Special Issue "Sustainable Cropping Systems"

A special issue of Agronomy (ISSN 2073-4395). This special issue belongs to the section "Innovative Cropping Systems".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 October 2019).

Printed Edition Available!
A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Jeffrey A. Coulter
Website
Guest Editor
Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Interests: cropping systems; maize management; nitrogen management; sustainable intensification

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Global crop production must increase substantially to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population. This is constrained by the availability of nutrients, water, land, and energy. It is further challenged by variability and change in climate and pests, and soil degradation. There is also an urgent need to reduce negative environmental impacts from crop production. Collectively, these issues represent one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Sustainable cropping systems based on ecological principles are the core for integrated approaches to solve this grand challenge.

This special issue is intended to provide an international base for revealing the underlying mechanisms of sustainable cropping systems to drive agronomic innovations. Reviews and original research reporting novel scientific findings on improvement of cropping systems relating to crop yields and their resilience to biotic and abiotic stressors, resource use efficiency, environmental impact, sustainability, and ecosystem services are welcomed.

Prof. Dr. Jeffrey A. Coulter
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • Cropping systems
  • Sustainable crop production
  • Agroecology
  • Nutrient use efficiency
  • Water use efficiency
  • Environmental quality
  • Ecosystem services

Published Papers (19 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Sustainable Cropping Systems
Agronomy 2020, 10(4), 494; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10040494 - 01 Apr 2020
Abstract
Crop production must increase substantially to meet the needs of a rapidly growing human population, but this is constrained by the availability of resources such as nutrients, water, and land. There is also an urgent need to reduce negative environmental impacts from crop [...] Read more.
Crop production must increase substantially to meet the needs of a rapidly growing human population, but this is constrained by the availability of resources such as nutrients, water, and land. There is also an urgent need to reduce negative environmental impacts from crop production. Collectively, these issues represent one of the greatest challenges of the twenty-first century. Sustainable cropping systems based on ecological principles, appropriate use of inputs, and soil improvement are the core for integrated approaches to solve this grand challenge. This special issue includes several review and original research articles on these topics for an array of cropping systems, which can advise implementation of best management practices and lead to advances in agronomics for sustainable intensification of crop production. Full article
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Research

Jump to: Editorial, Review

Open AccessArticle
Faba Bean and Pea Can Provide Late-Fall Forage Grazing without Affecting Maize Yield the Following Season
Agronomy 2020, 10(1), 80; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10010080 - 06 Jan 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
Faba bean (Vicia faba Roth) and pea (Pisum sativum L.) are grown worldwide as protein sources for food and feed and can be used as cover crops after wheat (Triticum aestivum L.). However, faba bean is underutilized in upper Midwest [...] Read more.
Faba bean (Vicia faba Roth) and pea (Pisum sativum L.) are grown worldwide as protein sources for food and feed and can be used as cover crops after wheat (Triticum aestivum L.). However, faba bean is underutilized in upper Midwest farming systems. This study was conducted to determine how faba bean relates to pea as a forage, cover crop, and in cycling of nutrients to maize (Zea mays L.) in the following season. Five faba bean cultivars and two pea cultivars, a forage pea and a field pea, were established after wheat harvest in North Dakota, in 2017 and 2018. Faba bean and pea cultivars averaged 1.3 Mg ha−1 of biomass, enough to support 1.5 animal unit month (AUM) ha−1 for a 450 kg cow (Bos taurus L.) with calf, at 50% harvest efficiency. Crude protein content was highest in faba bean cv. Boxer (304 g kg−1), with faba bean cv. Laura and forage pea cv. Arvika having similar content, and field pea having the least (264 g kg−1). Cover crop treatments did not affect maize in the following year, indicating no nutrient cycling from faba bean and pea to maize. Both cover crop species tested provided high protein forage, suitable for late grazing, with a more fibrous crop residue. Faba bean has potential as a cover crop in the upper Midwest while providing greater quality forage than pea. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Cropping Systems) Printed Edition available
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Open AccessArticle
Soybean in No-Till Cover-Crop Systems
Agronomy 2019, 9(12), 883; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9120883 - 13 Dec 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Introducing agro-ecological techniques such as no-tillage systems with cover crops in rotations with soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr.) could provide more resilience to changing climatic conditions and, at the same time, reduce soil erosion, nitrate leaching, and weed density in the main [...] Read more.
