Lettuce growers in the Salinas Valley are often not able to rotate to other crops due to economic pressure, such as high land rent. Winter-grown cover crops (October to March) provide a short-term rotation from lettuce and have been shown to reduce nitrate leaching by 75%. However, the use of winter-grown cover crops is low due to the extended time these cover crops tie up the ground. As a result, growers are interested in the potential of fall-grown cover crops (September to October) to reduce nitrate leaching through the winter. Fall-grown cover crops are incorporated into the soil prior to the onset of winter rains and leave the soil bare over the winter; however, during fall growth, the cover crop has the potential to capture excess nitrate that may leach during the fallow period, but how much has not been previously measured. A long-term trial was established in Fall 2003 using treatments of Indian mustard (B. juncea) `ISCI 61', White mustard (S. alba) `Ida Gold', Cereal rye (Secale cereale) `Merced', and a no cover crop control. All cover crops contained ≈224 kg·ha-1 N upon incorporation. Anion resin bags were installed 90 cm deep in the soil following incorporation to trap leaching nitrate; they were left in place until planting of the lettuce the following spring. First-year results indicated that the mustard cover crops and `Merced' rye all reduced nitrate leaching to the 90-cm depth by 67% to 82% over the bare fallow treatment. These results indicate that fall-grown cover crops have the potential to reduce nitrate leaching in lettuce production systems in the Salinas Valley.
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