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  • Author or Editor: Bodh R. Paudel x
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Sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea L.), as a summer leguminous cover crop, is often grown before fall planting of strawberries (Fragaria ×ananassa Duch.) in Florida. Although sunn hemp has been suggested as a green manure for supplying nitrogen (N) to subsequent crops, limited information is available regarding the contribution of sunn hemp biomass to soil N availability in Florida sandy soils with low levels of organic matter. This is especially true for organic strawberry production where nutrient management remains one of the major yield-limiting factors. This study was conducted in Citra, FL, and assessed the dynamics of N availability after soil incorporation of sunn hemp in organic strawberry production systems established on sandy soils in a subtropical environment. Sunn hemp was planted at a seeding rate of 44.9 kg·ha−1 on 19 July 2017 and 24 July 2018 and terminated 65 days after seeding; a summer weedy fallow was used as the control. Containerized strawberry seedlings of Sweet Sensation® ‘Florida127’ were transplanted on 13 Oct. 2017 (22 days after sunn hemp incorporation) and 4 Oct. 2018 (8 days after sunn hemp incorporation). Immediately after sunn hemp incorporation, anion exchange membranes (AEMs) were buried in the soil to monitor soil NO3-N fluxes, together with traditional soil testing to measure extractable soil NO3-N concentrations. In the 2018 season, soils incorporated with sunn hemp residues were also incubated in the laboratory at 24 °C over 8 weeks to determine the N release pattern by quantifying soil NO3-N and NH4-N. Overall, nitrate fluxes monitored by AEMs in the first 3 weeks after sunn hemp incorporation were significantly higher in the sunn hemp treatment than in the weedy fallow control (by 66% to 185%) in both years. Sunn hemp incorporation also led to a considerable increase in extractable soil NO3-N concentration (by 20% to 94%). The early and fast release of plant available N (PAN) from sunn hemp residues was confirmed by the 8-week laboratory incubation study, which demonstrated that the net N mineralization rate of sunn hemp remained highest over the first 2 weeks of the incubation period. Sunn hemp showed a positive impact on organic strawberry early-season fruit yield in both years, with significant increases in marketable (by 59%) and total (by 52%) fruit weight yields and marketable fruit number (by 46%) in 2017 and total fruit number (by 15%) and weight yield (by 14%) and marketable fruit number (by 13%) in 2018. Given the typical waiting period between sunn hemp residue soil incorporation and strawberry planting as well as the lag in nutrient uptake shortly after transplanting, a large fraction of N released from sunn hemp residues is likely not taken up by strawberry plants. Our findings highlight the challenges of using sunn hemp residues to improve N availability for meeting crop demand and enhance fruit yield in organic strawberry production while minimizing environmental N losses in Florida sandy soils.

Open Access