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This article in AJ

  1. Vol. 97 No. 3, p. 684-689
    Received: Mar 18, 2004

    * Corresponding author(s): david.nielsen@ars.usda.gov
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Legume Green Fallow Effect on Soil Water Content at Wheat Planting and Wheat Yield

  1. David C. Nielsen * and
  2. Merle F. Vigil
  1. USDA-ARS, Central Great Plains Res. Stn., 40335 County Road GG, Akron, CO 80720


Growing a legume cover crop in place of fallow in a winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)–fallow system can provide protection against erosion while adding N to the soil. However, water use by legumes may reduce subsequent wheat yield. This study was conducted to quantify the effect of varying legume termination dates on available soil water content at wheat planting and subsequent wheat yield in the central Great Plains. Four legumes [Austrian winter pea, Pisum sativum L. subsp. sativum var. arvense (L.) Poir.; spring field pea, P. sativum L.; black lentil, Lens culinaris Medikus; hairy vetch, Vicia villosa Roth.) were grown at Akron, CO, as spring crops from 1994 to 1999. Legumes were planted in early April and terminated at 2-wk intervals (four termination dates), generally starting in early June. Wheat was planted in September in the terminated legume plots, and yields were compared with wheat yields from conventional till wheat–fallow. Generally there were no significant differences in available soil water at wheat planting due to legume type. Soil water at wheat planting was reduced by 55 mm when legumes were terminated early and by 104 mm when legumes were terminated late, compared with soil water in fallowed plots that were conventionally tilled. Average wheat yield was linearly correlated with average available soil water at wheat planting, with the relationship varying from year to year depending on evaporative demand and precipitation in April, May, and June. The cost in water use by legumes and subsequent decrease in wheat yield may be too great to justify use of legumes as fallow cover crops in wheat–fallow systems in semiarid environments.

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