Introducing agro-ecological techniques such as no-tillage systems with cover crops in rotations with soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr.) could provide more resilience to changing climatic conditions and, at the same time, reduce soil erosion, nitrate leaching, and weed density in the main crop. However, there are challenges in introducing no-tillage techniques in crop systems in Europe as there is little quantitative knowledge about the agro-economic impact. The objectives of this study were to evaluate the agronomic and economic impacts of three soybean cropping systems involving a rye (Secale cereal L.) cover crop prior to soybean, i.e., two no-tillage systems; either herbicide-free with crimping the rye or herbicide-based without rye crimping and one plough-based in which rye was cut as green silage. The impacts of these cropping strategies were compared in a three-year cropping system experiment at a research station in north-eastern Germany with and without irrigation. The following parameters were measured: (1) cover crop biomass; (2) weed biomass; (3) soybean plant density; (4) soybean grain yield; and (5) gross margin of the cropping system. The results showed that all three soybean cropping systems can effectively suppress weeds. System (C), the no-tillage herbicide-based system, produced the lowest rye biomass and highest soybean yield; system (B), the no-tillage herbicide-free/crimped rye system, produced the highest rye biomass and lowest soybean yield compared to system (A), the standard cutting/plough-based system. The differences in rye biomass and soybean yield observed between the three systems could be mainly attributed to the timing of the cover crop termination and the soybean sowing date. The gross margin was highest in system (C), due to the high soybean grain yield. The low soybean grain yield in system (B) resulted in lower revenues and gross margins compared to systems (A) and (C), although system (B) could be economically attractive in organic farming with higher prices for organic soybean. In the particularly dry year 2016, gross margins were higher when soybean was irrigated compared to the rainfed cultivation, due to significantly higher grain yields. Before recommending the application of the no-tillage with cover crop technique for the conditions tested in north-eastern Germany, more investigations on the benefits and risks of this technique are needed. Further research needs to focus on maintaining a high rye biomass as well as on ensuring an early soybean planting date. Optimizing the crimping and drilling equipment is still required in order to develop good management practices for no-tillage herbicide-free systems in European conditions. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Winter Rye Cover Crop with Liquid Manure Injection Reduces Spring Soil Nitrate but Not Maize Yield
Agronomy 2019, 9(12), 852; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9120852 - 05 Dec 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
In maize-based cropping systems, leaching of nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) to drainage tile and groundwater is a significant problem. The purpose of this study was to assess whether a winter rye cover crop planted after silage maize or soybean harvest and injected with [...] Read more.
In maize-based cropping systems, leaching of nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) to drainage tile and groundwater is a significant problem. The purpose of this study was to assess whether a winter rye cover crop planted after silage maize or soybean harvest and injected with liquid manure could decrease soil NO3-N without reducing the yield of the following maize crop. An experiment was conducted at 19 sites with predominant occurrence of Mollisols (15 out of 19 sites) in the upper Midwest USA immediately after soybean or maize silage harvest to compare a drilled rye cover crop and a non-cover crop control. Later in the fall, liquid swine or dairy manure was injected into the cover crop and control plots. Rye was terminated the following spring using herbicide, usually before reaching 20 to 25 cm in height, and incorporated with tillage at most sites, after which maize was planted and harvested as silage or grain. Across sites, soil NO3-N at rye termination was reduced by 36% (range = 4% to 67%) with rye compared to no rye. Nitrogen in aboveground rye biomass at termination ranged from 5 to 114 kg N ha−1 (mean = 51 kg N ha−1). Across sites, there was no significant difference in yield of maize silage or grain between treatments. These results demonstrate in a Mollisol-dominated region the potential of a winter rye cover crop planted before manure application to effectively reduce soil NO3-N without impacting yield of the following maize crop, thereby reducing risk of negative environmental impacts. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Maize Straw Returning Approaches Affected Straw Decomposition and Soil Carbon and Nitrogen Storage in Northeast China
Agronomy 2019, 9(12), 818; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9120818 - 28 Nov 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
The characterization of straw decomposition and the resulting carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) release is crucial for understanding the effects of different straw returning methods on the immobilization and cycling of soil organic carbon (SOC) and soil total nitrogen (STN). In 2017–2018, a [...] Read more.
