Evaluation of Cover Crops, Conservation Tillage, and Nitrogen Management in Cotton Production in Southeastern Virginia
McClanahan, Sarah Jane
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The response of upland cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) to legume and small grain cover crop establishment, in-season nitrogen (N) rate, and fertilizer N placement was investigated in two experiments located in coastal plain Virginia and North Carolina. The first experiment examined 1) soil compaction and cotton yield response to strip-tillage compared to no-tillage with a precision planted tillage radish and 2) the influence of legume mix, rye, and legume mix/rye combination cover crops with four in-season nitrogen (N) rates applied to cotton on cover crop biomass, cover crop nutrient uptake, soil compaction, soil N cycling, petiole nitrate-N (NO3-N) during the first week of bloom, cotton lint yield, and fiber quality parameters over two years. Legume mix cover crops resulted in greater N uptake, soil NO3-N during the growing season, and lint yields compared to LMR, rye, and fallow treatments over both study years. Soil compaction and lint yields were not significantly different between strip-tilled and no-till with tillage radish treatments in either year. Relative lint yields after LM were maximized at 93% relative yield with 110 kg N ha-1 applied in-season while relative lint yields for cotton following LM with 0 kg N ha-1 applied reached 75%, measuring at least 9% higher than cotton following other cover crop treatments. The second experiment investigated the effect of five N rates (0, 45, 90, 135, and 180 kg N ha-1) and three placement methods (broadcast, surface banded, and injected) on lint yield, petiole nitrate-N (NO3-N), lint percent turnout, and fiber quality parameters. Nitrogen rate and placement had a significant effect on lint yield but only N rate affected petiole NO3-N concentration. It was estimated that injecting fertilizer N requires an N rate of 133 kg N ha-1 to achieve 95% relative yield while surface banded fertilizer N required a rate of 128 kg N ha-1 to produce 90% relative yield. A critical petiole NO3-N concentration threshold of 5,600 mg NO3-N kg-1 was calculated to reach 92% relative yield. Other agronomic management practices such as cover crop termination timing, cover crop species blends, and number of fertilizer N applications are of interest in order to develop better recommendations and promote conservation agricultural practices in coastal plain Virginia and North Carolina.
General Audience Abstract
Upland cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) response to diverse species cover crop mixes, conservation tillage method, fertilizer N rate, and fertilizer N placement at side-dress was measured in two field studies conducted on the coastal plain soil in Virginia and North Carolina from 2016-2018. The objectives of the following research were to 1) examine the influence of two conservation tillage practices and four cover crop mixes on cover crop biomass production, soil compaction, cover crop nutrient uptake, soil N cycling, petiole nitrate (NO3-N) and cotton lint yield and 2) measure cotton performance in response to five N rate and three placement application methods. Legume mix (LM) cover crops contained more N in biomass, resulting in higher soil NO3-N during the growing season and higher lint yields at harvest compared to a legume mix and rye combination (LMR), rye, and fallow treatments. Soil compaction and lint yield were not significantly different between strip-tilled and no-till/tillage radish treatments in either year. Nitrogen rate and placement had a significant effect on lint yield but only N rate affected petiole NO3-N concentration. Injection of fertilizer N required an N rate of 133 kg N ha1 to achieve 95% relative yield while surface banded fertilizer N required a rate of 128 kg N ha-1 to produce 90% relative yield. A critical petiole NO3-N concentration threshold of 5,600 mg NO3-N kg-1 was also calculated to reach 92% relative yield. Future application of these results can include investigation of optimal N source for Virginia cotton production, best N placement method for cotton grown in high residue systems, and an economic analysis to determine optimum agronomic management for Virginia coastal plain cotton production.
- Masters Theses