears per ha accounted for the yield reduction by these cover crops compared to the fertilized no-cover crop control. Fertilizer N was 1.5 to 2 times more efficient than hairy vetch at producing sweet corn ear mass per unit of N input but combinations of fertilizer N with cover crops were less efficient than either alone. Results suggest that growing sweet corn without tillage in high biomass levels of cover crops can interfere with crop establishment, reduce the efficiency of crop production, and allow for potentially high N losses into the environment.

cover crops nitrogen use efficiency sweet corn Zea mays L. hairy vetch Vicia villosa Roth rye Secale cereale L. 


  1. Abdul-Baki A.A., Teasdale J.R. (2007) Sustainable production of fresh-market tomatoes and other vegetables with cover crop mulches, USDA-ARS Farmers’ Bull. No. 2280, 31 p.Google Scholar
  2. Brandi-Dohrm F.M., Dick R.P., Hess M., Kauffman S.M., Hemphill Jr. D.D., Selker J.S. (1997) Nitrate leaching under a cereal rye cover crop, J. Environ. Qual. 26, 181–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Burgos N.R., Talbert R.E. (1996) Weed control and sweet corn response in a no-till system with cover crops, Weed Sci. 44, 355–361.Google Scholar
  4. Carrera L.M., Abdul-Baki A.A., Teasdale J.R. (2004) Cover crop management and weed suppression in no-tillage sweet corn production, HortScience 39, 1262–1266.Google Scholar
  5. Cherr C.M., Scholberg J.M.S., McSorley R. (2006) Green manure as nitrogen source for sweet corn in a warm-temperate environment, Agron. J. 98, 1173–1180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Clark A.J., Decker A.M., Meisinger J.J., Mulford F.R., McIntosh M.S. (1995) Hairy vetch kill date effects on soil water and corn production, Agron. J. 87, 579–585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cline G.R., Silvernail A.F. (2002) Effects of cover crops, nitrogen, and tillage on sweet corn, HortTechnology 12, 118–125.Google Scholar
  8. Decker A.M., Clark A.J., Meisinger J.J., Mulford F.R., McIntosh M.S. (1994) Legume cover crop contributions to no-tillage corn production, Agron. J. 86, 126–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dyck E., Liebman M., Erich M.S. (1995) Crop-weed interference as influenced by a leguminous or synthetic fertilizer nitrogen source: I. Doublecropping experiments with crimson clover, sweet corn, and lambsquarters, Agr. Ecosyst. Environ. 56, 93–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fortin M.C., Pierce F.J. (1991) Timing and nature of mulch retardation of corn vegetative development, Agron. J. 83, 258–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Harris G.H., Hesterman O.B., Paul E.A., Peters S.E., Janke R.R. (1994) Fate of legume and fertilizer nitrogen-15 in a long-term cropping systems experiment, Agron. J. 86, 910–915.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Karlen D.L., Kramer L.A., Logsdon S.D. (1998) Field-scale nitrogen balances associated with long-term continuous corn production, Agron. J. 90, 644–650.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kramer A.W., Doane T.A., Horwath W.R., van Kessel C. (2002) Combining fertilizer and organic inputs to synchronize N supply in alternative cropping systems in California, Agr. Ecosyst. Environ. 91, 233–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kuo S., Sainju U.M., Jellum E.J. (1997) Winter cover crop influence on nitrogen in soil, Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 61, 1392–1399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. McVay K.A., Radcliffe D.E., Hargrove W.L. (1989) Winter annual legume effects on soil properties and nitrogen fertilizer requirements, Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 53, 1856–1862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ranells N.N., Wagger M.G. (1996) Nitrogen release from grass and legume cover crop monocultures and bicultures, Agron. J. 88, 777–782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Rice P.J., McConnell L.L., Heighten L.P., Sadeghi A.M., Isensee A.R., Teasdale J.R., Abdul-Baki A.A., Harman-Fetcho J.A., Hapeman C.J. (2001) Runoff loss of pesticides and soil: A comparison between vegetative mulch and plastic mulch in vegetable production systems, J. Environ. Qual. 30, 1808–1821.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Rosecrance R.C., McCarty G.W., Shelton D.R., Teasdale J.R. (2000) Denitrification and N mineralization from hairy vetch and rye cover crop monocultures and bicultures, Plant Soil 227, 283–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ruffo M.L., Bollero G.A. (2003) Modeling rye and hairy vetch residue decomposition as a function of degree-days and decomposition-days, Agron. J. 95, 900–907.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Sainju U.M., Whitehead W.F., Singh B.P. (2003) Cover crops and nitrogen fertilization effects on soil aggregation and carbon and nitrogen pools, Can. J. Soil Sci. 83, 155–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Sainju U.M., Whitehead WE, Singh B.P. (2005) Biculture legume-cereal cover crops for enhanced biomass yield and carbon and nitrogen, Agron. J. 97, 1403–1412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Seo J.H., Meisinger J.J., Lee H.J. (2006) Recovery of nitrogen-15-labeled hairy vetch and fertilizer applied to corn, Agron. J. 98, 245–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Shipley P.R., Meisinger J.J., Decker A.M. (1992) Conserving residual corn fertilizer nitrogen with winter cover crops, Agron. J. 84, 869–876.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Teasdale J.R., Abdul-Baki A.A. (1998) Comparison of mixtures vs. monocultures of cover crops for fresh-market tomato production with and without herbicide, HortScience 33, 1163–1166.Google Scholar
  25. Teasdale J.R., Devine T.E., Mosjidis J.A., Bellinder R.R., Beste C.E. (2004) Growth and development of hairy vetch cultivars in the Northeastern United States as influenced by planting and harvesting date, Agron. J. 96, 1266–1271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Teasdale J.R., Shirley D.W. (1998) Influence of herbicide application timing on corn production in a hairy vetch cover crop, J. Prod. Agric. 11, 121–125.Google Scholar
  27. Torbert H.A., Ingram J.T., Prior S.A. (2007) Planter aid for heavy residue conservation tillage, Agron. J. 99, 478–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer S+B Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • John R. Teasdale
    • 1
  • Aref A. Abdul-Baki
    • 1
  • Yong Bong Park
    • 2
  1. 1.USDA-ARS Sustainable Agricultural Systems LabBeltsvilleUSA
  2. 2.Faculty of Horticultural Life ScienceCheju National UniversityJejuKorea

Personalised recommendations