Grain legumes in crop rotations under low and variable rainfall: are observed short-term N benefits sustainable?

Abstract

Increased grain yields are frequently obtained when a cereal follows a grain legume in sequence compared with a cereal-cereal rotation. The biotic (disease break) and abiotic (N supply) components of the observed benefits are identified and methods for differentiating the components are discussed. Annual measurements of the N balance of grain legume-cereal rotations are extremely variable when measured over short time periods and are therefore not useful as indicators of cropping system N sustainability. While measurement of long-term changes in total soil N is a valid index of N sustainability, this approach is impractical. We suggest an alternative avenue for the assessment of N sustainability by using simulation modelling, after validation, which takes climatic and biophysical parameters into account.

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Fig. 1

Adapted from Xing et al. (2017) using the annual results

Fig. 2

Adapted from Xing et al. (2017)

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Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to Dr H. Xing for providing access to his original data.

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Correspondence to Christopher J. Smith.

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Smith, C.J., Chalk, P.M. Grain legumes in crop rotations under low and variable rainfall: are observed short-term N benefits sustainable?. Plant Soil (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-020-04578-1

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Keywords

  • APSIM
  • Crop rotations
  • Grain legumes
  • N benefit
  • 15N
  • Sustainability