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

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Virginia Tech

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.

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