Barley yield and nutrient uptake in rotation with perennial forages in the semiarid prairie region of Saskatchewan.

Jefferson, P.G., Selles, F., Zentner, R.P., Lemke, R.L., and Muri, R. (2013). "Barley yield and nutrient uptake in rotation with perennial forages in the semiarid prairie region of Saskatchewan.", Canadian Journal of Plant Science, 93(5), pp. 809-816. doi : 10.4141/cjps2013-069  Access to full text

Abstract

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) is the most common perennial forage legume grown for hay and pasture in the semiarid Brown soil zone of the Canadian prairies. Perennial forages often are not recommended for inclusion in annual crop rotations due to lower grain yields and drier soils following forage stand termination, but this is based on research results from 50 yr ago. Three replicated experiments consisting of three grasses [slender wheatgrass (Elymus tracycaulus), intermediate wheatgrass (Elytrigia intermedia), and Dahurian wildrye (Elymus dahuricus)] grown in monoculture and in mixture with two alfalfa varieties (cv. Beaver or cv. Nitro) were terminated and seeded to barley (Hordeum vulgare ‘Harrington’) for 2 consecutive crop years at Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Soil water content was lower after the alfalfa_grass mixtures compared with the grass monocultures, even during a wet growing season. Barley yield and N concentration in the grain were significantly greater following Beaver alfalfa/grass mixture compared with grass monoculture in 3 and 4 of 6 site years, respectively. N uptake by the barley crop (grain and straw) was also significantly greater following Beaver alfalfa/grass mixture than following grass monoculture in all 6 yr. Both barley grain yield and N uptake after intermediate wheatgrass (grown in monoculture) were lower than after Dahurian wildrye or slender wheatgrass in 3 of 6 yr. The use of alfalfa and a shortlived grass species in hay and pasture mixtures in the Brown soil zone when grown in rotation with annual crops may indeed result in lower grain yields in the short term than continuous annual cropping systems, but the inclusion of alfalfa will provide a N benefit to the subsequent grain crop thereby enhancing yield and possibly its market value.

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