The characterization of straw decomposition and the resulting carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) release is crucial for understanding the effects of different straw returning methods on the immobilization and cycling of soil organic carbon (SOC) and soil total nitrogen (STN). In 2017–2018, a field micro-plot experiment was carried out in northeastern China to investigate the effects of different straw returning approaches on straw decomposition, C release, N release, SOC, STN, and the soil C–N ratio. Six straw returning treatments were applied: straw mixed with soil (SM) and straw buried in the soil (SB) at soil depths of 10 (O), 30 (T), and 50 cm (F). The results indicate that the straw decomposition proportion (SD), C release, and N release in SM + O were higher than that in SM + T and SM + F. Moreover, SOC and STN concentrations and the soil C–N ratio were significantly enhanced by SM/B + O in the 0–20 cm soil layers, SM/B + T in the 20–30 cm soil layer, and SM/B + F in the 40–60 cm soil layers. In the 0–50 cm soil profile, the highest SOC stocks were obtained using SB + T. The STN stocks were also significantly affected by the straw returning depth, but the effect was inconsistent between the two years. SD had a positive relationship with SOC and STN in the 0–20 cm soil layers; conversely, they were negatively related in the 30–60 cm soil layers. The results of this study suggest that straw buried in the soil to a depth not exceeding 30 cm might be an optimal straw returning approach in northeastern China. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Long-Term Green Manure Rotations Improve Soil Biochemical Properties, Yield Sustainability and Nutrient Balances in Acidic Paddy Soil under a Rice-Based Cropping System
Agronomy 2019, 9(12), 780; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9120780 - 20 Nov 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Cultivation of green manure (GM) crops in intensive cropping systems is important for enhancing crop productivity through soil quality improvement. We investigated yield sustainability, nutrient stocks, nutrient balances and enzyme activities affected by different long-term (1982–2016) green manure rotations in acidic paddy soil [...] Read more.
Cultivation of green manure (GM) crops in intensive cropping systems is important for enhancing crop productivity through soil quality improvement. We investigated yield sustainability, nutrient stocks, nutrient balances and enzyme activities affected by different long-term (1982–2016) green manure rotations in acidic paddy soil in a double-rice cropping system. We selected four treatments from a long-term experiment, including (1) rice-rice-winter fallow as a control treatment (R-R-F), (2) rice-rice-milkvetch (R-R-M), (3) rice-rice-rapeseed (R-R-R), and (4) rice-rice-ryegrass (R-R-G). The results showed that different GM rotations increased grain yield and the sustainable yield index compared with those of the R-R-F treatment. Compared with those of R-R-F, the average grain yield of early rice in R-R-M, R-R-R, and R-R-G increased by 45%, 29%, and 27%, respectively and that of late rice increased by 46%, 28%, and 26%, respectively. Over the years, grain yield increased in all treatments except R-R-F. Green manure also improved the soil chemical properties (SOM and total and available N and P), except soil pH, compared to those of the control treatment. During the 1983–1990 cultivation period, the soil pH of the R-R-M treatment was lower than that of the R-R-F treatment. The addition of green manure did not mitigate the soil acidification caused by the use of inorganic fertilizers. The soil organic matter (SOM), total nitrogen (TN) and total phosphorus (TP) contents and stocks of C, N and P increased over the years. Furthermore, GM significantly increased phosphatase and urease activities and decreased the apparent N and P balances compared with those in the winter fallow treatment. Variance partitioning analysis revealed that soil properties, cropping systems, and climatic factors significantly influenced annual grain yield. Aggregated boosted tree (ABT) analysis quantified the relative influences of the different soil properties on annual grain yield and showed that the relative influences of TN content, SOM, pH, and TP content on annual crop yield were 27.8%, 25.7%, 22.9%, and 20.7%, respectively. In conclusion, GM rotation is beneficial for sustaining high crop yields by improving soil biochemical properties and reducing N and P balances in acidic soil under double- rice cropping systems. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Modeling Water and Nitrogen Balance of Different Cropping Systems in the North China Plain
Agronomy 2019, 9(11), 696; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9110696 - 30 Oct 2019
Cited by 5
Abstract
The North China Plain (NCP) is experiencing serious groundwater level decline and groundwater nitrate contamination due to excessive water pumping and application of nitrogen (N) fertilizer. In this study, grain yield, water and N use efficiencies under different cropping systems including two harvests [...] Read more.
