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Laura Avila, Johannes Scholberg, Nancy Roe and Corey Cherr

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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Laura Avila, Johannes Scholberg, Lincoln Zotarelli and Robert McSorely

Poor water- and nutrient-holding capacity of sandy soils, combined with intense leaching rainfall events, may result in excessive N-fertilizers losses from vegetable production systems. Three cover cropping (CC) systems were used to assess supplemental N-fertilizer requirements for optimal yields of selected vegetable crops. Fertilizer N-rates were 0, 67, 133, 200, and 267; 0, 131, and 196; and 0, 84, 126,168, and 210 kg N/h for sweet corn (Zea mays var. rugosa), broccoli (Brassica oleracea), and watermelon (Citrullus lanatus), respectively. Crop rotations consisted of sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea) in Fall 2003 followed by hairy vetch (Vicia villosa), and rye (Secale cereale) intercrop or a fallow. During Spring 2004, all plots were planted with sweet corn, followed by either cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) or pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), which preceded a winter broccoli crop. Hairy vetch and rye mix benefited from residual N from a previous SH crop. This cropping system provided a 5.4 Mg/ha yield increment for sweet corn receiving 67 kg N/ha compared to the conventional system. For the 133 N-rate, CC-based systems produced similar yields compared to conventional systems amended with 200 kg N/ha. Pearl millet accumulated 8.8 Mg/ha—but only 69 kg N/ha—and potential yields with this system were 16% lower compared to cowpea system. For a subsequent watermelon crop, trends were reversed, possibly due to a delay in mineralization for pearl millet. Because of its persistent growth after mowing, hairy vetch hampered initial growth and shading also delayed fruit development. Although CC may accumulate up to 131 kg N/ha actual N benefits, N-fertilizer benefits were only 67 kg N/ha, which may be related to a lack of synchronization between N release and actual crop demand.