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Early season nitrogen accumulation in winter wheat

Costa, J.M., Bollero, G.A., Coale, F.J.
Journal of plant nutrition 2000 v.23 no.6 pp. 773-783
Triticum aestivum, nutrient uptake, seasonal variation, cover crops, soil fertility, nitrogen, cultivars, nitrogen content, developmental stages, winter wheat, biomass production, Maryland
Cereal rye (Secale cereale L.) is widely used as a winter cover crop to conserve soil residual nitrogen (N) in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Cereal rye, however, has agronomic drawbacks that may make other winter small grain crops more desirable alternatives. Winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) is a small grain that could substitute for cereal rye as a cover crop because it would give growers the flexibility of using it as a cover crop or growing it to maturity. There is currently little information on early season N accumulation of winter wheat cultivars, which is critical for the success of a small grain cover crop. To determine the degree of variation in early season N accumulation and early season biomass yield in soft red winter wheat in the mid-Atlantic region, twenty-five commercially available cultivars were evaluated at Beltsville, MD in the 1996/1997 and 1997/1998 growing seasons. A cereal rye cultivar ("Wheeler") was included as a cover crop control. Samples of plant tissue were taken at Feekes growth stage 5 and at physiological maturity each year. There were significant differences among cultivars for early season N accumulation and biomass yield. A large group of wheat cultivars had similar early season N accumulation and biomass yield as the cereal rye cover crop control. This suggests that some cultivars of winter wheat may be as effective as cereal rye as a winter cover crop. Early season N accumulation was highly correlated (r = 0.90***) with early season biomass yield rather than with plant N content. These results indicate that soft red winter wheat has potential as a dual grain and cover crop and could be considered an alternative to cereal rye as a winter cover crop for conserving residual soil nitrogen in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.