The North China Plain (NCP) is experiencing serious groundwater level decline and groundwater nitrate contamination due to excessive water pumping and application of nitrogen (N) fertilizer. In this study, grain yield, water and N use efficiencies under different cropping systems including two harvests in 1 year (winter wheat–summer maize) based on farmer (2H1Y)FP and optimized practices (2H1Y)OPT, three harvests in 2 years (winter wheat–summer maize–spring maize, 3H2Y), and one harvest in 1 year (spring maize, 1H1Y) were evaluated using the water-heat-carbon-nitrogen simulator (WHCNS) model. The 2H1YFP system was maintained with 100% irrigation and fertilizer, while crop water requirement and N demand for other cropping systems were optimized and managed by soil testing. In addition, a scenario analysis was also performed under the interaction of linearly increasing and decreasing N rates, and irrigation levels. Results showed that the model performed well with simulated soil water content, soil N concentration, leaf area index, dry matter, and grain yield. Statistically acceptable ranges of root mean square error, Nash–Sutcliffe model efficiency, index of agreement values close to 1, and strong correlation coefficients existed between simulated and observed values. We concluded that replacing the prevalent 2H1YFP with 1H1Y would be ecofriendly at the cost of some grain yield decline. This cropping system had the highest average water use (2.1 kg m−3) and N use efficiencies (4.8 kg kg–1) on reduced water (56.64%) and N (81.36%) inputs than 2H1YFP. Whereas 3H2Y showed insignificant results in terms of grain yield, and 2H1YFP was unsustainable. The 2H1YFP system consumed a total of 745 mm irrigation and 1100 kg N ha–1 in two years. When farming practices were optimized for two harvests in 1 year system (2H1Y)OPT, then grain yield improved and water (18.12%) plus N (61.82%) consumptions were minimized. There was an ample amount of N saved, but water conservation was still unsatisfactory. However, considering the results of scenario analyses, it is recommended that winter wheat would be cultivated at <200 mm irrigation by reducing one irrigation event. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Hierarchical Patch Dynamics Perspective in Farming System Design
Agronomy 2019, 9(10), 604; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9100604 - 02 Oct 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
Farming systems are complex and include a variety of interacting biophysical and technical components. This complexity must be taken into account when designing farming systems to improve sustainability, but more methods are needed to be able to do so. This article seeks to [...] Read more.
Farming systems are complex and include a variety of interacting biophysical and technical components. This complexity must be taken into account when designing farming systems to improve sustainability, but more methods are needed to be able to do so. This article seeks to apply the Hierarchical Patch Dynamics theory (HPD) to farming systems to understand farming system complexity and be better able to support farming system re-design. A six-step framework is proposed to adapt the HPD theory to farming system analysis by taking into account (i) spatial and temporal interactions and (ii) field and management diversity. This framework was applied to a vineyard case study. The result was a hierarchical formalization of the farming system. The HPD framework improved understanding and enabled the formalization of (i) the hierarchical structure of the farming system, (ii) the interactions between structure and processes and (iii) scaling up and down from field to farm scale. HPD theory proved to be successful in analyzing farming system complexity at the farm scale. The framework can help with specific aspects of farming system design, such as how to change the scale of study or determining which scale should be used when choosing indicators for crop management and integrating multi-scale constraints and processes. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Leguminous Cover Crop Astragalus sinicus Enhances Grain Yields and Nitrogen Use Efficiency through Increased Tillering in an Intensive Double-Cropping Rice System in Southern China
Agronomy 2019, 9(9), 554; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9090554 - 16 Sep 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Chinese milk vetch (Astragalus sinicus L., vetch), a leguminous winter cover crop, has been widely adopted by farmers in southern China to boost yield of the succeeding rice crop. However, the effects of vetch on rice grain yield and nitrogen (N) use [...] Read more.
