Can Sunn Hemp Decrease Nitrogen Fertilizer Requirements of Vegetable Crops in the Southeastern United States?

in HortScience
Authors:
Laura Avila1University of Florida, School of Natural Resources and Environment

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Johannes Scholberg2University of Florida, Agronomy

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Nancy Roe3Farming System Research, Research

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Corey Cherr1University of Florida, School of Natural Resources and Environment

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Increased dependency of conventional agriculture on inorganic fertilizers and fossil fuels may hamper long-term sustainability of agricultural production. Sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea) was tested during summer in a Community Supported Agriculture vegetable crop operation located in Southeast Florida, from 2003 to 2005. Farm system components included sunn hemp (SH) vs. a conventional fallow during summer, tomato (Lycopersicon esculentus) and pepper (Capsicum annum) during winter and spring sweet corn (Zea mays). Tomato and pepper were fertilized with 0, 67, 133, 200 kg N/ha (2003) vs. 0,100, 200 kg N/ha (2004/05). Sweet corn received 133 or 200 kg N ha (2003) vs. 100 kg N/ha (2004/05). Average SH biomass was 3.7 Mg/ha. In 2003 tomato yields following SH without supplemental N were similar to fallow, with 200 kg N/ha. By the third year, tomato and pepper yields in SH plots were 25% and 26% higher, respectively. Conventional pepper amended with 200 kg N/ha had only 8% higher yields than treatments amended with 100 kg N ha and CC. Overall, sweet corn had low yields, but yields increased if the preceding tomato/pepper crop received higher N rates. In 2003, sweet corn fertilized with 200 kg N/ha following a SH-fall vegetable crop produced 17% higher marketable yields compared to the fallow treatment. During 2004 and 2005, sweet corn within the SH-non-fertilized tomato system produced 29% higher yields compared to a similar conventional system. Results show that, in this rotation, both fall vegetable crops and sweet corn yield benefit from residual N fertilizer. Mineralization of SH may thus not only benefit the immediately following crop, but its effects can be seen later during the year.

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