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Establishment of reed canary grass with perennial legumes or barley and different fertilization treatments: effects on yield, botanical composition and nitrogen fixation

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Abstract

In two field experiments in northern Sweden, we investigated if intercropping reed canary grass (RCG; Phalaris arundinacea L.) with nitrogen-fixing perennial legumes could reduce N-fertilizer requirements and also if RCG ash or sewage sludge could be used as a supplement for mineral P and K. We compared biomass production, N uptake and N-fixation of RCG in monoculture and mixtures of RCG with alsike clover (Trifolium hybridum L.), red clover (Trifolium pratense L.), goat's rue (Galega orientalis Lam.) and kura clover (Trifolium ambiguum M. Bieb.). In one experiment, RCG was also undersown in barley (Hordeum vulgare L.). Three fertilization treatments were applied: 100 kg N ha−1, 50 kg N ha−1 and 50 kg N ha−1 + RCG ash/sewage sludge. We used a delayed harvest method: cutting the biomass in late autumn, leaving it on the field during the winter and harvesting in spring. The legume biomass of the mixtures at the inland experimental site was small and did not affect RCG growth negatively. At the coastal site, competition from higher amount of clover biomass affected RCG growth and spring yield negatively. N-fixation in red clover and alsike clover mixtures in the first production year approximately covered half of recommended N-fertilization rate. Goat's rue and kura clover did not establish well at the costal site, but at the inland site goat's rue formed a small but vital undergrowth. RCG undersown in barley gave lower yield, both in autumn and spring, than the other treatments. The high N treatment gave a higher spring yield at the inland site than the low N treatments, but there were no differences due to fertilization treatments at the coastal site. For spring harvest, there were no yield benefits of RCG/legume intercropping compared with RCG monoculture. However, intercropping might be more beneficial in a two-harvest system.

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