Chinese milk vetch (Astragalus sinicus L., vetch), a leguminous winter cover crop, has been widely adopted by farmers in southern China to boost yield of the succeeding rice crop. However, the effects of vetch on rice grain yield and nitrogen (N) use efficiency have not yet been well studied in the intensive double-cropped rice cropping systems. To fill this gap, we conducted a three-year field experiment to evaluate the impacts of the vetch crop on yields and N use efficiency in the subsequent early and late rice seasons. With moderate N input (100 kg N ha−1 for each rice crop), vetch cover significantly increased grain yields by 7.3–13.4% for early rice, by 8.2–10.4% for late rice, and by 8.6–11.5% for total annual rice production when compared with winter fallow. When rice crops received an N input of 200 kg N ha−1, vetch cover increased grain yields by 5.9–18.4% for early rice, by 3.8–10.1% for late rice, and by 6.2–11.3% for annual rice production. Moreover, comparable grain yields (11.9 vs. 12.0 Mg ha−1 for annual rice production) were observed between vetch cover with moderate N and fallow with added N fertilizer. Yield components analysis indicated that the increased tillering number was the main factor for the enhanced grain yields by vetch cover. Vetch cover with moderate and higher N input resulted in higher agronomic N use efficiency and applied N recovery efficiency compared with the fallow treatments. Here, our results showed that vetch as a winter cover crop can be combined with reduced N fertilizer input while maintaining high grain yields, thus gaining a more sustainable rice production system. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Effect of Soil Tillage and Crop Sequence on Grain Yield and Quality of Durum Wheat in Mediterranean Areas
Agronomy 2019, 9(9), 488; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9090488 - 28 Aug 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
Conservation agriculture (CA) can be very strategic in degradation prone soils of Mediterranean environments to recover soil fertility and consequently improve crop productivity as well as the quality traits of the most widespread crop, durum wheat, with reference to protein accumulation and composition. [...] Read more.
Conservation agriculture (CA) can be very strategic in degradation prone soils of Mediterranean environments to recover soil fertility and consequently improve crop productivity as well as the quality traits of the most widespread crop, durum wheat, with reference to protein accumulation and composition. The results shown by two years of data in a medium long-term experiment (7-year experiment; split-plot design) that combined two tillage practices (conventional tillage (CT) and zero tillage (ZT)) with two crop sequences (wheat monocropping (WW) and wheat-faba bean (WF)) are presented. The combination ZT + WF (CA approach) induced the highest grain yields (617 and 370 g m−2 in 2016 and 2017, respectively), principally due to an increased number of ears m−2; on the other hand, the lowest grain yield was recorded under CT + WW (550 and 280 g m−2 in 2016 and 2017, respectively). CA also demonstrated significant influences on grain quality because the inclusion of faba bean in the rotation favored higher N-remobilization to the grains (79.5% and 77.7% in 2017). Under ZT and WF, all gluten fractions (gliadins (Glia), high molecular-weight glutenins (GS), and low molecular-weight GS) as well as the GS/Glia ratio increased. In durum wheat-based farming systems in Mediterranean areas, the adoption of CA seems to be an optimal choice to combine high quality yields with improved soil fertility. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Effect of the Push-Pull Cropping System on Maize Yield, Stem Borer Infestation and Farmers’ Perception
Agronomy 2019, 9(8), 452; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9080452 - 15 Aug 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
The productivity of maize in Ethiopia has remained lower than the world average because of several biotic and abiotic factors. Stemborers and poor soil fertility are among the main factors that contribute to this poor maize productivity. A novel cropping strategy, such as [...] Read more.
The productivity of maize in Ethiopia has remained lower than the world average because of several biotic and abiotic factors. Stemborers and poor soil fertility are among the main factors that contribute to this poor maize productivity. A novel cropping strategy, such as the use of push-pull technology, is one of the methods known to solve both challenges at once. A push-pull technology targeting the management of maize stemborers was implemented in the Hawassa district of Ethiopia with the ultimate goal of increased food security among smallholder farmers. This study evaluated farmers’ perception of push-pull technology based on their experiences and observations of the demonstration plots that were established on-farm in Dore Bafano, Jara Gelelcha and Lebu Koremo village of the Hawasa district in 2016 and 2017. This study examined farmers’ perception of the importance of push-pull technology in controlling stemborers and improving soil fertility and access to livestock feed. In both cropping seasons, except for Jara Gelelcha, the maize grain yields were significantly higher in the climate-adapted push-pull plots compared to the maize monocrop plots. The majority (89%) of push-pull technology-practising farmers rated the technology better than their maize production methods on attributes such as access to new livestock feed and the control of stemborer damage. As a result, approximately 96% of the interviewed farmers were interested in adopting the technology starting in the upcoming crop season. Awareness through training and effective dissemination strategies should be strengthened among stakeholders and policymakers for the sustainable use and scaling-up of push-pull technology. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Kura Clover Living Mulch Reduces Fertilizer N Requirements and Increases Profitability of Maize
Agronomy 2019, 9(8), 432; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9080432 - 06 Aug 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Kura clover living mulch (KCLM) systems have been previously investigated for their incorporation into upper Midwestern row crop rotations to provide ecosystem services through continuous living cover. Reductions in soil erosion and nitrate loss to surface and groundwater have been reported, but factors [...] Read more.
