Evaluation of Cover Crops, Conservation Tillage, and Nitrogen Management in Cotton Production in Southeastern Virginia

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Date
2019-06-10
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Virginia Tech
Abstract

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.

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upland cotton, cover crops, conservation tillage, nitrogen management, fertilizer placement
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