Estimating the Contributions of Soil and Cover Crop Nitrogen Mineralization for Corn

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Virginia Tech


Current Virginia nitrogen (N) fertilizer recommendations do not include site-specific estimates of N supply from cover crops (CCs) or soil organic matter (SOM). Recent research successfully predicted the contribution of N from SOM and CCs to corn (Zea mays L.) in Pennsylvania. The objective of this work was to validate the biophysical model developed in Pennsylvania under Virginia conditions and to evaluate the decomposition rates of different surface-applied CC residues and the relationship between their chemical composition and decomposition rate. For the first objective, 83 N response trials were conducted in different regions of Virginia across 9 years using a randomized complete block design with four replications. The model was able to explain 47% and 15% of variability in unfertilized corn yield (RMSE = 1.6 Mg ha-1) and economical optimum N rate (EONR) (RMSE = 30 kg N ha-1) respectively. Efforts to improve the model by adding economically unresponsive sites improved the model performance to explain 45% of the variability in EONR. For the second objective, a lab incubation was performed to compare carbon (C) and N mineralization from four different CCs {Cereal Rye (CR), Hairy vetch (HV), Crimson clover (Cc) and Rapeseed (R)} on a sandy loam soil. Destructive sampling was performed at 6 different sampling dates – 3, 7, 14, 28, 56 and 112 days. ANOVA test revealed that the effects of CC species, incubation days and their interaction had a significant effect on mass decomposed, plant biochemical composition and net N mineralization. Variation in mass loss was positively related to lignin content for all the CCs while it was moderately correlated to C:N ratio for CR and R and weakly to HV and Cc. Biomass loss and N release was highest in HV followed by Cc, R and CR. Net N mineralization was highest in HV followed by R, Cc and CR amended soils.



soil organic matter, cover crops, nitrogen mineralization, corn, unfertilized yield, economical optimum nitrogen rate