Kura clover living mulch (KCLM) systems have been previously investigated for their incorporation into upper Midwestern row crop rotations to provide ecosystem services through continuous living cover. Reductions in soil erosion and nitrate loss to surface and groundwater have been reported, but factors affecting agronomic performance and nutrient management are not well defined. To achieve realized environmental benefits, research must develop agronomic management techniques, determine economic opportunities, and provide management recommendations for row crop production in KCLM systems. Two experiments were conducted in 2017 and 2018 to determine the response to N fertilizer application for maize production in KCLM. The first-year maize experiment followed forage management, and the second-year maize experiment followed maize after forage management. Eight fertilizer N treatments ranging from 0–250 kg N ha−1 were applied to each experiment and grain and stover yields were compared to conventionally managed maize hybrid trials that were conducted nearby. First-year maize did not need fertilizer N to maximize yield and profitability in either growing season, and second-year maize required a fertilizer N rate near local University guidelines for maize following soybean. The net economic return from maize grain and stover in the KCLM averaged over first and second-year maize experiments and 2017 and 2018 growing seasons were $138 ha−1 greater than the conventional comparison. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Harvesting Regimes Affect Brown Midrib Sorghum-Sudangrass and Brown Midrib Pearl Millet Forage Production and Quality
Agronomy 2019, 9(8), 416; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9080416 - 30 Jul 2019
Cited by 4
Abstract
As water levels in the Ogallala Aquifer continue to decline in the Texas High Plains, alternative forage crops that utilize less water must be identified to meet the forage demand of the livestock industry in this region. A two-year (2016 and 2017) study [...] Read more.
As water levels in the Ogallala Aquifer continue to decline in the Texas High Plains, alternative forage crops that utilize less water must be identified to meet the forage demand of the livestock industry in this region. A two-year (2016 and 2017) study was conducted at West Texas A&M University Nance Ranch near Canyon, TX to evaluate the forage production and quality of brown midrib (BMR) sorghum-sudangrass (SS) (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench ssp. Drummondii) and BMR pearl millet (PM) (Pennisetum glaucum (L.) Leeke)) harvested under three regimes (three 30-d, two 45-d, and one 90-d harvests). Sorghum-sudangrass consistently out yielded PM in total DM production in both tested years (yield range 3.96 to 6.28 Mg DM ha−1 vs. 5.38 to 11.19 Mg DM ha−1 in 2016 and 6.00 to 9.87 Mg DM ha−1 vs. 6.53 to 15.51 Mg DM ha−1 in 2017). Water use efficiency was higher in PM compared to SS. The 90-d harvesting regime maximized the water use efficiency and DM production compared to other regimes in both crops; however, some forage quality may be sacrificed. In general, the higher forage quality was achieved in shorter interval harvesting regimes (frequent cuttings). The selection of suitable forage crop and harvesting regime based on this research can be extremely beneficial to the producers of Texas High Plains to meet their individual forage needs and demand. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Impact of Agroecological Practices on Greenhouse Vegetable Production: Comparison among Organic Production Systems
Agronomy 2019, 9(7), 372; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9070372 - 11 Jul 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
In greenhouses, where intensive systems are widely used for organic production, the differences between “conventionalized” and agroecological approaches are especially evident. Among the agronomic practices, green manure from agroecological service crops (ASCs) and organic amendments represent the main tools for soil fertility management [...] Read more.
In greenhouses, where intensive systems are widely used for organic production, the differences between “conventionalized” and agroecological approaches are especially evident. Among the agronomic practices, green manure from agroecological service crops (ASCs) and organic amendments represent the main tools for soil fertility management with respect to the substitution of synthetic fertilizer with organic ones (the input substitution approach). Over a two-year organic rotation, we compared a conventionalized system (SB) and two agroecological systems, characterized by ASC introduction combined with the use of manure (AM) and compost (AC) amendments. A system approach was utilized for the comparison assessment. For this purpose, agronomic performance, soil fertility and the density of soil arthropod activity were monitored for the entire rotation. The comprehensive evaluation of the parameters measured provided evidence that clearly differentiated SB from AM and AC. The drivers of discrimination were soil parameters referring to long term fertility and soil arthropod dynamics. The study confirmed the higher productivity of SB but also no positive impact on soil fertility and soil arthropods, as highlighted by AM and AC. Based on the results, a trade-off between productivity and the promotion of long-term ecosystem diversity and functioning is needed for the assessment of systems of organic production. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Impact of Different Shading Levels on Growth, Yield and Quality of Potato (Solanum tuberosum L.)
