A field experiment was conducted at nine sites in England (1991–94) to compare six sown species of cover crop and natural regeneration in terms of nitrogen uptake and effect on response to applied N by a subsequent spring barley crop. The success and extent of cover crop establishment varied among sites and was insignificant in two. This may be associated with the relatively late sowing of the cover crops, the earliest site being sown on 27 August and the latest on 19 October. Dry matter (DM) yield of the sown cover crop at time of incorporation was related to sowing date, earlier sowing giving the higher yields. Maximum total DM yield and N uptake by the above-ground portion of cover crops were 1280kgDM/ha and 38 kg N/ha respectively. The extent of N uptake by the cover crops appeared to be related to the success of establishment rather than to the level of soil nitrate-N at the time of their sowing. Effects of cover crop incorporation on the subsequent spring barley were small. There was no evidence for any positive effect of the cover crop on N supply to the barley. In one trial, incorporation of forage rye significantly reduced grain yield of the barley by 0·7–1·2 t/ha compared to other cover crop species.
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