Agronomy 2019, 9(6), 330; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9060330 - 21 Jun 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
In agroforestry systems (AFS), trees shade the understory crop to a certain extent. Potato is considered a shade-tolerant crop and was thus tested under the given total solar irradiance and climatic conditions of Southwestern Germany for its potential suitability in an AFS. To [...] Read more.
In agroforestry systems (AFS), trees shade the understory crop to a certain extent. Potato is considered a shade-tolerant crop and was thus tested under the given total solar irradiance and climatic conditions of Southwestern Germany for its potential suitability in an AFS. To gain a better understanding of the effects of shade on growth, yield and quality; a three-year field experiment with different artificial shading levels (12%, 26% and 50%) was established. Significant changes in growth occurred at 50% shading. While plant emergence was not affected by shade, flowering was slightly delayed by about three days. Days until senescence also showed a delay under 50% shade. The number of tubers per plant and tuber mass per plant were reduced by about 53% and 69% under 50% shade. Depending on the year, tuber dry matter yield showed a decrease of 19–44% at 50% shade, while starch content showed no significant differences under shade compared to unshaded treatment. The number of stems per plant, plant height and foliage mass per plant as well as tuber fraction, black spot bruise and macronutrient content were unaffected. Overall, potato seems to tolerate shading and can therefore be integrated in an AFS, and can cope with a reduced total irradiance up to 26%. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Compost as a Substitute for Mineral N Fertilization? Effects on Crops, Soil and N Leaching
Agronomy 2019, 9(4), 193; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9040193 - 15 Apr 2019
Cited by 4
Abstract
A three-year study was conducted to test the fertilization properties of different types of compost as the total or partial mineral nitrogen fertilization substitute in an herbaceous crop succession (Zea mays L., Triticum aestivum L. and Helianthus annus L.). Four types of [...] Read more.
A three-year study was conducted to test the fertilization properties of different types of compost as the total or partial mineral nitrogen fertilization substitute in an herbaceous crop succession (Zea mays L., Triticum aestivum L. and Helianthus annus L.). Four types of compost (i. green cuttings and depuration sludge, ii. green cuttings, organic fraction of municipal wastes and other organic materials, iii. green cuttings, iv. green cuttings and organic fraction of municipal wastes) and eight fertilization treatments (combining: unfertilized control, 100% mineral fertilization, 100% compost, and 50% compost +50% mineral fertilization) were evaluated in terms of: (i) crop yields and nitrogen uptake, (ii) soil organic carbon and nitrate nitrogen soil contents variation, and (iii) residual nitrate nitrogen leached at the end of the experiment. Maize grain yield ranged from 5.2 ± 1.0 Mg ha−1 to 7.4 ± 0.7 Mg ha−1 with the highest value in the mineral fertilization treatment and the lowest values in the 100% compost fertilization. Wheat and sunflower grain yields were not significantly different among control, mineral, compost, or mineral/compost fertilization treatments with average values of 5.1 ± 0.7 Mg ha−1 and 2.3 ± 0.3 Mg ha−1, respectively. Cumulative crop yield at the end of the three years was not affected by the compost type, but was affected by fertilization treatment (highest values with mineral and 50% compost +50% mineral fertilization). The compost application did not highlight a relevant effect on soil organic carbon. Under 100% of compost fertilization, the crops did not take up a large amount of the N supplied, but it did not generate an increase of NO3-N leaching in the percolation water. Obtained results show the good fertilization properties of compost whereas the amendment property was not relevant, probably due to the low rates applied and the short experimental period. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Agronomic and Economic Performance of Maize, Soybean, and Wheat in Different Rotations during the Transition to an Organic Cropping System
Agronomy 2018, 8(9), 192; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy8090192 - 17 Sep 2018
Cited by 4
Abstract
Crop producers transitioning to an organic cropping system must grow crops organically without price premiums for 36 months before certification. We evaluated red clover-maize, maize-soybean, and soybean-wheat/red clover rotations in organic and conventional cropping systems with recommended and high inputs in New York, [...] Read more.
Crop producers transitioning to an organic cropping system must grow crops organically without price premiums for 36 months before certification. We evaluated red clover-maize, maize-soybean, and soybean-wheat/red clover rotations in organic and conventional cropping systems with recommended and high inputs in New York, USA to identify the best rotation and management practices during the transition. Organic compared with conventional maize with recommended inputs in the maize-soybean rotation (entry crop) averaged 32% lower yields, $878/ha higher production costs, and $1096/ha lower partial returns. Organic maize compared with conventional maize with recommended inputs in the red clover-maize rotation (second transition crop) had similar yields, production costs, and partial returns. Organic compared with conventional soybean with recommended inputs in soybean-wheat/red clover or maize-soybean rotations had similar yields, production costs, and partial returns. Organic compared with conventional wheat with recommended inputs in the soybean-wheat/clover rotation had similar yields, $416/ha higher production costs, and $491/ha lower partial returns. The organic compared with the conventional soybean-wheat/red clover rotation had the least negative impact on partial returns during the transition. Nevertheless, all organic rotations had similar partial returns ($434 to $495/ha) so transitioning immediately, regardless of entry crop, may be most prudent. High input management did not improve organic crop yields during the transition. Full article
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Review

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Open AccessReview
Mechanisms of Nitrogen Use in Maize
Agronomy 2019, 9(12), 775; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9120775 - 20 Nov 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
Nitrogen (N) fertilizers are needed to enhance maize (Zea mays L.) production. Maize plays a major role in the livestock industry, biofuels, and human nutrition. Globally, less than one-half of applied N is recovered by maize. Although the application of N fertilizer [...] Read more.
Nitrogen (N) fertilizers are needed to enhance maize (Zea mays L.) production. Maize plays a major role in the livestock industry, biofuels, and human nutrition. Globally, less than one-half of applied N is recovered by maize. Although the application of N fertilizer can improve maize yield, excess N application due to low knowledge of the mechanisms of nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) poses serious threats to environmental sustainability. Increased environmental consciousness and an ever-increasing human population necessitate improved N utilization strategies in maize production. Enhanced understanding of the relationship between maize growth and productivity and the dynamics of maize N recovery are of major significance. A better understanding of the metabolic and genetic control of N acquisition and remobilization during vegetative and reproductive phases are important to improve maize productivity and to avoid excessive use of N fertilizers. Synchronizing the N supply with maize N demand throughout the growing season is key to improving NUE and reducing N loss to the environment. This review examines the mechanisms of N use in maize to provide a basis for driving innovations to improve NUE and reduce risks of negative environmental impacts. Full article
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Open AccessReview
A Systematic Review of Field Trials to Synthesize Existing Knowledge and Agronomic Practices on Protein Crops in Europe
Agronomy 2019, 9(6), 292; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9060292 - 06 Jun 2019
Cited by 5
Abstract
Protein crops can represent a sustainable answer to growing demand for high quality, protein-rich food in Europe. To better understand the state of scientific studies on protein crops, a systematic review of field trials results to collect existing knowledge and agronomic practices on [...] Read more.
Protein crops can represent a sustainable answer to growing demand for high quality, protein-rich food in Europe. To better understand the state of scientific studies on protein crops, a systematic review of field trials results to collect existing knowledge and agronomic practices on protein crops in European countries was conducted using published data from the literature (1985–2017). A total of 42 publications was identified. The following seven protein crops were considered: quinoa, amaranth, pea, faba bean, lupin, chickpea, and lentil. Observations within the studies were related to one or more of eight wide categories of agronomic managements: deficit irrigation (n = 130), salinity (n = 6), tillage (n = 211), fertilizers (n = 146), sowing density (n = 32), sowing date (n = 92), weed control (n = 71), and multiple interventions (n = 129). In 86% of the studies, measures of variability for yield mean values are missing. Through a multiple correspondence analysis (MCA) based on protein crops, European environments, and agronomic management factors, we provide a state of art of studies carried out in Europe on protein crops over the 32-year period; this study will allow us to understand the aspects that can still be developed in the topic. Most investigated studies refer to southern Europe and showed some trends: (i) faba bean, pea, and lupin provide highest seed yields; (ii) sowing date, sowing density, fertilization, and deficit irrigation are the agronomic practices that most influence crop yield; (iii) studies conducted in Central Europe show highest seed yields. The output from this study can be used to guide policies for sustainable crop management. Full article
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